There’s an uncannily accurate episode of ‘Steptoe and Son’ in which one of Albert’s aged siblings snuffs it and the extended Steptoe family gather like ghouls to see which of the deceased’s possessions they can get their hands on. Each is arguing that they’re more deserving of recognition in the last will and testament than the other as they took more time out to wait upon the deathbed beforehand. We’ve all been there and we’ve all seen how such occasions can bring out the worst in people; but there’s no denying that many present at these events really enjoy a good funeral, especially when they’re getting on and the options for funerals re family and friends increase. For some, it’s the highlight of their diminishing social calendar.
I only bring this up in that I was reminded of it when trawling through social media yesterday, with Facebook in particular clogged-up with glib virtue signalling as FB folk fell over each other to see who could shout the loudest as to how much they cared about what had happened in Manchester. One could be generous and say that this is the only method of expressing sympathy for those who have never known a time without the medium, although most of the posts I saw were from people not much younger than me; equally, one could say it serves a purpose in stating the bleedin’ obvious for an echo-chamber audience that otherwise have no other means of agreeing that Manchester was a pretty bloody horrible tragedy, end of.
But whatever genuine feelings of sorrow in some cases provoke the need to advertise one’s upset, it was hard to escape the feeling that many were doing what was expected of them, living by the unwritten rules of Facebook etiquette whenever a good terrorist incident occurs; and I couldn’t help come to the conclusion that a vast amount of FB members love a good terrorist incident. As long as there’s a hash-tag attached, the opportunities to promote one’s empathy and humanity are abundant.
Slogans of solidarity with Manchester; FB profile pictures redesigned to demonstrate this solidarity – even though (unlike Paris 2015) few incorporated the national flag into the imagery (bit racist, perhaps?); endless token ‘our thoughts go out to…’ posts; a few ‘Bring back our girls’-type photos of DIY placards being held aloft, which must come as comfort to those who lost loved ones at the Arena; and a discernible sigh of relief that something major and horrible had happened that gave the Facebook army the chance to relive the Diana hysteria yet again, hi-jacking the grief of the people who were actually bereaved. The excess of wallowing in it all I found quite nauseating, though even this was superseded by some suggestions by the most pathetically paranoid Corbynistas that the whole event was somehow timed to derail the upsurge in Labour support that had occurred in the days leading up to it. Give me strength.
No better, however, was the behaviour of Fleet Street’s finest, with tales of the Telegraph ruthlessly pursuing the sibling of someone killed in Manchester; the lines from Elvis Costello’s peerless ‘Pills and Soap’ sprang to mind – ‘They talked to the sister/the father and the mother/with a microphone in one hand/and a chequebook in the other/and the camera noses in to the tears on her face.’ Pretty reprehensible, though we don’t expect anything else from the press, even if it wasn’t from the tabloid end of the market this time round. And as for the boringly obvious Katie Hopkins on Twitter – yes, dear; we know you’re a professional contrarian by now, so stop being so bloody predictable.
Not great timing in terms of receiving the kind of coverage one would expect, but the death of Sir Roger Moore coming when it did provided an interesting contrast with social media’s response to events in Manchester. I feel compelled to comment on his passing because he was somebody I knew of from an early age, someone I watched in ‘The Saint’ and ‘The Persuaders’ as a small child, and someone whose seven films as 007 spanned the mid-70s to the mid-80s, still the longest run of any Bond. The last three movies might not be up to much, but the first four remain amongst the most entertaining outings for a character the likes of which the nation could do with for real right now.
I never met Roger Moore in person, but as with many of the personalities we encounter on the big or small screen, he played a minor albeit enjoyable part in my life via his career as an actor whose action man roles were always served-up in an arch dressing; he never took himself too seriously and he acknowledged the ludicrousness of James Bond by sending him up as his run in the part was extended. His Bond movies might be too tongue-in-cheek for some, but they’re a hell of a lot more fun than any starring Daniel Craig.
Anyone who never met Roger Moore in person, but who spent ninety minutes in his company when he was doing his job, is understandably prompted to express sadness at his death or comment upon it online. It’s a natural reaction when a public figure we were fond of dies; they may remind us of childhood or a happy period of our lives; if they’re a musician, we might associate one of their songs with a cherished moment that hearing a snatch of the key melody again might briefly return us to if only in mind rather than body. However, when it comes to multiple deaths of people we’d never heard of while they were alive, whose contribution to our lives wasn’t even of a minor nature, who cares what we think?
‘Our thoughts go out to…’ may indicate one is ‘on side’ and part of a virtual community that cares, but it means f**k all to those who have suffered as a result of what happened in Manchester. The mass craving for mourning that now has a vintage of 20 years has been expanded by social media to the point whereby one wonders how its most vocal and visible proponents would cope if they themselves experienced personal bereavement. One wouldn’t wish that on anybody, but the difference between mourning for someone you never knew and someone you did is vast; until that happens, on they’ll go, endlessly recycling long-distance grief in a circle of vicarious cyberspace sharing, too preoccupied with narcissistic point-scoring to notice soldiers taking up permanent positions on the street in the transformation of Britain from elected democracy to armed camp.
© The Editor