Or is it OK when it's the national press doing the mocking and the victim is famous?
The thought occurred to me recently when I spotted the Mail's "Night of the Living Dead" front page after the Stones did Glastonbury. It is remarkable how the band keep on performing despite their advanced years but most people celebrate it rather than harp on about how old and wrinkly "the boys" have become.
Jagger and co are big enough to take it and the weak ageist jokes ("Limpin' Jack Flash") have followed them around since before they really did get old. Maybe it's the price of being rich and famous.
I am not asking the press and the online community to treat every one in the public eye with kid gloves. For example the furore surrounding Maurice Saatchi putting his hands around Nigella's throat was a legitimate examination of his conduct.
Some famous people (they are usually known by a single name - Jordan, Cheryl etc) play the celeb game and make a fortune from it so they can't complain if they get bitten by the hand that feeds them.
But there is a lot of public mockery that really is out of order. A couple of examples:
- When Roy Hodgson gave his first press conference as England manager, the press was full of nonsense about his (mild) speech impediment ("Bwing on the Euwos!").
- Former Lib Dem leader Menzies Campbell couldn't shake endless references to his supposed decrepitude. This dignified former Olympic athlete was effectively forced out by a snidey media at the grand old age of 66!
Often women get a lot of personal comments based on their appearance which seems OTT and more than they would get if they were men - Rebecca Adlington and Cherie Blair come to mind. Recently deposed Oz PM, Julia Gillard, took some disgraceful stick about her bust size among other things.
Apart from the unnecessary hurt caused to individuals by this sort of stuff, we have to consider the example it sets to kids. If they see public figures pilloried for having a hair out of place, carrying a few extra pounds or speaking with a lisp, then how can we then tell them it's not OK to bully the poor kids in their class with the same afflictions?