So, yes, it is cruelly amusing that Margaret Thatcher’s death has caused the song “Ding Dong The Witch is Dead” to shoot up the UK charts as people express their still-passionate dislike of her policies and her effect on Britain in the 1980s and beyond.
But also yes, I think the BBC is right to decline to play the song on the chart show.
It’s a matter of taste.
While I’m all for the Internet and self-expression and self-publishing and all that, I find myself applauding the venerable old institution for clinging to its role as arbiter of taste and keeper of the culture. There are some things that are tasteless. This is one. I’m happy that the BBC, like a fine old-fashioned gent, is quietly frowning and staying in its seat and saying “You dance if you must but no, no, I’m afraid I don’t approve and shan’t be joining you. Terribly sorry to be a stick in the mud, old fellow, but there it is.” The lady had children who are, no matter how you feel about their actions, people too. How we treat other people is a reflection on the state of our own souls, not theirs. And gleefully celebrating any death is just cruel, disturbing and unkind to a family in distress.
The BBC’s actions makes me feel like something is right with the world.
(And before anyone screams about government censorship, the Beeb runs on a government charter, yes, but it’s run to by an independent board).
So Bravo BBC.
On The Other Hand
I also read that some, perhaps more right-wing sources, were up in arms after Thatcher died, because they felt ‘one shouldn’t speak ill of the dead.’
She was a public figure and the media profiles of her life absolutely had to include commentary from people who were willing to speak ill of her. They are not doing it out of thoughtlessness for her family’s feelings. They are assessing her public work, her actions, not celebrating the fact that her family is now in mourning. And they have an obligation to do so.
The obituaries and media profiles after a public figure dies become part of the historical record and part of the judgement that history begins to write of that person. Without a truthful assessment of a public figure’s life in these moments, we end up with hagiography not history. By whitewashing their legacy all we do is fail our society and its future, by failing to learn from what is past. If we only allow a public figure’s supporters to talk about them in this moment, we silence the opposition and we deny the suffering of the thousands who feel they were personally harmed by that person’s actions.
Just look at the divisions in US society caused by historians’ efforts to finally tear the halos off the Founding Fathers and look at them warts and all. It is “a liberal conspiracy”, it is “a war on America”, it is “unpatriotic”. Really? It’s unpatriotic to search for the facts about the men who founded the country? It’s a war on America to try to see them as humans rather than heroes, and from there try to figure out what shaped their opinions and actions and thereby interpret them more accurately? It’s a liberal conspiracy to seek to acknowledge the suffering of millions and millions of poor and enslaved people whose voices are largely unheeded, and to examine the contradiction that some of these collosi of US history were also slave owners? Because, to me, that’s history. That’s a search for the truth. That’s the only way we can ever learn and improve and make things better.
Don’t Burn Flags And Dance In The Streets
So yes, I’m a bad person: I laughed when I heard that “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” was rising in the charts. It’s part of the black humor which makes Brits make jokes about tragedy. We ALWAYS take it too far (remember the space shuttle jokes that would not die?) and it seems some things never change.
But no, I don’t think we should be burning flags and dancing in the street, celebrating the way that disgusted us when we saw TV coverage of people doing the same on September 11, 2001.
And yes, I do think we need to take an honest, unvarnished look at every public figure’s life, when they die. Say what you like about her (and I’m certainly no fan) but I do think Margaret Thatcher would have been the first to agree that she should be judged on her actions, not on the sentimental reminiscences of her fluttering fanboys.