Not so funny…

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.



Filed under freedom of speech, humour, media, society, television

7 responses to “Not so funny…

  1. GavinM

    I’m not a huge fan of the Chasers, although occasionally I do get a laugh from them, I think the problem they have is the same one that affects nearly every comedy team — the constant need to produce new funny material, unfortuneately when a Chaser skit isn’t funny, it really does tend to fall flat, this latest song I think being a case in point.

    As to Germaine Greer, although I think Princess Di had questionable morals at times, she did do an enormous amount of excellent work for those in need, far more than Ms Greer ever has, and I believe Germaine’s attack on Steve Irwin was based on her anger at being the only feral creature he would never kiss.

  2. Germaine comes across as bitter. I suspect she’s angry because Australian intellectuals aren’t feted in the same way that Australian television celebrities are. It is kind of irritating sometimes, but that’s life. Still, that’s no excuse for attacking dead people in a very personal manner so that their relatives may be hurt by her comments.

    As for Princess Di, I think she did do a lot of good. For example, her work with landmines and victims of HIV was very good. But I always remember looking at the newspapers in England where the royals’ appointments were listed every day. Princess Anne did so much charity work, more than any of the other royals. She was apparently tireless. By contrast, at that time, Princess Di had really cut back on her schedule and had very few appointments, mostly with a few high profile charities.

    Poor old Princess Anne didn’t have the same knack with the press as Di did, and so her efforts went largely unnoticed. Dare I say it, she also was less conventionally attractive, and therefore less interesting to the media. But Mum and I noticed. So, Princess Anne: somebody noticed how hard you work.

  3. GavinM

    Yes LE,

    Princess Anne has always been the hardest working of the Royals, other than the Queen of course, I think another reason she gets little credit is that she speaks her mind, and isn’t adverse to telling the media what she thinks of them.

    Although Di of course got extra coverage because her children are also directly in line to the throne, whereas Anne’s are not. Same reason we don’t hear a great deal about Charles’ brothers either.

  4. Honestly, I couldn’t care less what the royals do with their time, except to say that they bloody well should do charity work tirelessly, and the rest.

    They are people who are entirely subsidised by their “subjects” (ie taxpaying citizens) to swan around in expensive clothes and pretend to care about people they don’t know and cannot possibly relate to. I have little time for it and I can only understand their continued existence based on a) the need for an apolitical head of state (which presumably can be achieved in other ways) and b) the need for a public celebrity who is just paid to be a celebrity and nothing else!

    Now THIS woman is someone doing some good in the world, at no expense and great risk.

  5. Monarchy. It’s a funny thing, ain’t it? I am a republican. Never been able to see what the Queen of England has to do with Australia in this day and age. When I told people in the UK that she was our Queen too, they laughed, thinking I was kidding.

    But…monarchs hold a strange place in the heart of many societies. Did you know that when they moved the graves of pharoahs to make the Aswan Dam in Egypt, local people came out crying, tearing their hair and throwing dust on themselves? Those pharoahs still had some kind of pull on people some 4000 years later! Spooky. Yes, many individual monarchs are stupid, cruel, bad, sadistic and have not done anything for anyone, but there’s still this attraction, and almost spiritual pull. I suppose most monarchies are entangled with notions of religion, national identity, pride and the like.

    Despite my republican views in relation to Australia, I think it would be a pity if the monarchy were abolished in the UK because of the immensely long history: all the palaces, artworks, stately homes and the like. It’s an important part of how the English/British nation was formed, for both good and bad.

    I see a role for those with privileges and money to sponsor the less fortunate: to be a patron to charity and the arts and the like. If I had a lot of money, that’s what I’d try to do myself.

    Seriously, though, I’d hate to be a princess. Imagine all the functions you’d have to go to. I really hate small talk. And I know I’d spill coffee on some really important person, or fall over as I was walking in and there’d be horrible pictures of me all over the press. Or I’d probably say something tactless and start a war. I can’t stand work functions – imagine how much worse it would be if attending functions was your purpose in life – every day? Yup, I’m happy to be me, not Princess Legal Eagle.

    It’s funny though, isn’t it? Money and privilege can’t buy happiness (look at the state of Britney Spears, for example). Princess Di, despite all her material wealth and privilege, was a very unhappy person.

    In comparison, that Sudanese lady mentioned in the story you attach is such a strong person, despite having come through great hardship and loss. I think that’s someone whom I admire much more.

  6. Conversely, the Chaser’s chief appeal to me is in their lampooning of the rich and famous. It’s when they do Candid Camera-type setups of ordinary people that they lose me. Too Sam Newman.

    When the Princess of Wales was alive, medical alert cards were printed with something like, “Should I become a patient in a hospital, I do not wish to be visited by the Princess of Wales.”

    And after the outpouring of public grief at her funeral Private Eye published a small text box on its front page: “Apology: Readers of this magazine might have gained the impression that Private Eye believed the Princess of of Wales to be a narcissistic, vapid, unintelligent parasite. The error was made by a sub-editor.”

  7. GavinM

    Don’t really know if I’m a Republican or a Monarchist, as far as which track Australia should go down, I just reckon if it ain’t broken — don’t fix it…our political system seems to work pretty well, certainly better than most Republics around the world, in fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of a republic that is better than a constitutional monarchy.

    As to the ‘worth’ of the British monarchy, I read somewhere a while ago that they do generate a huge amount of tourist dollars into England.

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