Last week gave us the most thrilling public battle between two Alpha females since Krystle Carrington and Alexis Colby got stuck in the mud. A WAG-warring debacle has offered us a roll-call of unforgettable phrases: from that jaw-dropping moment when Coleen Rooney revealed she’d been planting fake stories to uncover a wolf in the Instagram chicken coop and finally delivered her denouement ‘It’s…… Rebekah Vardy’s account,’ to Vardy’s questionable bridge-building effort, saying it was ‘like arguing with a pigeon’, and throughout it all the meme we didn’t realise we needed, #WagathaChristie.
It’s also offered a bunch of heavyweight broadcasters and editors the chance to do that thing they perfected in the mid-1980s era of Royals coverage – chase the exact same story as the tabloids under the guise of reflecting on a media phenomenon.
As a happy inhabitant of this middle earth, I was among the many booked to opine for a radio panel chat at the weekend, then un-booked after I proved inadequately sensitive to the issues afoot. I was asked, ‘aren’t we guilty of picking on two vulnerable women, delighting in the breakdown of their relationship?’ Making them our victims, in other words. When I said not, they decided they needed someone with ‘a stronger feminist angle’. Wouldn’t we be just as curtain-twitching if it were their respective husbands in the fray? I’d say so, and I’m sorry if that means I’m letting the side down.
What we’re actually witnessing is the veil coming off the great myth we’ve been sold about the social media accounts of the rich and famous. In this, Rooney and Vardy must take joint responsibility.
First Rooney confirmed what showbiz journalists previously feared to be true, that there is a two-tier hierarchy – one public account for her 815,000 followers, and another private account from where the leaks allegedly sprung, for only 367 friends (possibly now 366).
It does beg the question of what Rooney’s public Instagram account is for; if we’re not in that inner sanctum of private access, can we say we really ‘know’ Rooney at all?
Vardy’s response to Rooney’s accusations have only cemented the notion that Instagram no longer offers us direct insight into the lives of the rich and famous. Her very first line of defence, even before the ‘pigeon’ popped out, was that ‘over the years, various people have had access to my insta’. She’s since upped that figure to include ‘a PR agency and an advertising agency’. That’s not a couple of trusted scribes, that’s a massive hive of increasingly impersonal activity, all taking care of the business of being Rebekah Vardy and disseminating the spoils.
This public-private chasm once again demonstrates the great paradox of Instagram’s great selling point – that it promises immediate snapshots of the lives of those we worship from afar, an intimate antidote to the controlled publicity machines of old, when in fact the best results are testament to a similar machine at work, just of a new variety.
We get to go behind the VIP rope while the star gets to ‘reach’ the fans. It’s an old school publicist’s nightmare, but an aspiring celebrity’s dream, and it’s no coincidence that reality TV stars are its leading lights – why wait months for a Vogue cover of Angelina Jolie when, with one swipe, you can find a picture of Gemma Collins using her hoover? Personal connections are forged, on which brands are built, and WAGS represent the apotheosis of this – combining the everyday appeal of girls next door with the bling-tastic glamour that only premier league wages can properly support. No wonder they’re big business, and this story has made such waves.
Instagram is now highly competitive territory, which means the Rooney-Hardy rivalry for media coverage, public affection, corporate coinage, isn’t so much an ego-riddled mud-fight as a battle over intellectual property by two self-respecting CEOS of their respective organisations. Their products are themselves, the tools their bikinis, their Bulgaris, whatever they know will interest their customers which, as proved this week, includes pretty much all of us.
If we stop falling for the intimacy myth of Instagram and see their stories instead as press releases, even these betrayals as brand-builders, we can celebrate both Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy not as victims but as major shareholders in companies whose stock has never been higher – hopefully something to please feminists everywhere.