Wednesday, February 14, 2007

In Memoriam

On the heels of coming home from my first rally planning committee meeting of the year, I learned that other activists were at work on their own event, when I read the headline Strippers in Smith Vigil. Apparently in honor of the death of a fellow former exotic dancer, the girls of Rick's Cabaret will don the traditional black mourning pasties and sheer black veils as they cease shaking their money makers to pay homage to Anna Nicole Smith. At the stroke of midnight, the lights will dim as they gather on stage to blow their fallen comrade a goodbye kiss. To add class to the event, the single source of light in the room will be a spotlit empty stripper pole. Dignity in life, dignity in death.

While it is tragic any time someone so young (especially someone leaving a small child behind) dies, the circus around this messed up human being's death is appalling. Whatever else she was, this woman was so obviously a colossally wounded, lost soul. While she chose to live out her struggles in the spotlight, it just seems wrong to turn a death into such a sensationalistic, gluttonous frenzy of infotainment.

It is amazing to me how many "news" segments have been devoted to speculation about everything from the events surrounding this woman's death to the paternity of her infant daughter to hard hitting investigations of why a TrimSpa spokeswoman would have Slimfast in her refrigerator. If only the media (and the public) would give the same attention to the war, healthcare, the corporatization of our government, and accountability for our political leaders. Speaking of which, I have to break from my thoughts for a moment to point out the irony of George Bush uttering the words "money trumps peace sometimes" during his press conference as I type.

If we want to conduct hard hitting investigations and hold someone accountable, now there would be a good place to start! And, so, I am off to hold my own mourning ceremony for a media that has for years failed to step up to the plate and do its real job. (No pasties or strippers poles will be me, nobody wants to see that.)


Chris said...

I have frequently recommended From Our Own Correspondent, aka FOOC. One report from that programme which stuck in my mind was about American memorials. It was broadcast on 6th September, 2003 and although the audio is no longer available online you can still read a transcript.

That piece is about 9/11's Ground Zero, considering America's past memorials, good and bad. It mentions the Vietnam memorial in Washington DC, which I have been to. On that same day in 1988, I walked round the AIDS quilt, the first time that it had been outside San Francisco, truly memorable for the personal detail, care and love put into it by so many people, spread over a vast scale to commemorate thousands. Attitudes to death vary widely with cultural background, from the discomfort of Anglophones to the Madagascans who regularly dig up the remains of their ancestors to throw a party for them, but surely nobody has ever created memorials with more sensitivity and passion than those two I was privileged to visit in DC.

However, the part of the FOOC piece that I remember best is about the gift shop selling tee-shirts next to the Oklahoma City National Memorial. Reading the text does not convey the disgust in the writer's voice when it was broadcast. It is an accurate generalisation to say that the rest of the world equates America with tackiness but it was an American, H.L. Mencken, who wrote "No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public".

Commercialism accounts for the tee-shirts but the reaction to Anna Nicole Smith is due more to the current obsession with "celebrity". It's a loathsome symptom a sick society, as prevalent in Britain as it is in the States. You are right to hold the media, supposedly the news media, largely responsible.

One piece of news that I hope wasn't entirely annihilated by the late Mrs. Smith was Wednesday's publication of the Unicef report into child well-being in industrialised countries. Of the 21 "developed" countries surveyed, the UK came bottom and the USA second bottom. The report looked at 40 different indicators and it was interesting to note that when a country scored badly in one area it did so in others too. To me that suggests that the overall picture the report provides has strong validity.

One of the main reasons given for such dysfunctionality is that children in the UK and the US spend so little time with adults, their families in particular. As an observer of bad parenting, Martina, I suspect you can think of other reasons too. The reaction of much of the media here shows a ludicrous lack of perception by blaming the current government. Ministers responded by gibbering that the data is out of date because it's five years old, which by its nature it clearly has to be, but also ignoring that the same is true for the other countries surveyed. Government and media deserve each other, in this country anyway.

Recently a psychologist called Oliver James published a book called Affluenza. On the radio he made a claim, which I am unable to source and which sounds dubious, that mental illness in Anglophone countries, ie. yours and mine, is four times higher than in continental Europe. Whatever the statistical truth, it seems to me that materialism is indeed our societies' disease, largely responsible for general unhappiness and the conclusions of the Unicef report. That and celebs. And the media...

You are aware, of course, that your conclusion in regard to you pole dancing, "nobody wants to see that", is entirely untrue.

Chris said...

              By Our Stripper Correspondent

In other stripper-related news, from this week's A Good Read I learned that Gypsy Rose Lee once shared a house with W.H. Auden, Benjamin Britten, Carson McCullers and Jane and Paul Bowles. Are you as astonished by that as I was, or have you read February House by Sherill Tippins? Apparently Gypsy also wrote a crime novel called The G-String Murders.

As a tangential non-story, I once had the opportunity to visit Paul Bowles at his home in Tangier, but I declined on the basis that I'd never heard of him. Although I now regret not having met him, it would have been so embarrassing to have made conversation along the lines of "Damn fine cup of mint tea, Mr. Bowles. So, what is it you do?"

Martina said...

I did not know GRL shared a house with Auden. That is so cool. He's one of my top 5 favorite poets, my favorite of his poems being "Lay your sleeping head, my love, human on my faithless arm..." (Lullaby, I think it's called). I did know about the G-string murders as Jen was reading about her last summer and also knows someone who used to work for her.

Too bad about Paul Bowles. That would have been a great story to tell. My celebrity encounters are relatively limited. I met Christa Wolfe and Jacques Derrida when I was living in California and the spawn of a Beatle once stepped on my foot without so much as an "excuse me" when I was in London.

As for the whole cult of celebrity thing, I do hold the media responsible, but I also think the public is to blame. The media wouldn't be presenting it 24/7 if there weren't a market for it. It's symbiotic.

Chris said...

How appropriate that you posted your comment on 21st February 2007, the centenary of Wystan Hugh Auden's birth.

A Beatle's off-spring would surely be a larva, not spawn, though I admit that that would not sound as disdainful as the sprog that you encountered clearly deserves.

Don't forget that presenting celebrity "news" is far, far cheaper than covering the real thing, which is certainly a powerful reason for the media to do so much of it. But I'm still sure you're right about the public.

Chris said...

It's the literary news, not me, that is responsible for this thread of comments continuing to lengthen. I blame the BBC.

Ex-stripper Wins Major International Literary Prize. Her name is Fiona Dunscombe, the book is called The Triple Point of Water and, yes, it's about a stripper. I can't give a link to it at Powell's because it isn't published yet; that's part of the prize, along with a serious wad of money.

WH Auden Not a Spy. MI5 couldn't actually prove that he helped the two spies, Burgess and Maclean, defect to the Soviet Union. (That article also mentions that Auden was married to Erika Mann, daughter of Thomas Mann, which I didn't know but I'm sure you did. From the reference I cited about February House, I knew that Erika, Klaus and Golo Mann all lived there too. Oh no, this is becoming horribly like celebrity news.)

Martina said...

Celebrity news, but fancier. My comments section is like Inside Edition, but with multiple syllables and a devotion to stripper and literary related gossip.