The most misguided libel lawsuit since Oscar Wilde

0

This article was featured in One Story to Read Today, a newsletter where our editors recommend just one must-read from AtlanticFrom Monday to Friday. Register here.

In his heart, the “Wagatha Christie” trial awaiting trial in London is a clash between different conceptions of celebrity. The fighters are two prominent ‘WAGs’, the wives and girlfriends of English footballers. Coleen Rooney represents the classic approach to fame, in which you must zealously protect your privacy. By contrast, Rebekah Vardy is an avatar of a made-for-Instagram world, where you’re a fool if you don’t monetize your personal life. Their dueling PR styles were evident in their fashion choices. Rooney came to court every day in ostensibly affordable outfits, shooting for “woman of the people.” Rebekah Vardy, meanwhile, went with “mafia widow.”

The dispute dates back to 2019, when Rooney, wife of former England striker Wayne, took to Twitter to slip a dagger between Vardy’s shoulder blades. For some time, Rooney had suspected that one of his locked Instagram account followers was leaking information to a tabloid. So, she said, she had deliberately published false information to expose the culprit. Rooney ended the message: “I have recorded and captured all original stories which clearly show that only one person saw them. His ………. Rebekah Vardy’s account. This dramatic revelation inspired the nickname “Wagatha Christie”, a portmanteau verifying the name of Britain’s most famous crime novelist. It also led to the present court case – Vardy, who insists she was not the one responsible for the leak, is suing fellow WAG for defamation – which in turn served up a feast of incriminating texts, pungent British phrases and unexpected references to sausage.

The WAG mythology was born in 2006 World Cup in Germany, where the England national football team – we refuse to call the sport football – lost on penalties to Portugal in the quarter-finals. Fans’ disappointment was mitigated by the tabloid frenzy around the players’ partners, who had accompanied them to Baden-Baden and were pictured hanging out together. The WAG aesthetic was particular: shorts (micro), manicure (French), hair extensions (voluminous), breast implants (like two oranges stapled to an ironing board). Inevitably, media coverage of WAGs past and present has shown an element of snobbery, as well as a bottomless appetite for the most mundane facts about their lives and relationships. And I mean really banal. Two of the stories Rooney accused Vardy of leaking are almost comically boring: His basement had supposedly floodedand she had dented her Honda CR-V in an accident.

Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney (Neil Mockford/GC; Dan Kitwood/Getty)

The fact that any media deemed these crumbs newsworthy suggests why, for Rooney, the media is the enemy. Ten months before she married Wayne, he was caught paying for sex – in extraordinary detail, he allegedly signed autographs”waiting his turnin a brothel – and Coleen has viewed the press with extreme suspicion ever since. This is not the case with Vardy, who seems to have adopted a more modern approach to advertising, allegedly in collusion with paparazzi to show his lifestyle and take a cut money generated by the photos.

To outsiders, this approach – the Kardashian bet – may seem underhanded and cynical. From the inside, however, it’s a pragmatic decision. Why should other people enjoy your life, but not you? This calculus has found its ultimate expression with influencers, who are known only to be famous (and, usually, hot or messy). There are now TikTok and YouTube stars fans would love to talk about less about their troubled personal lives. Fans are wondering: can it be healthy to stream all your dramas on the internet?

Or in court. As the trial unfolded, it was hard to remember Vardy bringing the case, hoping to clear his name. Yet this now looks like the most ill-advised libel case since Oscar Wilde sued for defamation against a man who called him a “posing sodomite”. On the first day of the trial, the court heard that Vardy had once said to an interviewer that a former lover was “hung like a little chipolata”. (It’s less than half the size of a hot dog, to translate into American sausages.) He’s not someone, the implication was, with a keen respect for the privacy of others.

Vardy claims his agent, Caroline Watt, likely shared information about Rooney without his knowledge. Rooney’s lawyer compared Watt to a “hitman or woman” and insisted that Vardy was ultimately to blame. Watt was found unfit to testify, after losing crucial messages when she dropped her phone in the sea during a fishing trip in Scotland.

Some survived, however, and these left Vardy’s reputation as shaken as Coleen Rooney’s Honda. Surely, no one’s message history would benefit from being read aloud by lawyers using pained voices in a hushed courtroom. Vardy’s texts are at least less offensive than those of Johnny Depp, the American actor who, according to recent court records, joked to a friend that he wanted to set his ex-wife, Amber Heard, on fire, then drown her and have sex with her corpse to “make sure she was dead”. But you can’t tell that Vardy comes off good.

