We didn't need this ritual humiliation to learn that DJs can be devastated, too
Then there are the things we do know. If this was a suicide, the visible factors will probably provide only part of the puzzle, as is the case with most suicides.
But whatever the cause, Greig and Christian are not the only ones at fault. By their account, the prank wasn’t even their idea. They weren’t responsible for making the story global news.
They could never have anticipated that a silly, juvenile prank would prove fatal – not when radio stations have been carrying out silly, juvenile pranks almost since the invention of the wireless. As long ago as October 1938, radio listeners across the US were stunned to hear that America was being invaded by aliens from Mars.
The station that employs Greig and Christian, 2Day FM, has a particularly unedifying record of this type of stunt: two of its DJs were taken off the air for three weeks in 2009 after a horrific lie-detector gag, in which a 14-year-old revealed live on air that she had been raped.
The other thing that everyone seemed to overlook in last week’s first, heady rush of outrage was that this wasn’t even the most serious hoax perpetuated on the royal family. Nine years ago, a reporter from the Daily Mirror blagged his way into the palace and spent weeks working there as a footman. He emerged with the revelations that Prince Edward and the Countess of Wessex kept teddy bears on their bed and that breakfast cereals on the royal table were served in Tupperware.
If Ryan Parry carried out his stunt today, would he still be rewarded with the Hugh Cudlipp award for outstanding tabloid journalism? Or would he be subjected to a social-media witch hunt, calls to have him fired, and a possible criminal investigation? Somehow, I don’t think he’d be making space on his mantlepiece.
What has changed over the past decade? The rapid growth of the internet and its power to magnify and lend longevity is part of the story. We also now live in a post-Big Brother world, in a culture that craves both ritual humiliation and the public purging of guilt.
It is only 12 years since “Nasty” Nick Bateman sobbed his apology in front of a live television audience after he was caught cheating, and yet in cultural terms, it seems a lifetime ago. What was a strange and uncomfortable sight then – a grown man humiliated to the point of tears over a TV show – has become a routine part of the Saturday night viewing expectations of millions.
It was telling and slightly disturbing how, in the aftermath of Greig and Christian’s distraught television appearance, the public mood shifted from one of fury to something approaching empathy.