dear dead person: you sucked and we’re better off without you

There’s an aphorism in Alice: Madness Returns that seems particularly apropos about this piece by Matt Taibi on the death of pop-conservative agent provocateur Andrew Breitbart: If we can speak ill of the living, why not the dead? It’s almost absurd to consider the taboo erected against a person once they’re dead, as if somehow being critical, if not celebratory, would do some incredible harm to the deceased. I’m not sure how, exactly; the dead are beyond the influence of the living, beyond offense, beyond hurt. Yet it is perfectly acceptable to be vile towards living beings, when the choice between civility and barbarity really does make all the difference. So when Matt Taibi dishes out scorn and grudging praise on the occasion of Andrew Breitbart's death, while calling out his vitriolic critics for conveniently neglecting Breitbart’s scatological treatment of Ted Kennedy’s death, he neatly illustrates how death is used as an inoculation against criticism.

Here’s the thing: all our funerary rituals, all our eulogies, all our obituaries – these are for our benefit. They are the means by which we grapple with the great inescapable, and they say more about us than they could about the dead.  Although I think it is distasteful to be rude and crass towards the death, it’s only because I think it’s distasteful to be rude and crass towards the living. Certainly, impolite displays to hostilities are not respectful gestures – towards those who mourn the deceased. But while civility should be maintained and compassion should be nurtured in all that we say and do, that doesn’t mean mollycoddling a person’s legacy once they have passed away, or expressing insincere grief over their death. In other words, feel free to say about the dead whatever you’d say about the living.

No comments: