Oh my – quelle horreur! – naughty Britons still appalled by the depredations visited upon their country by Margaret Thatcher’s government have shocked and appalled the world by pushing “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead!” to the top of the charts.
In case you missed it, the former British prime minister, who was in office from 1979 to 1990, died on Monday at 87. But it took until yesterday for the song from the Wizard of Oz – an apt metaphor itself for the operational side of neocon governments everywhere – to mischievously reach No. 1 on the British Broadcasting Corp.’s weekly music chart.
But really, given the misery the neoliberal project championed by Mrs. Thatcher and the likes of Ronald Reagan and Canada’s own Brian Mulroney has created throughout the world – consigning half the population of the planet to the status “surplus humanity” for the convenience of the 1 per cent – I’m surprised it took this long, and that the commentary has been this humourous and mild. (I mean, other than what Respect MP George Galloway had to say.)
We have a tradition – or maybe it’s a taboo – here in the West that one ought not to speak ill of the dead. But this needs to be treated with the proverbial grain of salt when it comes to politicians, even freshly dead ones, when the hagiography begins before they’re even planted in the ground.
Of course, the people penning hagiographies are bound to try to use this cultural squeamishness about speaking frankly with the goal of suppressing all criticism of the policies of the people they are deifying – as is most certainly happening now with Mrs. Thatcher and as happened last month here in Alberta upon the death of Ralph Klein.
This is especially true in the case of people like Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Klein whose noxious neoliberal policies continue to be enthusiastically proselytized by politicians of the right despite their unremitting record of economic and social failure.
This, in turn, is important because, as Glenn Greenwald pointed out in the Guardian, “those gushing depictions can be quite consequential, as it was for the week-long tidal wave of unbroken reverence that was heaped on Ronald Reagan upon his death, an episode that to this day shapes how Americans view him and the political ideas he symbolized.”
So they need to be countered, and quickly – and it does no harm if this is done with a touch of humour.
Here at home, naturally, universally right-wing media coverage of this brouhaha has mostly taken on the tone of “more in sadness than in anger,” with a heaping side dish of “we just don’t do that sort of thing in Canada.”
Yet, in fact, we do. It’s just that we rarely do it when the likes of Mrs. Thatcher, Mr. Reagan or Mr. Klein pass on to whatever reward awaits them.
On the other hand, never forget, if the recently dead political figure is someone on the left, one can say pretty much whatever one feels like and not invoke the supposed taboo.
And I’m not just speaking of press coverage of the death of Hugo Chavez here – although he’s a perfectly good example of this phenomenon in the Canadian media.
Who can forget Sun News Network TV commentator Ezra Levant marking the death of NDP leader Jack Layton in 2011 by donning an orange wig and sipping Orange Crush while exchanging mocking repartee with that great public intellectual Michael Coren?
The typical tastelessness of Mr. Levant’s display notwithstanding, what he had to say about Mr. Layton is directly applicable to those on the right who today purport to be horrified by even the mildest criticism of Mrs. Thatcher’s dark history.
“At what point,” asked Mr. Levant, “does somebody say, you’re putting that body on a bloody campaign tour? At what point does someone say, how many spin doctors … are allowed to set up a funeral before we say, ‘You’re getting creepy, guy?’”
“At what point do we say … this is a macabre attempt to, I dunno, bring back some political spirit from the dead,” he went on, noting that, “if I am not sufficiently deferential … if I am not being obedient and super polite, oh, they just open the sewer pipe.”
On this, for once, I think Mr. Levant basically got the principle right.
There can be very little doubt those who support the continued neoliberal project are using the death of Mrs. Thatcher to bring back a political spirit from the dead, and using our traditions of respect for the dead to open the sewer pipes if we dare to mention the obvious.
So in response to the Edmonton Journal’s timorous headline writer, who asked, “Has Thatcher-bashing crossed a line?” the answer is, “I’m afraid not.”
Cue the music!