Tuesday, September 12, 2006

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.


At 1:30 pm, Blogger Jacob Bard-Rosenberg said...

Good stuff! This whole respect for the dead thing is tied up with some dodgy Christian morality. I certainly don't respect Thatcher while she's alive, so I can't see why her immanent death will change that. In other news, I'm writing a motion for council I on the Israeli incursion into Lebanon - do you feel like seconding it? Maybe see you on Saturday too.

At 8:15 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

eh, youre judging the views of those who believe celebrating thatchers death is wrong on the actions of those who live thousands of miles away from them? how the fuck did you work that out?

residents of florida may not be dignified, but generally "tories in the student union" are and would rather keep their mouth shut.

At 11:27 pm, Blogger DanS said...

Actually, Kylie, I'm not judging anyone here by the actions of people in Florida, just comparing the two. It is, however, my experience that there's a bit of hypocrisy, and that tories do tend to not have a problem celebrating the death of people they don't like.

My main point, though, was simply that there is nothing wrong with celebrating death per se, in my opinion. This means that the tories are not necessarily hypocritical, but just plain wrong.

At 9:29 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey dan,

you may have a point, but i don't recall any major leftwing figures dying during my lifetime to test uk tories opinion on. i know the sun LOVED the death of al-zarqawi but he's hardly a wholesome left-wing politician is he? more of the same for the belgrano, which pretty much celebrated mass murder, compared to outrage at saddam welcoming the downing of the twin towers, although there's obvious differences i guess.

just some general thought trails there

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