The politics of celebrating death
An increasingly common way of pissing off Tories in Student Unions is to bring a motion promising to hold a party on the day Margaret Thatcher dies. Most commonly this is described as being in 'bad taste' or 'offensive' (in the abstract). Conversely I was struck when in America by the coverage of Floridans openly dancing in the streets at the news that Castro was dying. There was no condemnation, no unease, no sense whatsoever that this might be in bad taste. Indeed, it's notable that the most outraged at the suggestion one might celebrate Thatcher's death don't seem to have such a problem when it comes to Castro or Al-Zarqawi.
It does, however, throw up another question: Is there anything wrong with celebrating death?
One of the most common retorts in these comical Thatcher debates (the right takes them,and themselves, absurdly seriously) is something akin to "how would you feel if we held a party to celebrate Scargill's death?" Well, personally I'm not sure I'd be that fussed by Scargill dying, but I take the point, how would I feel if someone celebrated the death of someone I admired, respected and supported? Well, i'd be annoyed, sure. Someone glorying in Paul Foot's death would have been an extremely unpleasant thing for me to see. However, I'm not sure how significant that really is. I don't think I'd be offended because this was a tasteless offence to the dead (to some abstract group of people who've passed away whom I should venerate), but I think I'd be offended because it was an insult to someone who's values I share.
A celebration of Thatcher's death would sure as hell be offensive to Tories, but I'm not sure I'd be offended much. It would be offensive to Thatcher, in as much as she continued to exist, but if I had Thatcher right in front of my right now I imagine I'd be quite offensive to her. To me celebrating Castro's death seems unnecessary (though under certain circumstances the end of that regime would be no bad thing), but to those exiles it was an important statement.
It seems to me that this is exactly what celebrating a death is, it is communicating a statement, and in most cases a political one. I wouldn't want someone to celebrate Paul Foot's death for exactly the same reason I don't like it when Tories spout daft arguments, I'd disagree with the statement and the ideology behind it, not because it offended some grand principle of taste, dignity or respect.