Phil Ochs wrote his masterpiece "The Crucifixion" after the death of President Kennedy. The powerful message is about the way people relish death and tragedy and the public's sick fascination with the creating, destroying and deifying of "heroes". Listen to the song, but more importantly, read the lyrics. Some of my favorite lines:
"Tell me every detail, I want to know it all,
And do you have a picture of the pain?"
"So good to be alive when the eulogy is read."
"The climax of emotion, the worship of the dead!"
The "overkill" of media coverage of the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, is deplorable and reminds me of Ochs' brilliant words. It is sickening to hear and see people's maudlin behavior and pointless speculation. One outlet said the alleged perpetrator belonged to one political party while another said he belonged to a fringe group. Les said caustically, "It's good Clint Van Zandt has a job every time there's a shooting!"
I don't want to hear or see any more coverage quoting somebody's "cousin's mother's aunt grandfather's niece" or any others flagged down to fill a slot for the 24-hour cable audience with their pathetic attempts to realize Warhol's "15 minutes of fame". I call them "professional mourners"; they remind me of people I know who rush to "viewings" and funerals. I think they have vicarious enjoyment of witnessing the grief of people, because they invariably report how "well" mourners are "handling" the tragedy. ["And do you have a picture of the pain?"] They are oh, so sympathetic. ["So good to be alive when the eulogy is read."] and praiseworthy ["The climax of emotion, the worship of the dead."] I find all this behavior inappropriate and reprehensible.
That is why in our family we have "invitation only" funerals. When a death notice is in the paper, we always put that arrangements are "at the convenience of the family." Quite plainly, we don't want people seeing what is PRIVATE!
I had an encounter with a cousin after the death of my brother and she asked, "What happened to Bode?" I said, "He died." (I also hate the "passed away" phrase). She said, "Well, I know that." I turned to walk away. She asked, "How come nobody was allowed to know when the funeral was?" I said, "Everyone who was supposed to know did." She said, "I called the funeral home and they wouldn't even tell me when the viewing or the funeral was." I answered, "That's because we believe that grief is private and we don't believe in viewings." "That sounds just like your mother." I replied, "Thank you", to what she clearly meant to be an insult. She said, "You people are wierd." I said, "No, people like you are weird because you want to feast on others' sorrow!" ["And do you have a picture of the pain?"]
Among my grandmother's possessions were photographs of people in coffins and on biers. I was thirteen at the time and I can recall recoiling in horror. My mother said it was common to photograph deceased relatives in those days. I cut up the photographs, much to my father's chagrin. There is always outrage when the the "last" photos of celebrities are published, but I am not surprised because the tabloids are only providing what the sick populace wants. ["Tell me every detail, I want to know it all, and do you have a picture of the pain?"]