The allegations that have recently emerged that Wayne Rooney repeatedly paid for sex with prostitute Jenny Thompson, whilst his wife Coleen was pregnant with their first child, have been seized upon as media ‘gold dust’. All the components are there to whip-up the ultimate media frenzy: a hedonistic young villain, a sexy seductress, (who, conveniently, is willing to pose for The News of the World “Rooney Hooker” photo shoots) and a heartbroken childhood sweetheart. The intense media attention has lead to a degree of constructive and worthy discussions on issues relating to prostitution and the objectification of women. At the same time, though, each person involved in this situation has become an object, a commodity or a brand that the media simultaneously creates, exploits and exacerbates.
Drawing attention to prostitution and encouraging debate on the many issues that surround the sex-trade is undoubtedly a good and valuable thing. The Anti-Porn Men’s Project is one campaign group to have received a platform to promote their cause, undoubtedly as a result of the Rooney scandal dominating the headlines. Speaking on BBC Radio Four’s ‘Woman’s Hour’, the founder of the group spoke of the unacceptable portrayal of women as sexual objects who are always available, and how this can lead to sexual harassment, sex trafficking and rape.
But for every good cause there is the wolf in sheep’s clothing; in this case the type of journalism that pretends to condemn Rooney but essentially focuses on the sordid sexual details of a “romp” with a £1200-a- night “hooker”. The News of the World adorns its articles on the scandal with pictures of Jenny Thompson in her underwear, instantly undermining any pretence made of reproaching Rooney, whilst The Sun uses the word “tart” as though it’s synonymous with “woman”. They might as well be honest, and declare unabashedly: “Pretty Jenny Thompson has been a VERY naughty girl. Hard to believe she went to a private school, isn’t it? GREAT pair of tits, though…”.
Out of the three figures in this situation, it is undoubtedly Jenny Thompson who is most explicitly stereotyped by the media, but that is not to say that either Coleen or Wayne Rooney have escaped the powers of the media to mould their character profiles. Footballers are cast as stereotypical personas and they have boxes to tick if they want to live the high life. To get the attention of the media, they should be well-groomed and irresistible to women, as good a player off the field as they are on it. Until, of course, they meet their beautiful, fashion-conscious but down-to-earth, girl-next-door type wife or girlfriend, who as it happens, is yet another commodity both created and exploited by the media. These women become a collective, “WAGs”, with criteria to fulfil and a brand to portray.
What should lie at the heart of this media frenzy is the issue of the objectification of women. It is something that the media should challenge relentlessly, not just when a sports “superstar” hangs his dirty washing out to dry in front of thousands of drooling journalists, pens poised and cameras aimed at his pretty conquest. The press that turns each individual into a commodity hinders the more positive press which addresses the ethical issues at the crux of this story. When the media casts its spotlight celebrities become dehumanized. Their personal lives become blurred, fictionalized and sensationalized. The scandal and the juicy details take precedence, and people like Jenny Thompson become the generic prostitute, Rooney the generic sex-crazed male. Generic creations create generic reactions, though, and it is for this reason that a lot of the press will never delve deep enough into these issues, and the question mark hanging tentatively over the sex trade will remain a very faint one.