Belmont Club

Bows and Flows

The mother of a woman who died from a drug overdose blamed the BBC for not saving her daughter from its “cocaine culture”.  Natasha Collins was found dead “after she and her fiance, children’s TV star Mark Speight, had spent the evening taking ‘significant’ amounts of cocaine.”

Last night Natasha’s mother, Carmen Collins, said she believed the couple would still be alive had they not worked in television. And she attacked the BBC for not doing more to tackle the problem of drugs in the media industry.  She said: ‘I do think they have a responsibility to their staff and random checks could help save a lot of people’s lives. The BBC should do random drug-tests on all its staff. …

‘There is a huge cocaine culture so it should look out for its employees. … Two weeks ago the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into the cocaine trade was told by former BBC producer Sarah Graham that she was offered the drug on her first day at the Corporation.

‘The BBC executives must know it is happening and should protect people like my daughter when they enter the industry.’ …

[Collins said] ‘People need to know that going into the TV industry, there is a massive chance they will be exposed to drugs.  ‘In hindsight, I’d love it if Natasha had chosen to go into teaching like her sister and not into TV. But she had this dream of being an actress and the drug culture in the industry killed her.’

Although audiences are supposed to know that what’s “on TV” isn’t real, viewers are often shocked at the gap between the personalities portrayed and the ones who exist in reality. The Times of London describes the fate of some of the BBC’s stars.

  • Frank Bough earned a reputation as a housewives’ favorite in the 1970s and 80s but in 1988 admitted to taking cocaine and wearing women’s underwear at parties with prostitutes.
  • Richard Bacon was sacked after the News of the World revealed: “Blue Peter goody-goody is a cocaine snorting sneak”.
  • Kevin Greening, a former Radio 1 DJ, died of a heart attack in 2007 after taking cocaine, ecstasy and GHB, following a bondage session on the eve of his 45th birthday.
  • Angus Deayton, the host of Have I Got News For You, got a mauling on his own show after it was revealed he had stripped naked and snorted cocaine with a high-class prostitute.

There is too much money riding on the provision of fantasy to be particular about the underlying reality. The show must go on; and much of the public doesn’t care what happens backstage as long as the entertainments keep coming. When David Letterman told audiences in early October he had been blackmailed because someone knew he was having sex with his staffers, the audience rollicked with laughter. The Hollywood Gossip was outraged that anyone should react differently. “He’s a comedian. His job is to make us laugh, not to set some paradigm of moral behavior. From Michael Jordan to Bill Clinton to Brad Pitt, the number of celebrities that have had affairs might outweigh those that have not.” Who cares about the truth, as long as the fantasy is engaging.

Deceptions can be carried out in the full view of millions.  Andre Agassi wrote in a recent book that in the 1990s not only did he play wearing a hairpiece, he played stoned; on crystal meth. But even after he tested positive the authorities turned a blind eye after he lied to exculpate himself. There was no incentive to get at the truth; too many people’s paychecks were dependent on Agassi’s star draw for them to upset the apple cart. We want to watch the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat; not be reminded that our idol is wearing a toupee and juiced to his eyeballs.

Why have we become so indifferent to counterfeits? So willing to accept the clever facsimile for the ostensibly real? In part because perceptions are now such a big part of the economy that for so long as perceptions appear to be OK, then the economy must be ‘OK’.  In recent years management literature has talked extensively about the “servitization of the products” The modern economy no longer produces “things”. It produces intangibles called services. Insurance, banking, government, tourism, retail, education, social services, franchising, news media, hospitality, consulting, law, health care, environmental services, real estate and personal services now dominate the activity of the Western world. We produce satisfaction. Perhaps the key difference between an economy based on things relative to that based on services is that the “truth” of things is self-evident while the value of services is often based on perception. Perception is often the proxy for value in a service economy. Indeed it often comprises the value itself, at least in the entertainment industry and possibly in news. It immediately follows that in a huge market for intangibles where “children’s programs”, sporting events, entertainment, academic degrees, derivatives, mortgages, ‘health care’, news and environmental indulgences are traded for vast sums telling the unflattering truth can be extremely costly. Stay away from the truth unless you absolutely positively have to.

