Dead Can't Dance

Interesting Traits of the Species # 847301:

Why do we lionize people after they are dead? No matter who a person was in life, we tend to create an incredibly rosy picture in our obituaries. Eulogies, of course, should be positive, because these are designed to help people getting over the loss of a close person at a funeral. And additionally, I see nothing wrong with painting a positive picture of some one's life, glossing over some bad moments or personal flaws in order to emphasize the individual's good traits and memorable acts in order to create a more ideal characterization in order to remember the person in our daily lives.

But that positive-humanistic dreamitism aside, the body is being thrown in a hole, or better yet, committed to rapid oxidation. Why must we act, for decorum's sake if nothing else, like there is some sacredness to the departed soul?

I'm thinking specifically of Boris Yeltsin. All the news coverage talks about the "passing of a leader", and even those who hated him say, "I have no good words for him, and do not want to say anything bad about the deceased." In the CNN article (first link in this paragraph), a woman is quoted as saying, "Of course he made some mistakes, but who doesn't?" Yeah, everyone makes some mistakes, but not every one's mistake is invading Chechnya. (More warm remarks for Yeltsin by world leaders, as compiled on Wikipedia.)

This reminds me of the lionization of Pope John Paul II when he died. (Although, perhaps a term other than "lionization" is implied by his religious standing.) You would have thought he was an American hero by measure of the American media coverage of the death. What gives? Naturally, I would expect Catholics to be upset, and with reason. But this country has a history of fairly critical coverage of the Vatican. And I think that the coverage far exceeds due decency to a dead leader of a religion and borders on propaganda.

The person is dead! You would think that this gives us the chance to say whatever we want about the former person. But instead, we heavily critique when they are alive, and then once they are dead, we recognize the innocence of the soul, seperated from its corpse. Naturally I could take the religious angle to explain this phenomenon, but I don't think that it is really necessary.

I think we do this out of fear. Immortality of the soul aside, I think that we are literally scared of people talking shit about us when we are corpses. And therefore, we refuse to talk badly about the dead as a taboo. But maybe if we didn't have this taboo, and still cared about what people thought about our lives as a sum of our human existence, we would think a little harder about what we did while we still had some life in our bones. How will we be remembered? Well, if the media surrounding death is any indication, reverently and respectfully, no matter what we did. Of course, some people will be demonized. But these few "absolutely evil" characters are no more than scapegoats for the banal evil that exists in every human on earth. By their destruction (and therein, lack of "human" death; where, for example, is Hitler buried?) we can be buried with all according homage and dignity.

Maybe we need a bit more of the old "I've come to bury, not to mourn." Or an "airing of grievances" along with the grieving. What have we learned from Yeltsin's death? Pretty much nothing, except that he has departed from history: both as an living actor, and as a remembered character. Now there is nothing but a flat, polished, sterile memory, as useful as a tombstone.

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