Can a baby solve a PR crisis?
Rebekah Brooks and her new baby girl, Scarlett.
It’s an old punch line now: baby as accessory. The number of celebrities popping out one, adopting or hiring a surrogate in order to get one has grown exponentially in the last decade to become, well, a trend. A newborn brings not only unparalleled joy and fulfilment, it also carries a pleasant bi-product: the potential, provided the narrative around the baby’s birth is executed properly, to turn around the public’s perception faster than you can say “I hope nobody remembers I used to wreck marriages!”
I said properly! Look at poor old Madonna, who adopted two of her four kids. First, David in 2006 and then a girl, Mercy, in 2009 from Malawi. And, from a PR standpoint, neither of the adoptions worked – probably because we’re still too freaked out by her arms to notice.
Which brings us to the latest woman to join the ranks: Rebekah Brooks, former editor of disgraced tabloid newspaper News of the World, fifth daughter of Rupert Murdoch, and the boss who ordered an employee to dress up as Harry Potter for a news conference just hours after the Twin Towers collapsed, now has a baby of her own, a girl named Scarlett, thanks to a surrogate mother.
It’s good news story, right? Brooks, who has been trying for five years with husband Charlie to have a baby and once drew comparisons to Sideshow Bob as much for her hair as her reputation, (you know, for allegedly overseeing the hacking of a murdered girl’s phone and then like, denying it) has now developed a softer, maternal side.
But I don’t think Brooks, who became the first female editor of the Sun newspaper at just 35, could deny that this is also a dream come true for her public image. Brooks, who is still fighting criminal charges over the phone hacking scandal, published photos of herself last month, holding baby Scarlett and swathed in a top that looks a little like a hospital gown. If she wanted to, she could now construct a public image as a wonder-woman; a domestic goddess made pure by the pangs of labour.
See, if your stock is low, because you maybe have a vial of Billy Bob Thornton’s blood around your neck and some weird bruises on your arms and the public seeks a reinvention of your image from
“Angelina Jolie: Man Trap” to “Humanitarian”, there is no better way to turn things around than to fly to Cambodia in 2002, promptly fall in love with an orphan, call him Maddox and tell everyone he healed you. And now? Well, now you are Mother Earth. And with each blessed child’s arrival that follows, (and each photograph of her breast feeding or simply hanging out with the fam in a nightie) Angie became earthier and earthier until – wow! No, it’s not strange at all that she made a movie about Bosnia. Why would you ask? Would you ask Mary how she conceived Jesus? Hm. That’s what I thought.
But let us rise and give Angie a slow clap because I actually really think she was healed and is now, to borrow a phrase from every mid-level TV star with a pulse, “giving back.”
In fact, Angelina became the perfect template for famous females everywhere. Now wait, I’m not saying that Sandra Bullock went out and got herself an African American baby named Louis from New Orleans in 2010 so we would stop feeling sorry for the poor, older woman who was cheated on by the professional douchebag Jesse James and start admiring the towering maternal figure who is doing fine, thanks for asking. Sandy (I’m into nicknames, it fosters intimacy) managed to successfully steer the public and the media away from the idea of her as victim and instead embrace her life for the triumph it is. Now, as for Rebekah: I think it’s worth asking why she released that photo.
But perhaps the blame belongs to people like me, who, upon seeing a former bad girl with a baby, melt inside at the narrative I’ve been following before I had memory - that the highest moral status bestowed upon any woman is motherhood. In my mind, nothing else tops it. And that is maybe why it doesn’t matter what other bad behaviour they indulge in or how successful they already were at everything else, just as long as they wind up in a photo wearing a nightie with a babe in arms.