*** DEBUG END ***

TV review: Bad Influencer: The great Insta con, and Hemingway

09 July 2021

BBC/Minnow/Brooke Holm

Bad Influencer: The great Insta con (BBC1, Wednesday of last week) told the story of Belle Gibson, who pretended to be suffering from cancer

Bad Influencer: The great Insta con (BBC1, Wednesday of last week) told the story of Belle Gibson, who pretended to be suffering from cancer

TO NEGATIVE commentators, Covid-19 has merely hastened the inexorable withering, decline and irrelevance of the Church of England. Yet there are gleams of hope in the enveloping darkness. Why don’t clergy redefine themselves as a small but characterful niche in the wellness movement (worth, apparently, $4.2 trillion a year); and why don’t clergy wholeheartedly embrace social media, reinventing themselves as today’s moral and personal guides of choice — namely, influencers?

I hope that episcopal focus groups eager to promote such a vision watched Bad Influencer: The great Insta con (BBC1, Wednesday of last week). An Australian, Belle Gibson, gathered a huge online following, moved and inspired by the way she not only survived but thrived despite inoperable brain cancer. She had pulled herself out of conventional treatment, ending her chemotherapy and determining that she could heal herself by adopting a rigorous diet.

Around the world, this was what her devotees longed to hear: let’s jettison these experts, and take personal control, restoring our health with a combination of organic vegetables and punishing exercise. Seemingly endorsed by Apple and Penguin publishers, her diet book flew off the shelves. Ms Gibson lived up to her name: despite terminal cancer — she was later diagnosed with four secondaries — she looked gorgeous, a model of health and vitality.

Some adherents began to wonder why, however rigorously they followed her regime, they never achieved their true goal: looking like her. They became not better, but worse. A few journalists began digging, and, eventually, the entire business (significant term) was revealed as a hoax. She never had cancer; schoolfriends said that she had always been a compulsive liar, seeking attention by any means. Thousands are left feeling bitter, duped, fools — and poorer. Presumably, some who, following her inspiration, pulled out of conventional therapies actually hastened their death.

This is a salutary tale. Religion is far too accommodating a home for the self-appointed guru; far too many people are desperate to punish and abase themselves (like all fads, wellness addiction is curiously puritanical) if only a charismatic healer tells them to. My prescription: a daily dose of morning and evening prayer.

For a different kind of puritanism, see Hemingway (BBC4, Tuesday of last week). His extraordinarily influential revolution in the writer’s craft was to achieve the greatest possible simplicity and directness, providing the reader with the unadorned and unmediated experience of real life, ugly and sordid, as well as beautiful and uplifting. He sought to write “one true sentence”: I can never quite forget that he vigorously publicised his life as exaggerated boastful myth.

Visually splendid, it is a powerful insight into crucial 20th-century culture. But why do they treat him, as he did himself, so very seriously, verging on the portentous?

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events


Church Times/RSCM:

Festival of Faith and Music

26 - 28 April 2024

See the full programme on the festival website. 

Early bird tickets available


Intercultural Church for a Multicultural World

28 May 2024

A Church Times/Church House Publishing webinar

Tickets are FREE


Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available


Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available


Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)