We share collective shame for Charlotte

18:47, Mar 03 2014
charlotte dawson
SAD NEWS: It is tragic and quite sad that Charlotte Dawson's status in the public eye will do more for mental health awareness and treatment than her life did.

Last week's column on happiness was coincidental with the sad news of Charlotte Dawson's death. As such, it was unwittingly apposite.

The convergence of a generalised comment about contentment, success and happiness with one person's insufferable torment made the point that, at any given time, there are people struggling and that our wayward values or, perhaps, lack of useful ones, can underpin tragedy. Accordingly, it is to our collective shame that Charlotte died before her time.

That is not because she was Charlotte Dawson, the former model, TV personality or because she was, or was thought by some to be, one of the socially elite (whatever that is).

It is because her death was needless; because she had no-one to help her at the time in her life when she most needed it, and, above all, because she was a person, like the rest of us. It does not matter what or who we might think a person to be.

Anyone feeling that bad should be able to find a way out. So if our society, meaning each of us, does not bear a sense of responsibility for Charlotte's death, then we have no right to expect others to share our own misfortunes with empathy.

By most accounts Charlotte Dawson was successful, although what that might really mean is, as opined, evasive. However, unlike the many unknown people who end their lives each year and on a scale far greater than the road toll, Charlotte Dawson brings to the issue the thing she always had - a public profile. It is tragic and quite sad that her status in the public eye will do more for mental health awareness and treatment than her life had.


And none of it means this columnist can find licence to prattle on with details of his own experiences or personal opinion: to offer a bout of the "me toos" or worse, garnering attention by pretence - feigning concern by proffering an ostensibly sympathetic commentary - as a vehicle for some unenlightened opinion into the private battles of Charlotte Dawson.

On February 24 the New Zealand Herald's Deborah Hill-Cone penned a rather self-indulgent, mawkish and misguided epistle that was probably borne of genuine emotion but came out all wrong and, instead, read as a glib assessment that Charlotte was scared of ageing and irrelevance so opted to stay 47 forever.

As far as motives go, it was a shallow conclusion and ended up being one of those chook-sqwawking tirades about how women must fight to be valued; how they suffer and what a marvellous world it would be if all over-50-year-old women could become agitated, furious, boiling, stroppy old broads. Yawn. The column received its just deserts with agitated, furious, boiling stroppy young people attacking the treatment Hill-Cone meted out to Charlotte Dawson's memory in the name of column writing. The newspaper stopped debate, probably for fear its columnist would cave in under the same anonymous internet attacks seemingly at the heart of the wider issue. Other celebrities weighed in with details of mean things people have said of them and most don't warrant being repeated here (including the invented ones) because aside from their meanness they really don't matter. Sally Ridge was in for a piece of the action and found someone prepared to print her observations, which do deserve being repeated, although not for reasons Sally would have anticipated.

"I was saying to Jaime, 'Oh my God, can you imagine what Charlotte went through just before she passed away, the depression and how sad she would have been and how emotional' ... You just can't even comprehend what she would have gone through."

You think so, Sally? She then opined in splendid ignorance: "The papers need to examine a little bit more what they print." Yes, Sally, they most certainly do.

Sally was known for being married to Matthew Ridge who, to his credit, did have a reason for being publicised, namely, his sporting ability. Sally went on to feature in women's magazines decorating bird-baths and doing other nice things with paper, paste and pretty colours.

Jaime is Sally's daughter and it appears that the apple, as the saying goes, has not fallen far from the tree. She weighed in for a share of the limelight and, in a fit of dramatic Facebook hyperbole, overshot the mark completely with the comment: "I am absolutely sickened that someone could be so evil to write such an awful article. You must be one terribly unhappy and mean woman Deborah Hill Cone."

One supposes a dawn raid on the houses of either Ridge would be unlikely to find rocket parts in various states of assembly but, if present, they would at least be arranged nicely.

Those commenting to such effect, and there were others, add nothing to the tragedy and are simply doing that which they say is so vile and harmful. They are also propelling their own social status and, unwittingly, continuing to run the risk that in defining themselves by the amount of attention they receive, they will founder and be hopelessly isolated when true crisis strikes and they need substance to fall back on.

The Timaru Herald