Monday, 8 April 2013

Speaking Ill of the Dead

“For 3 million you could give everyone in Scotland a shovel, and we could dig a hole so deep we could hand her over to Satan in person” 
― Frankie Boyle

Unless you were hiding under the duvet in case of missiles from Pyongyang today you'll have caught the news that infamous Tory and hater of all humanity (at least, all humanity that lacked a vast fortune and a standing army) Margaret Thatcher has regrettably died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 87. I found out when I turned facebook on this morning to find a newsfeed of popped champagne corks, photos of street parties in Brixton and Glasgow, and various quotes like the ones above. It was the first Good Thing to happen on a day of Many Good Things (the others being personal victories, and worthy of a street party of one).

I confess to feeling slightly uneasy about the celebrations, despite joining in online and in person. There's a deep cultural idea of not speaking "ill of the dead", as though we've historically been terrified of a zombie attack where walking corpses are not out for brains but a desire to give you a ticking off for making some joke about the miner's strike.

One fantastic little response to the merriment popped up on an online dating website of all places, which crystallised this argument perfectly for me. After chucking up a really quite neutral status update there ("Margaret Thatcher is dead! What a way to start the day!") came this tremendous response from a young lady who shall remain nameless.
You know her family more so her grandchildren will be more affected over people rejoicing her death. Hate her sure rejoice a death she was not a monster 
It was then that my internal moral-o-meter ticked into "Nah, fuck it". Glenn Greenwald in this brilliant piece for the Guardian makes the case that public figures are exempt from the traditional respect that would be awarded to friends and family members, and makes it better than me. But it got me thinking about the very idea of "speaking ill".

If you had come through abuse by a family member, famous or no, why should you hang back on fist-pumping the air when news of their demise reached your ears? If there was an individual who had caused you hurt, treated you without humanity, then why should you afford them any kind of respect once they'd died? I can think of one person (happily only one) who, upon discovering they have passed away, I intend on buying a bottle of something delicious and toasting him on his way to whatever hell my atheistic sensibilities will allow him. And I won't feel any shame about that. Why should I? My feelings of relief and joy will be just as valid as the feelings of grief others may feel. 

As for "Oh noes, the children", surely in that case there should be absolutely no opinion when someone famous dies? Say a famous man who secretly committed domestic violence, who terrorised his children and made their life hell, dies peacefully. The plaudits about what a wonderful man he is are plastered all over the media. Nothing but love for the man who caused them hurt. Sounds pretty horrendous for those who knew him personally, no? 

The woman committed abuses both at home and abroad. Almost everyone I know in Scotland was affected negatively by her actions and policies. She came to power before I was born but I grew up in a landscape shaped by her notions of fucking over the poor, greed being the only thing that mattered, and that community wasn't worth a damn. I'm still living in that landscape as those ideas are hard to shift.

So I'm going to feel good about the fact she's gone, and I'll do it without guilt. I'm going to sit around a table with friends and eat home-made food and raise a glass with a smile on my face that someone who stood for everything I don't is no longer with us.

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