It’s Saturday afternoon, and Funny Girl is on the television. It seems an appropriately melancholy film to play out the end of a mixed week in the UK, which saw state-endorsed royal hysteria butt neatly against state-endorsed democratic apathy. Kate Middleton may have locked herself into the Firm without so much as an anarchic cough breaking through the rictus grins lining the Mall, but the Coalition looks more gaping and fractured than ever; a clown’s face of a charade masking the deep and haunting misery of it all. And then America went and shot some dude in Pakistan.
In the UK, and indeed anywhere with a viable Wi-FI signal, we’re victims of our own appetite for information. Even the sycophantic royal correspondents looked like sallow husks of themselves by the time the wedding got vaguely interesting, responding to the same questions again and again and again with bleeding thumbs from well-worn thesauruses to find other words with which to spin their stock phrases for Four. Bloody. Months. The commentators for the UK elections and referendum were no different, just a lower ratio of female voices, and the same regurgitated bollocks about ‘what it means’ for the Coalition interspersed with footage of Nick Clegg looking sad/lonely/in need of a stiff drink.
Thanks to a military precision PR campaign seemingly managed from a bunker at Clarence House (and no wonder; most of the royal press secretaries appear to be ex-Army), and the fact that Westminster never fails to stare at its own remarkable navel, we don’t actually know what either of these landmark events felt like for the people involved. It was only when Kate and Wills gave an exclusive interview on the day they announced their engagement that we got conclusive proof the future Queen could actually speak. And as for the referendum, well, I would have thought that the biggest chance for change in the UK parliamentary system might have warranted some engagement with ordinary people, but both the campaigns crawled into that slovenly territory of celebrity endorsement and political backbiting. Boring and vacuous for most of the time, and a feeding frenzy at the merest whiff of a lead.
It’s that appetite that got the White House into a bit of bother when they politely waited until we recovered from our new-found royalist excesses, and stormed some SAS ass all over Bin Laden’s compound. Rather than say nothing in particular a hundred different ways, which is the usual method when something exciting kicks off, the President’s press team seemed to opt for a ‘more is more’ approach and fed the waiting world a handful of possible scenarios filled with wildly extravagant details, mostly inaccurate and mostly pointless. Truth is, we’ll never know. The only expert witness is now sleeping with the fishes – literally.
And so, every now and then, I am struck by a voice which cuts through the churn of these stories. How we talk about a death is an honour very rarely owned by the victim; their views and beliefs are bundled up with those of the survivors – ‘he would have liked that’, ‘she didn’t believe in this’ – and we accept as truth the obituaries and the readings and the prayers and the grief. If we doubt them, we will almost certainly never know the reality; a sobering reminder should the White House relent and release photographs of Bin Laden with parts of his skull blown off. Yesterday, I read a final blog post by a man called Derek K. Miller, who died of colorectal cancer and asked that his last piece of writing be posted posthumously. He would play himself out. It’s heartbreaking, of course, but it’s also free from the fug of exasperated sadness which causes myth to be jumbled up with half-truths and some-truths. It’s his story, about his life and his death. What a joy to read, quite honestly. I love that he gave us his words first, so we may spend more time thinking about our own in response.
Don’t rain on my parade, Ms Streisand is now belting out as Fannie Brice, but as Derek knows, sometimes the heavens open unexpectedly. Be it through song and dance, or a posthumous post on your blog uploaded by your family as their tears trip off the keyboard, narrating your life – and the end of your life – appears to be one of the most powerful things we little humans are capable of in an information-saturated age. I propose we keep that up.
And now you’ll have to excuse me, because Streisand is singing out her Funny Girl’s ending, and my own tears appear to have started tripping.