In a market for fantasy the truth has little or no value. If we aren’t interested in David Letterman or Bill Clinton the real person but only in some fantasy character they play then logically nobody should care about blackmail or stained blue dresses. In this kind of world there is no essential difference between a President and a person who plays the President for so long as he does it entertainingly. Whether the product is a subprime mortgage, a politician or the fantasy of a Michael Jackson comeback, facts must be kept subordinate to feelings, at least until the sale is consummated.

But are there any consequences to this?

One of problems economists should study is what happens when the overall truth content of a servitized economy declines. Whereas the “truth” of a ton of steel is the steel itself, what is the truth of a bundled subprime mortgage? What is the truth content of a credit default swap? Perhaps we don’t know, and this circumstance has directly led to the current economic crisis. The financial meltdown is from a certain point of view, a pure crisis of information. What we don’t know (or better yet what we do know but ain’t so) is hurting us. The market has either temporarily lost its ability to properly value assets; or more disturbingly we are simply unwilling, like the ATP vis a vis Andre Agassi, to value the assets because to recognize the truth would be catastrophic for business in our servitized world. Perhaps the real psychological purpose of the various government stimulus packages is simply to suggest that we don’t need to know the truth. It’s government’s way of saying that when we don’t like market signals then bureaucracies can set it aside;  that with enough printed money we can avoid looking at ourselves in the economic mirror and forestall bankruptcies indefinitely. The music can be kept playing forever if only we wish for it hard enough.

The problem is that we can never be wholly free of the truth.

The words “and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” are often used in a moral sense. But they can be used in the entirely secular meaning of the need to be free of bad information. Bad information destroys. We need to be free of bad information. Perhaps the underlying reason for the large and seemingly growing crisis in the Western World is that its truth reserves — the percentage of its information store that actually corresponds to reality — have fallen below a critical level and its institutions are attempting to cover the deficit by frantically printing more lies. Maybe the reason why finance, politics, news, real estate and environmental services are in dire such straits is that they among the service industries have the biggest portfolio of defective information. And it’s killing them. While there may be a tendency in the service economy to increase the amount of spin for short term gain in the long run survival depends on its minimization. We have to know where we are, if we are to avoid getting lost.

The way to the truth is to take the shortest path back to reality. Carmen Collins, the mother of the dead BBC employee, intuitively believed that her daughter might have fared better if she had chosen a simpler career. What drives that sense is the same reason behind the apparent wholesomeness of grassroots political movements and untutored pundits like Joe the Plumber in contrast to the artificiality of the MSM. The outsiders have not yet been firewalled from reality in the way that the mandarins of the BBC and the politicians in Washington have been. The Tea Party world is still that of genuinely funny things — not the sour mordancy of Letterman; it is still one of basic fears and simple joys, of aching feet and a welcome ice-cream soda at the end of the day. Some people spend their whole lives trying to get away from it; to forget the memory of people sitting around a sunny porch eating peanuts, to try with various expensive unguents to wash the smell of new-mown grass and two stroke gasoline fumes from their hair. That is what “success” all too often means in certain circles. That and a line of white powder across a table. In the end they may arrive at a palace of chrome and glass, all cold air and ice at some dizzying height above the world. But they must always remember, or forget at their peril, that it is all upborne by truth and human love.

I can’t get no satisfaction
I can’t get no satisfaction
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and I try
I can’t get no, I can’t get no

When I’m drivin’ in my car
And a man comes on the radio
He’s tellin’ me more and more
About some useless information
Supposed to fire my imagination
I can’t get no, oh no no no
Hey hey hey, that’s what I say


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