Sunday, 23 March 2014

Grave dancing and when I might make an exception

The look of hate
It is tempting, when someone dies whose legacy is particularly negative, to make one or two choice, splentic comments.

It was very much the case with Fred Phelps, who died last week.

The octogenarian preacher became famous not because he founded a small, extremist Christian sect in the US, but more because, in recent years, he and his followers (many of whom were from his extended family) picketed the funerals of people who had died of Aids-related illnesses and US soldiers who had been killed on active duty.

‘God hates fags,’ became their slogan – designed to get as much publicity as possible, which it duly did.

There has been speculation that Phelps himself might have had a homosexual encounter or even homosexual inclinations that left him with such an apparently deep-seated hatred.

Members of the family who have left it have reported a violent home life.

But what is left is the memory of hate – which will continue as long as his sect continues. Indeed, he was apparently ‘excommunicated’ from his own church last summer, with some versions of events having it that he was thrown out for wanting to soften the sect’s image.

And there is something pitiful about an old man dying, with some of his family not allowed to see him a final time, while others had rejected him in other ways.

Phelps may have been at the extreme end of fundamentalism – mostly because of his actions rather than his beliefs – but he was not alone.

Among her views, Atanus is opposed to abortion, marriage equality and LGBT rights.
She has stated that: “God controls the weather. God is angry. We are provoking him with abortions and same-sex marriage and civil unions.

“Same-sex activity is going to increase Aids. If it’s in our military, it will weaken our military. We need to respect God.”

So, three stops short of Upminster, yes?

Well according to unofficial totals, this bona fide loon received 15,238 votes compared with her opponent’s 13,864 votes.

No matter how much the Republican Party itself is trying to distance itself from her and urge her not to stand, we’re still left with an equation where a whole load of people went into the ballot box and cast a vote for someone who espouses such views in public and during her political campaigning.

Thank goodness that the US is part of the civilised West.

Phelps’s death was widely reported in the UK, such had been the publicity surrounding his actions.

The face of someone who makes a living by being nasty
“Founder of hate-filled Westboro Baptist Church Fred Phelps dies aged 84,” said the Daily Mail headline. In reports and comments it also called Westboro a “hate church” and a “hate group”. And all without even a hint of irony.

This was on the same day that the paper’s infamous click-bait columnist Jan Moir declared that she had only heard of the recently deceased L’Wren Scott because she was Mick Jagger’s partner, and Jagger himself was “seedy”.

Moir is no stranger to controversy, having penned a particularly poisonous piece about Stephen Gateley that tried to suggest that his death from natural causes was actually unnatural and somehow linked to his “dangerous lifestyle”.

And now, with editor Paul Dacre’s approval, she has shown once more her utter lack of humanity and decency. She and the paper are perfectly suited.

The Mail was one of a number of publications that had earlier decided that it was entirely appropriate to splash a picture all over its front page of Jagger at the moment he learned that his partner had taken her own life.

So that’s what Dacre and so many of his fellow editors meant by a ‘free press’ when facing the possibility of actual regulation.

There was no public interest argument: it was sensationalism, voyeurism and intrusion into a moment that should have been respected as private.

You don’t need to like or dislike Jagger, or to be profoundly aware of the life and work of L’Wren Scott to understand this.

Forget Phelps and live life
And to understand that, on Dacre’s watch, the likes of Moir and others pour poison from their keyboards – regardless of whether they actually believe it – simply to gain hits and gain advertising revenue. Which makes them far more morally bankrupt than Phelps and his ilk.

But back to the preacher.

On the one hand, I rather like the idea that his funeral will be picketed by flamboyant drag queens miming to I Am What I Am.

On the other, if nobody attended, if the streets around were deserted, it would stand as a message that his views have no place in the world today. And that his legacy may well be, as many have suggested, an increase in tolerance for LGBT people rather than the increased intolerance that he might have wanted.

The people to feel for are the family – the ones who have managed to break free from a life of hate, and the children who are still there, locked into a world where hate is central to the daily diet.

Feel sorry for the children, taught to hate
A form of child cruelty? Probably. Remove them from their families? If we start doing that, perhaps we'd also have to start removing children from homes where the Daily Mail is part of the daily landscape.

And that would be a slippery slope.

However, in the case of Dacre, I may break every possible promise I could make about not dancing on graves, when he himself finally self-combusts after spending so many years trying to poison the public discourse.

It was Oscar Wilde who said, with great beauty and poignance: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”.

With Dacre and his unholy rabble, who pimp other people’s lives and loves and deaths and grief to line their own pockets, they’re so deep in the sewer that all they can ever hope to see above them are the rats swimming away to the surface.

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