On Wednesday night, The Chaser featured a song which poked fun at Princess Di, Steve Irwin, Peter Brock, Stan Zemanek, Don Bradman, Kerry Packer and other dead celebrities. It has been widely slammed by politicians. The Herald Sun editorial says that the song “gratuitously slandered people whose memories are cherished by Australians.”
Chris Taylor, the author of the song, said “I think it makes a fair enough point that people who were flawed in life are often disproportionately hailed as saints in death.”
I’m not a fan of the hagiography surrounding dead celebrities in the media. Just to take an example from The Chaser’s list of celebrities, I must confess that I found the massive outpouring of grief at the death of Princess Diana to be bizarre. While she was alive, I didn’t have much time for her. I don’t know that I’d go as far as Germaine Greer’s biting criticism, but I always found her to be a sad person rather than a person to be admired. I am sure she did some good things, but there are others whom I admire far more. That being said, I found the nature of her death to be tragic because she was a young woman, a mother of two small boys, and it was a horrible way to die. But I certainly didn’t feel personally bereaved in any sense.
I don’t know if I’m unusual; I don’t connect with media celebrities in the way that many other people seem to. When I was a teenager, I never had crushes on celebrity actors, and wondered if I was abnormal. I did, however, have crushes on imaginary fictional characters (eg, Faramir in Lord of the Rings – swoon!). I think I would feel more of a sense of personal loss at the death of an esteemed judge rather than a celebrity. Perhaps that just proves I’m a nerd.
I would be interested to know about the psychology of mass outpourings of public grief. Often we are encouraged to hide our grief, but perhaps when there is a death of a much-admired celebrity, the public expression of grief becomes acceptable. Maybe people feel that they can grieve their own loved ones as well as grieving for a celebrity? And I think the very imperfections of the people mentioned in the song was part of their attraction, and the reason why people identified with them. It made people feel better about their own relationship troubles, mistakes and the like.
So, unlike the Herald Sun, I wouldn’t say that I cherished the memory of any of the people mentioned in the song. But nor would I deliberately make fun of their deaths. It just seems like bad taste. The fact remains that the people mentioned in the song still have families who are distressed by the death of loved ones. And I would not want to distress them further by making fun of those deaths. I think it was “cheap” of The Chaser to court notoriety in this fashion. I’ve never had that much time for them anyway: I don’t really like cruel humour of that type.