She was also portrayed by Rooney’s attorneys as a cheerful hypocrite. In an exchange of text messages, Vardy’s phone contact “Hubby” – her husband, Jamie, who plays for Leicester City FC – expresses concern with her about the bad press she has received from newspapers with “nothing better to do because they don’t have stories”. (Vardy had to take that day off to send juicy treats to his agent.) In other texts, Caroline Watt and Vardy laugh together about Rooney. plaintive tweet that “someone I agreed to follow me is betraying me” by disclosing private information. “He was not someone she trusted,” Watt writes. “It was me.” She follows this with a smiling face. The update on “Are you taking notes on a fucking criminal plot?” of Stringer Bell? is apparently “Are you putting on emojis after admitting the invasion of privacy?”

Calling the wives of the two footballers enemies is an understatement. Yet when Rooney unfollowed Vardy on Instagram, he was furious to the implied insult to his integrity. “The stupid cow deserves everything she gets!” Vardy fumed, one of the most polite things she’s written about Rooney.

Here in Brittany, Vardy vs. Rooney received the same attention as the equivalent American courtroom show, Depp v. understood. In the latter case, Depp is suing his ex-wife for defamation after he published an opinion column in The Washington Post to be a victim of domestic violence. (She replies.) The lawsuit exposed a truly horrific undercurrent in the psyche of Depp’s female fans, some of whom have consistently attacked Heard on social media as a conniving gold digger — with the implied nuance that they or they would accept any level of abuse to be in the sacred presence of a movie star. Heard isn’t blameless – the relationship between the two seems mutually antagonistic and inherently toxic – but there’s no online army of young men implicitly bragging that Amber Heard could deal with their like dirt.

Much like the Wagatha trial, the US case also shows the extent of behind-the-scenes collusion between some journalists and the people they cover, and how cunning celebrities must now transform even their most personal and painful experiences. into a narrative for general consumption – or risk losing in the court of public opinion. The lawsuit revealed that Heard enlisted the ACLU to help write the personal column about being the victim of domestic violence that is at the center of Depp’s libel suit, and had pushed out around an upcoming film project. At the same time, Heard’s countersuit accuses Depp’s team of planting negative stories about him in the press, undermining and discrediting his testimony about their relationship. Vardy’s actions offer an equally unsettling insight into the making of chipolata – for example, that many paparazzi snaps are the result of a secret deal between the star and the photographer, rather than the nasty intrusions they might seem.

In such trials, there are only losers. Lawsuits like this are exhausting and demeaning, as well as potentially expensive. For women, they are particularly risky. Although Heard is a defendant and Vardy a plaintiff, something about the monster distributed to the two reminds me of the broader injunction on women that they must never be caught. trying. Instead, they have to adopt a persona that novelist Gillian Flynn calls “the cool girl,” who she describes as the “sexy, bright, funny woman” who “puts hot dogs and burgers in her mouth like if it was home to the biggest culinary gang in the world”. bang while still kind of maintaining a size 2.”

Both lawsuits reveal that female celebrities are meant to be cool girls: they should get good press, not degrade themselves doing the kinds of things that lead to good press, like forming relationships with friendly reporters. The Hollywood Newsletter the pinner claimed this week that other actresses had reached out to Heard to express their support privately, but none dared to go public. “The Johnny Depp machine is crazy, and they don’t want a backlash,” an unnamed source said. The asymmetry is predictable: He has a well-oiled public relations strategy; she is a little naughty accomplice.

When Vardy’s lyrics openly acknowledge that she’s playing a game, that media coverage isn’t something that’s done purely at her – I find that oddly refreshing. Her down-to-earth stance is closer to the attitude of everyday people who have made themselves stars on Instagram and YouTube. Fame has always involved terrible business: fake relationships, covered-up scandals, hidden sexualities. Influencer culture, with its happy shilling of products (#ad #sponcon) and willingness to show the hard work behind the glamour, seems oddly more honest.

In the age of social media, very few of us resist the urge to unload on the world. Even privacy hawks such as Coleen Rooney share details of their lives: One little-noticed aspect of the case is that none of her friends found it odd that she shared details of a damp cellar and of fenders on Instagram, which makes you wonder what the rest of his feed looked like. Either way, both Rooney and Vardy must realize by now that the key to modern stardom is control. Watching your enemy’s lawyers scatter your dirty laundry in a courtroom must be disconcerting, while violating your own privacy has become an art.

Share.

Comments are closed.