Poor wee Peaches Geldof has died at 25 and there’s an outpouring of ghoulish sympathy and an outpouring of hating on the ghoulish sympathy… although I don’t recall anyone being too insulting (apart from die-hard Tories and disillusioned Militants) about the Nelson Mandela weeping, wailing and clicking of cameras… as if we knew the real Nelson any more than we knew the real Peaches… as if crying over a symbolic political father (who will live on in the history books) is more mature than crying over a symbolic young mother (who is likely to be forgotten by the middle of next week – which is a far more poignant fate).
I tend to dislike our distortion of reality through myths (ironic for a wannabe writer)… I worry that people will get killed… or isolated… I don’t trust us to be right… I don’t trust morality to be humane.
So these public spasms of grief (or joy) over symbolic figures gets me musing.
I like structure.
I’m a naturally anxious person so anything tolerable that stays the same is ok by me.
I’m fine with the Queen, I’m fine with the Pope, I’m fine with Mosques, I’m ok with absolutely anything that can calmly proceed from day-to-day without overtly trying to kill me.
But some of the emotions that underpin these institutions are a mystery to me….
I don’t understand crying when someone famous dies. It’s sad – of course – but by the magic of the media they will never really leave us. Only the people who were physically close to them – who shared hugs and personal conversations – have lost anything…
I don’t understand screaming at pop stars, waving manically at royalty, or camping out for days to catch a glimpse of an actor (it made more sense in the olden days when you genuinely had to be there to see it)…
I can understand having a vague daydream about being married to someone rich and powerful (or pretty) but I can’t understand stalking them (my brain finds celebrities creepy – it clearly stores all media images in the bit that deals with fiction – seeing a celebrity in real life is like seeing Rumpelstiltskin or a type of ghost… The only way to cope with them is to forget their media image – so that the two have no connection in my mind).
I can understand having convictions – thinking that Marxism, or liberalism or even fascism is the way to run the world… I can understand needing role models… but I can’t understand fanatical hero-worship. The need to copy your hero down to the last donkey jacket… The inability to accept they’re human or make mistakes or from a different perspective were ‘a bad thing’…
I can understand the modern atheists’ objection to religion but not their desire to burn it like a witch…
The EDL needing to shout ‘God Save the Queen’ while their brothers-in-arms the British Islamic Fundamentalists ( I like to call them the BIF) wail ‘God is Great’ strikes me as weird. Can’t you just get on with being whatever you are without forming a largely aimless mob to back it up? It’s not like forming a pressure group or a political party – which at least has laws it wants changed or MPs it wants elected (although some of them are borderline-cases).
But then these strange reactions happen all around me, all the time. They bind groups together and make sense of daily life.
They put places on the map – who ever thought about Luton before the EDL?
They work as addictions – a human-zoo version of hunting and gathering - reading more and more about the favoured one, attending concerts/demos/displays, fiercely arguing with anyone that thinks they’re nothing special…
Seeing yourself in an icon and giving yourself social permission to live, die, kill, harass and hustle for that icon is a normal thing.
Pluralistic societies will have to learn to juggle these icons in sophisticated ways or groups will attack each other. You can’t assume that racial tensions can never touch the government – anything is possible. A future breaking up of The Dusty Springfield fan club could cause the apocalypse – odd triggers can have huge consequences…
Barak Obama got the Noble Peace Prize because people wanted him to bring peace. The fact that he hadn’t didn’t seem to bother them at all.
The one thing The Enlightenment didn’t bring was group sanity.
I’m phobic and fearful about news-based narratives… I think too much, and feel too little.
I won’t invade your nation, but then I won’t liberate it either.
These irrational seeming manias – horrific when they’re against you, glorious when they run in your favour – are the plate tectonics of our social systems.
I think it’s weird…. but we’re stuck with it.