Damien Hirst, Pippa Middleton and the Streisand Effect

Streisand Estate that led to naming of Streisand Effect
Streisand Estate that led to naming of Streisand Effect

How are Damien Hirst, Pippa Middleton and Barbara Streisand related ? It’s down to a couple of stories that have been pretty popular over the past week.

Pippa Middleton’s been in the news again and this time it’s because of a Twitter account and book that parodies her book Celebrate. In fact, the spoof book When One is Expecting: A Posh Person’s Guide to Pregnancy and Parenting (Creators of Pippatips) has now actually surpassed Celebrate in sales.

It’s actually fairly amusing and is full of inane tips such as this one from the Twitter account:

However, it looks like she now thinks this has gone beyond a joke and according to this article in the Huffington Post, Pippa is now planning on suing the book publishers and getting the Twitter account shut down.

Hasn’t she heard of the Streisand Effect ? It’s the phenomenon where trying to hide a subject actually draws attention to it and gains it far more publicity. It always makes me chuckle when I read the details of how this came about. Here’s a synopsis from Wikipedia.

The Streisand effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.

It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose attempt in 2003 to suppress photographs of her residence in Malibu, California, inadvertently generated further publicity. Similar attempts have been made, for example, in cease-and-desist letters, to suppress numbers, files and websites. Instead of being suppressed, the information receives extensive publicity and media extensions such as videos and spoof songs, often being widely mirrored across the Internet or distributed on file-sharing networks.

Mike Masnick of Techdirt coined the term after Streisand unsuccessfully sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and Pictopia.com for violation of privacy. The US$50 million lawsuit endeavored to remove an aerial photograph of Streisand’s mansion from the publicly available collection of 12,000 California coastline photographs.Adelman photographed the beachfront property to document coastal erosion as part of the government-sanctioned and government-commissioned California Coastal Records Project. Before Streisand filed her lawsuit, “Image 3850” had been downloaded from Adelman’s website only six times; two of those downloads were by Streisand’s attorneys.As a result of the case, public knowledge of the picture increased substantially; more than 420,000 people visited the site over the following month.

Streisand Estate that led to naming of Streisand Effect
Streisand Estate photo that led to the naming of The Streisand Effect

Other people who have fallen foul of this effect are Ryan Giggs, Beyonce Knowles and Argyll and Bute council.

I may be overly suspicious here, but some people appear to take advantage of The Streisand Effect and use it to create publicity for their ends. They realise that by appearing to create controversy about a subject they create a viral interest in it and can therefore profit. I can’t see any evidence that Pippa really is suing the authors of the spoof, Mat Morrisroe and Suzanne Azzopardi. All I can find are quite vague statements like, “The younger sister of the Duchess of Cambridge is thought to have taken offence over the novelty book”. Could the publishers be creating a bit of publicity for themselves ?

Another story that caught my eye is about the master publicist and manipulator Damien Hirst. I’m not a huge fan of his work but he knows how to attract attention. The latest story in the news is about a photo of him from 1981 as a 16 year old grinning whilst he’s posing with a severed head in a morgue. The body had been donated to science and for me it’s pretty tasteless and disrespectful. As Professor Tarlow from the University of Leicester puts it:

“The image is shocking. I don’t think it should be on public display. It deserves a place in Hirst’s archive, but not in a gallery.”

“It is a betrayal of trust to the deceased man, who has evidently donated his body to medical science – a philanthropic act. His body has not been used for a serious purpose.”

“To make it worse, his face is potentially recognisable – a family member of neighbour might look at it and recognise him.”

Hirst’s arguement is that it makes people talk and promotes discussion which means that it’s art. I don’t agree that this alone qualifies it as art. If you look at the front page of the news there are plenty of gruesome stories but just because they create discussion this does not make them art.

This Exhibition has been on since last October but this debate has only come to light this week. Could it be that the gallery’s or Hirst’s media team has stirred things up for a bit of publicity ? Could ticket sales be dropping and they need a boost from The Streisand Effect ?

As the saying goes. There’s no such thing as bad publicity.

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