For her own good, we should stop reading Liz Jones

Reading her  despair, I’m aware of a niggling sense of personal shame

Share

She has been anorexic for most of her adult life. She had her breasts removed before she was 30. Her private life is a ghastly mêlée of unkindness, anger and betrayal, leaving her with few friends. She regularly declares her profound and utter misery with her life and who she is.

In a saner, more humane world, there would be serious concerns about the writer Liz Jones, whose self-loathing is apparently boundless. Instead, her downward spiral is followed with avid enthusiasm.

Promoting her autobiography Girl Least Likely To, she told the Sunday Times’s Lynn Barber this weekend: “On my puppy’s life, I’ve never had a day of happiness.” In her own column, she described herself as “old, broke, overworked, depressed, lonely, barren, deaf, friendless, in possession of cellulite and a post-menopausal beard”.

She signed off with the showy flourish of despair in which she specialises: “I seriously don’t think I can do this any more.”

The public angst of a writer: does it really matter? There is, after all, nothing new in the famous showing off their personal scars to advance their careers. Yet, reading those words, I was aware of a niggling sense of personal shame.

Jones is not a particularly good or interesting writer, and seems to be pretty much devoid of humour. I read her occasionally to see how far she will go, how horrible her life will become, and I suspect I am not alone. It is vulgar, reality-show journalism, sometimes horrifying, now and then unwittingly funny. Reading it is like watching a slow-motion car crash, uneasily aware that you, the viewer, are causing it to happen.

The problem with having a disastrous personal life as your unique selling point is that, in order to keep its boggling audience satisfied, it has to get worse. In the early days of emotional exhibitionism (patron saint: Princess Diana), the revelations were comparatively tame. Over the past decade, though, real pain has begun to provide the excitement and entertainment once derived from stories on TV. These days, dysfunction is hot. Any self-respecting talent-show contestant knows that, to improve your chances, you have to include some hell-and-back melodrama in your personal biography.

In a sense, the writings of Liz Jones are a masterclass in how to make self-hatred pay. She complains of loneliness, but then, as soon as anyone extends a helping hand, she makes sure that she sneers at them or exposes some aspect of their lives that will ensure their enmity.

If it were all a journalistic game, it would matter little. The creepy part of Jones’s success, and the reason why she is such an appalling example to would-be writers, particularly women, is that writing is not simply the reflection of a ghastly life; the ghastliness has actually been created for the writing. “I want to do the best I can for the paper,” she says rather sadly. “Because otherwise I think they’re going to sack me. I wish I was secure enough to hold something back.”

That is the most miserable confession of all: the words matter more than the life. The last two decades have seen the rise of society’s Great Grotesques, larger-than-life, narcissistic public figures – always women – whose extraordinary private lives and views play an important part in their fame and prominence. Those, like Katie Price and Julie Burchill, who have played the part better than most, have given the impression of an inner strength. Once the interview is done or the copy filed, normal life can be resumed.

The case of Jones is different. Personal misery is there to give readers their thrill for the week. There is, it seems, nothing contrived, cynical or planned about it. Readers and the writer are involved in a tacky, destructive game. She serves up her own dysfunction; we gawp hungrily at it, willing it to get worse.

You don’t write,  you don’t call...

It is rare to turn to China for guidance on how to run family life. The small matter of its one-child policy suggests rather more central control than most of us would appreciate. All the same, China’s new Law and Protection of Rights and Interests of the Aged may have something to recommend it. The legislation, introduced last week, obliges the offspring of people of 60 or older to care for their parents’ financial and spiritual welfare.

If sons and daughters fail to keep in touch with their parents (the number of required annual visits is unspecified), they can be taken to court by the oldsters. Several inter-generational cases are already under way. The Chinese government says it is “raising awareness” of a deepening problem, but others will remember Martin Amis’s prediction of a coming civil war between the young and the old. Suddenly that idea seems rather less fanciful than it once did.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The final instalment of our WW1 series

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Simon Usborne: The more you watch pro cycling, the more you understand its social complexity

Simon Usborne
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice