Saturday 15 March 2008

Blondes vs Brunettes

Forgive me the levity of the post title, because I actually have rather a serious subject for you today (for a change). Anyone living in the UK or who follows UK events will know that Yorkshire schoolgirl Shannon Matthews was found alive by police yesterday lunchtime. Good good. She had been reported missing 3½ weeks ago, after failing to come home from a school swimming lesson. And now she's been found, she's alive and apparently in good health. So far, so happy ending.

But the thing here is not the happy denouement to the whole affair, it's the comparison I wish to draw between media coverage of Shannon Matthews' disappearance, and that of toddler Madeleine McCann, who went missing in Portugal in May last year. You can't not know about young Miss McCann, you can't not have seen the acres of newsprint, hours of airtime, and kilometres of blog posts surrounding her mysterious disappearance. The McCann story was the lead story for days and days after she was reported missing. And Shannon Matthews? Well, I think they lead with her story on two occasions: the day or day after she was reported missing, and the day she was found. Maybe that's not quite true, but the last 3 weeks have certainly not been non-stop Shannon.

Let's do a quick and highly unscientific Google test, shall we. Shannon Matthews typed into brings back 536,000 results. This less than 24 hours after she was found alive and apparently well a few miles from her home. Right, what of the McCann girl. Madeleine McCann brings back only a few thousand more: 542,000. But Maddie McCann returns a further 300,000: 746,000.

I have my own, somewhat cynical theory to explain the disparity. Madeleine McCann is a photogenic blonde, blue-eyed little girl, daughter of a not unattractive couple - mother a GP, dad a heart surgeon. They live in a Leicestershire village, in a big house and they go on nice family holidays to Portugal (where they then think leaving the kids alone in the holiday apartment is a good childcare plan, but that's not the point here). Shannon Matthews is a smiling brunette schoolgirl with a cute spattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks. But her parents are, for want of a less pejorative term, schemies. Her mother has 7 kids from five different fathers, and (don't hate me for being blunt), is less easy on the eye than slim, well-dressed Kate McCann.

And, let's face it. A housing estate in north Yorkshire in February is a zillion times less glamorous than a sun-kissed Portuguese beach resort in May. Ach, I dunno. The disappearance of any child is a tragedy for that child and its family. There can't always be good news as in the case of Shannon Matthews. But I suppose I just wanted to point out how picky and choosy the media is when it comes to covering some events, and how fickle and shallow editorial choices seem to be, based on the knowledge that a pretty toddler from a well-to-do middle-England family will always sell more cheap papers than a cheeky-looking brunette with a single-parent mum on some northern council estate.


Ghosty said...

Are you sure you dont get your news pumped-in from the States? :)

I don't think it has to do with attractiveness as much as it has to do with money and envy. Rich people with conservative breeding habits are more attractive than poor people without - that's a simple point of fact amongst humans. No one wants to be like the mother with kids by several fathers, unwed and no cash on hand. Everyone wants to be like the mother with a stable marriage, attractive children and a sweet bank account.

Anonymous said...

Lis, I totally agree with you on this point, as I have thought about this issue with another case that has recently been in the news. The case of Scarlett Keeling who was in Goa. It is somewhat different, as this did not have a happy ending. However what i can't get over is how the media are vilifying her mother. Sure she did an irresponsible thing by leaving her 15yr old daughter in a foreign country, but I despise the way the media have made such an issue about the family's lifestyle, the fact she has kids by different fathers and leaves in a caravan. Nothing takes the away the fact that this mother has lost her daughter in horrible circumstances their lifestyle has absolutely nothing to do with it.

Anonymous said...

I think I heard the same kind of theory in the USA where they even have a name for it... it's mostly to say that black kid are less likely to get as much coverage as cute white girl from middle-class families. What a wonderful world we are living in...

Anonymous said...

Hi Lis,
Yes, good point. I found it really annoying that Shannon's mum couldn't be mentioned without some reference to her having 7 kids by five different men or whatever it was.. Ditto re Scarlett Keeling's mum.

Anonymous said...

it's prurience, though, isn't it? I'm sure everyone heard some of the rumours about the McCanns, and now that there is a sexual element to the Matthews girl that's big news. I think loads of people are complicit - witness the prominence on BBC RSS of stories including kids, pets, sex, drunken behaviour (the man feeding pigeons in a back to front thong hits probably three of these four criteria.

Brennig said...

To be truly objective the question 'how many of the McCann returns were anti-McCann sites' would need to be researched; I think you'd need to take all McCann references then subtract the McCann-haters to get the true value.

The McCann-maintained stratospherically high profile they have managed to keep going for the Maddie case has damaged, not enhanced the good media that other cases should get. Compassion fatigue was coined by Bob Geldof to describe the drying up of care over African famine, and it was as accurate then as it is now.

Also, there is, without doubt, a substantial backlash against the McCann family; the news that they were guilty of committing serial child neglect has damaged their cause (probably to the point of no return - from a PR point of view).