Mourning and Politics

Back in October 2002 Paul Wellstone, the Minnesota Senator, was killed in a small plane crash in Northern Minnesota. The memorial service for Wellstone was the last political memorial service that I watched with any personal interest.

I don’t have a television so I didn’t see the recent Tucson memorial in response to the Gabrielle Giffords assassination attempt. But the same people who criticized the Wellstone memorial for becoming too partisan are making complaints about the memorial ceremony in Tucson.

According to critics the people in Tucson were “peculiar” because they started the ceremony with a Native American blessing, and then members of audience shouted out during the President’s speech. These criticisms are ignorant and offensive.

The memorial doesn’t belong to the journalists. It belongs to the people who are there. And even a live broadcast of the ceremony doesn’t really belong to the viewing audience. The people who attended the ceremony inevitably had more invested in the events because they knew the victims and lived in the same city.

Watching on television is mourning-at-a-distance. We, the audience, should be thankful that the live participants are willing to share their visible grief with us, the anonymous viewer. The television audience will never be criticized or mocked for being too loud or not emoting enough on television. The audience can hind behind mass anonymity and complain without repercussions.

Television hosts and commentators pretend to be proxies for the audience. But they have no actual knowledge of how the audience feels. They just know what sells advertising.

I’m pissed off to be lectured about proper funereal behavior from these blowhards who personally benefit from political division.

Fred Clarke at Slacktivist put it well when he said that the appropriate response for anyone with an ounce of civility is to mourn with the people who mourn.

It doesn’t matter if you find the way they choose to mourn “most peculiar,” or “strange” or “offensive.” It doesn’t matter if you don’t agree with them. You’re not there to agree with them, you’re there to mourn with them.

If you don’t know what’s going on, try to do what those around you do – peek a little when they close their eyes and follow along as best you can. If they stand up, stand up. If they kneel, kneel. If they all start to sing the theme from The Smurfs while hopping on one foot and hugging each other, well, guess what? Sing their songs with them, chant their chants, dance their dances, mourn with them.

Jon Stewart made the same point on his meta-TV show. A memorial service is not another “show.” Treating it like a form of entertainment, to be critiqued and judged for style points, is just another way of indicating that you are not really human, you’ve been swallowed by the media.

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Todd Suomela
Associate Director for Digital Pedagogy & Scholarship Department

My interests include digital scholarship, citizen science, leadership, and communications.