So just how cold does a body need to be before we can talk frankly about a person?
What’s the exact temperature where questions of legacy – both good and bad – can be discussed by polite society?
At what point does daring to query the way a person lived their very public life become macabre?
Gratuitous questions? Personally, I’d contend that it’s more gratuitous to arbitrarily state “too soon” without answering the equally pressing question of, “okay, when then?”
The masses are divided. In one camp, it’s a postmodern Wizard of Oz redux – “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” and “olay, olay, olay” soccer strains are sound-tracking booze-fuelled festivities and relief tweets.
The other camp is playing it sombre. Genteel. They’re playing the like-her-or-loathe-her-the-dead-deserve-respect card. That the dead deserve not to have their proverbial graves tap-danced upon. That now, apparently, isn’t the time to ask too many questions.
Why? What does death change? Death doesn’t make a person nicer or more likable or more popular or successful. Death doesn’t suddenly enable a citizenry to erase their collective memory nor burn their history books.
I’m not interested in playing the What Maggie Did game. There’s plenty of autopsies carving up her reign – I’m more interested in this question of good taste. Of whether jubilation – be it in social media or on the mean streets of Glasgow – is ever appropriate.
And I’m going to say it is. More than just appropriate: it’s a sign of a politically engaged citizenry in a zeitgeist in which too many are lamenting decline.
Firstly, it’s important I table the “public figure” concept. Margaret Thatcher was not just a wife, a mother, a grandmother. Sure, she was these things, but she was also a highly controversial figure in British politics. For over two decades. As a public figure, different rules apply.
The masses don’t suddenly need to treat Thatcher with the kid gloves that we’d tongue-bitingly afford to a recently deceased neighbour. We don’t all need to mourn just because some people feel inclined. We don’t need to feign devastation just because culturally we blindingly equate death with tragedy.
And one thing we certainly don’t need to do is buy into the whitewash that too often occurs when a public figure dies. I appreciated that media love a bad news story – a celebrity death is a ring-a-ding-ding for the till – but this process too often involves carefully constructed narratives that, while polite perhaps, while politically correct maybe, do absolutely nothing but further the delusion that society can be proscriptive about appropriate reactions to death.
Not only is such behaviour superficial, it’s fraudulent, it’s doing a disservice to history – to accuracy – and it’s legitimising the bizarre idea that decency is somehow defined exclusively by how well we all hide our true feelings.
To the vast majority of us, this story – this death – isn’t about Margaret Thatcher The Grocer’s daughter; it’s about Margaret Thatcher, former British PM. And we’re perfectly entitled to respond accordingly.
April 10, 2013
© Lauren Rosewarne