Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

Two Weddings* and a Funeral

with 3 comments

by apini

This has been a pretty dramatic week, between the Royal Wedding, the storms in the South, Obama’s hilarious White House Correspondents’ Dinner speech, and finally, the death of Osama bin Laden.

Did you watch the Royal Wedding?  I missed it, unfortunately, but the CNN coverage I caught afterwards was still great to watch.   The commentary has mostly been fairly bland – journalists seem so thrilled to write about something positive!  Simon Schama wrote a piece about the meaning of the British monarchy in this season of Arab uprisings against monarchs and dictators.  He noted that this dynasty seems pretty harmless and that’s why people are happy to celebrate them, whereas the Arab dictators being overthrown have poor records and dynastic legacies who would be even worse.

What I think is notable is the role of empathy.   A lot of people have had a wedding (or hope to) or have seen friends get married, or family.  It’s a moment that brings joy and that people (want to) relate to.  The wedding being a marriage of monarchs has very little to do with people’s fascination.  You could televise just about anyone’s wedding and if they were good looking and the pomp was enough, that many people might watch.  Particularly if they were well known  (David Beckham, for instance?).

Very few people have been, or want to be, or know someone who is a monarch, however.  Or a dictator.  Or an international terrorist.  So I suppose it’s not surprising that people in other countries are generally less moved by their overthrow or death.  Except that people seem to be very moved by the death of Osama bin Laden.  In a curious way.

I’m not particularly fussed about people celebrating, and I don’t think it’s the same thing at all as when people in some countries celebrated 9/11.  For one thing, celebrating the death of 3,000+ innocent people, versus celebrating the assassination of 1 genuinely bad guy are completely different things.

That’s like complaining about people celebrating VE day – people have already pointed out the coincidence of the announcement of Hitler and bin Laden’s deaths on the same day, April 30.  This is a momentous day in the war on terror, like it or not, and could even have dramatic effects on things like bringing troops home.  Like celebrating 9/11, VJ day was a different matter…

I also don’t necessarily object to assassination, since it seems much more sensible to kill the person responsible, rather than launching a full scale war against a whole group/country for the actions of one or a few people.  Tete a tete, mano e mano, etc.

But I think it’s interesting that we are so willing to relate, emote and empathise with, for example, the tragedy of deaths in the southern storms, or the joy of William and Catherine’s wedding.  We haven’t met these people.  We don’t know what they’re like.  We project our own hopes and dreams on them.  So why do we not do that when someone like Osama bin Laden is killed?  On a human level, it must have been really horrible to be in that house, waiting all the time for an attack they must have known was coming.  I was probably more sensitive to this particular empathetic take on the situation having just read The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver.  It wasn’t a great book, but the descriptions of Trotsky holed up in a house in Mexico City, waiting for the inevitable attempts on his life by Stalin’s forces, demonstrated that even if you really don’t believe in a person’s ideology or their politics, it must still be a pretty terrible feeling when the waiting ends.  Even if he brought it on himself.  Many times over.

*The other wedding was my own, which is why I missed the Royal One (on honeymoon), why I’m feeling particularly emotional, and why I’ve been conspicuously absent from PhD Octopus for the past three weeks.


Written by apini

May 4, 2011 at 05:01

3 Responses

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  1. “Very few people have been, or want to be […] a monarch, however.”

    Watching “The Tudors”, for example, I imagine living in the 16th century, and not wanting to be anyone anywhere near the court. If I found myself in “court shoes”, I’d want to say “Exile me, now, please.” (Sort of like T. More tries to do….) I find it hard to identify with characters who seem drawn like moths to the flame that is Henry. Same experience watching “Rome”. It all reinforces my inclination to live under the radar.

    Richard Everill

    May 4, 2011 at 13:11

  2. Awesome post. I myself felt a happy sort of numbness when I heard the news of Bin Laden’s death. I didn’t feel the need to go out and celebrate, and did find some of the more extreme celebrations a bit excessive, but I don’t begrudge anyone their emotional response. One thing I’ve learned from my own marriage (to relate the two events of your post) is that you can’t tell people how to feel. If people are happy, let them express that. It will quiet down soon enough.

    I also have no problem with Bin Laden’s assassination. I do think that the all the misinformation spreading around about the mission is a bit disconcerting. But at the end of the day, I won’t lose sleep over it, and just maybe will sleep a little more soundly, even if OBL’s operational function with Al Queda has been minimal for the past while.

    I sort of compare this the hunt for Nazi war criminals. They’re all old geezers and not doing any real harm now, but by letting them go and die in their sleep, it’s sending a message that they are not being held accountable, and that, to me, is wrong.

    I never really did think about it from Bin Laden’s perspective though. Not sure that I really can.

    Anyways, again, great post.


    May 4, 2011 at 13:14

  3. apini

    May 4, 2011 at 14:40

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