That’s enough mourning sickness

spiked editor Mick Hume's Notebook in The Times (London) on the 'culture of death'.

Mick Hume

Mick Hume

Topics Politics
  • So what was all that about?

A week on from the Pope’s funeral, it already seems strange that his death should have so enthralled the world.

It seems unlikely to have been about a popular revival of the Catholic Church. Days after millions went to Rome and many more watched on television, the churches of Italy remain half-empty and there are still only a handful of trainee priests in Ireland, which once staffed the global Church. Many who agreed that John Paul II was a great man also said that they disagreed with his beliefs on birth control, abortion or celibate priests. That is, they thought he was great, apart from the small matter of his Catholicism.

President Bush and others now claim that John Paul was so widely loved because he symbolised the ‘culture of life’. But it would surely be more accurate that we live in a culture of death. How else to describe a situation where many seem to find most meaning in life through the vicarious experience of dying and funerals? Even the decline of a minor playboy such as Prince Rainier of Monaco (whose funeral takes place today) became a running international news story.

It was not John Paul’s long life, but his lingering death, that turned him into a Pope Idol figure, as hordes descended on the Vatican to chant his name and photograph his body and themselves on camera phones. I first used the phrase ‘mourning sickness’ to describe the spread of morbid sentimentality in British society more than a decade ago. It reached epidemic proportions after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, whose funeral was turned into a stage for a mass display of ersatz grief.

The Pope’s funeral confirmed that mourning sickness has now spread worldwide – and from the top down. Just as British politicians and the media helped to shape the grief for ‘the People’s Princess’ eight years ago, so the march on Rome for ‘the People’s Pope’ was led by world leaders and a record 35,000 news reports in 24 hours.

Even before he died, the culture of death meant we all had to suffer grim hourly bulletins tracing the Pope’s physical decay. Did even the faithful really need to know about the latest progress of the Holy Father’s urinary infection? There are parallels with the relentless coverage of the slow death of Terri Schiavo, the woman in a permanent vegetative state. As one American commentator notes, ‘between Terri Schiavo and the Pope, we’ve feasted on decomposing bodies for almost a solid month now’.

Light relief from this globalised ghoulism is hard to find. The coolest thing on television today is the CSI drama series, starring forensic pathologists crawling over dead bodies. Back in the real world, universities are dropping chemistry degrees in the face of student demands for more forensic science courses.

Our mawkish, morbid, miserabilist and misanthropic culture of death reflects a loss of faith, not only in God, but in humanity. Why can’t we just lighten up and declare that life is for the living? As an atheist humanist (pro-legal abortion, anti-legal euthanasia), I leave the last word on this to Jesus: let the dead bury their dead.

  • Just when you think that politics could not be made any more petty and banal, our party leaders somehow manage it.

It is bad enough that the biggest idea for improving life that Tony Blair can come up with is a proposed ban on smoking in public places. Now Michael Howard has topped that with his campaign to ban smirking in public.
The Conservative leader launched his party’s election campaign with an attack on the Prime Minister’s ‘smirking politics’, and the Tories have now unveiled a cinema advert to ‘wipe the smile from Mr Blair’s face’.

Perhaps the next thing will be to raise public awareness of the danger of passive smirking to innocent bystanders. The touchy issue of whether we should be free to smirk in the privacy of our own homes remains to be resolved.

In pulling silly faces at each other like this, party leaders are treating the electorate as easily led children who can be tickled along to polling station. Mr Howard is surely old enough and ugly enough to know that he is taking on the master of infantilising politics. In any case, the spectacle of a general election campaign descending into a playground gurning contest is nothing to smile about.

Mick Hume is editor of spiked
This article is republished from The Times (London)

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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