Tuesday, May 5, 2009
On Loving Angels, Instead
I leave the window open every time I go to sleep, just so she can come in. Just so she can be with me. Jack Tweed, OK! Magazine, April 7 2009
The popular response to the death of Jade Goody from cervical cancer some weeks ago took its cues from the interminable vamp in the tabloid press in the weeks and months leading up to her death. Her very public mourning has made us feel most uncomfortable: those badly-spelt tributes on The Sun’s message boards, those cheap wreaths stacked outside St John the Baptist Church, those pinch-faced women toting half-deflated helium balloons outside her home in Upshire. Yuck, the rank whiff of British working class sentimentalism. We’re a commemorative plate away from Lady Di territory here. Thank God for The Guardian, then! Their commentary straddles – hand-wringing and superior – over the tabloid dross pile, asking just what does the death of this 27 year-old woman teach us about ourselves? Matching sub-Baudrillardian analysis (postmodern!) with touching anecdotes (poignant!), they conclude: not much, but it’s terribly sad!
However, I’m not here to take potshots at The Guardian, not today anyway. Instead I want to talk about the sudden appearance of supernatural beings in our most rational of Kingdoms. I'm talking, of course, about the angels in our midst.
Here's some rather bilious cut-and-pasting from the BBC comments board to illustrate:
God bless the brand new angel and u will never forgotten u were a great woman. Jade Goody passed away to heaven as an angel. God needed another angel. R.I.P Jade. Its been a week since god blessed the sky with a new angel... the stars are shining bright for your boys Jade.
A very peculiar lexicon has emerged out of our response to these very public deaths over the last twelve years since the big one, the one that started it all, the one that we're all rather embarassed about. It's a language that is shared not only between those with the poor spelling and the Interflora wreaths, but also – curiously – those with the university degrees and respected careers in journalism who are currently employees of Richard Desmond. One arranged around some kind of quasi-religious myth, which bowdlerises its basic structure from Catholicism, its rhetoric from OK! Magazine and its iconography from Anne Geddes.
In postwar Britain, our shaky sense of the real brought a raft of moral, occultist and mystical dogma, all compensating for the decline in religious faith – those old, sacred, survival fictions. The brittle social satires of Muriel Spark, early Christine Brooke-Rose and Angus Wilson depict a nation busily crafting their own ersatz meaning-making machines. Their characters are epistemological bricoleurs, rehashing old moral systems or creating new technological and scientific cults with which to make sense of a world after rationalism, after Freud, after Einstein, de Broglie, Planck and Heisenberg. In our own, rather drab, Franklin Mint mass hysteria, in our new moral maudlinism, we too – to borrow Muriel Spark's phrase from The Comforters – are displaying our own 'turbulent mythical dimensions' under extreme duress.