Bad press (HLD 224)

1 Nov 2020

I was reading a few days ago about the Nobel prizes – money donated by Alfred Noble, to be given in prizes in fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace. While people in those fields obviously heard about the prizes they weren’t reported in the media very much. Until, that is (according to a book I read), a scandal about Marie Curie’s love life. Apparently the widowed Marie Curie was being considered for her second Nobel Prize (the first was in 1903 with her husband Pierre for their work in physics) – this time in the field of Chemistry. The story goes that Marie was caught up in a public scandal about an affair with a married-with-four-children French physicist. The publicity that this affair brought about was then followed up by her winning her second Nobel prize, and boom !!! the Nobel Prize becomes interesting to the media.

Of course it was Oscar Wilde who said that the only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about (or words to that effect…), and there are examples all around us about people who make their fame and their fortune by being talked about in the media. It can even get you elected President of the US, apparently.

So what’s the truth? Is any press, good press? There are multiple articles I’ve read that suggest otherwise, that bad press is a losing strategy for an individual or company. But there are many others – often public relations people it must be said – who say that publicity, however it is achieved, is always good. It builds brand or name recognition.

And let’s face it, the media are much quicker to pass on stories about negative things than they are to highlight a good story. People prefer to read about someone caught with their pants down, whether actual or metaphorical, than they are of someone who does something good. The glee with which the media pick up on someone’s mistakes is fairly obvious.

Is it better for the general public to know your name? Will the public remember what it was that you were famous for? Will they still buy a book about your life even if it’s riddled with unsavoury stories? Are they more likely to buy this book than a book about a do-gooder?

Some of the web pages I googled included “10 People Who Are Famous For Being Hilariously Terrible At Their Jobs” and “Top 10 Celebrities Famous for No Good Reason” – I found it very interesting that I hadn’t heard of any of them. Or if I’d heard of them, I really didn’t care that much. They may be famous to some people, but not to me.

Of course, there’s a definite line between being famous and infamous. There are no end of names of awful characters throughout history who are well known, and have a lot written about them. But the people I’m talking about here are the people who thrive on their own celebrity.

The big winners in the bad press about someone is often a third party – like the Nobel Prize gaining media traction over the notoriety of one of its genuinely deserving award recipients.

Have you got better examples for me, of people being famous for all the wrong reasons?

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