Will Self on Jade Goody's very public death,
The public’s grotesque fascination with the reality TV star’s death was a botched catharsis of an inability to deal with its own mortality
A union between a compulsively attention-seeking and ignorant racist wearing a dress donated by Mohamed Fayed, and a golf-club wielding thug, which was attended by Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan, together with assorted superannuated pop singers, while Max Clifford span a line and wangled publicity deals from Richard Desmond's OK! magazine and Living TV.
On the face of it the wedding of Jade Goody and Jack Tweed was every single little thing every right-thinking man and woman in this country has come to loathe - the very recrudescence of the canker that infests the social body.
Yet to read the newspaper accounts you would've thought the tale of this gallows mesalliance was the contemporary version of Abelard and Heloise. And to set the seal of official approval on the Goody-Tweed nuptials, there was none other than our presiding fairy Godmother, the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw.
We’ll gladly look the Grim Reaper in the face, as long as it’s through a TV screen
It would be easy enough to dismiss Straw's relaxation of Tweed’s tagging restrictions as sheer media grandstanding - after all, he could've done so on the quiet - but I fear nothing is that straightforward, excepting possibly Goody's motivation.
JG Ballard once observed that "for a writer, death is always a career move". But as talent has been democratised in our society, so too has its prerequisites - now, death is also a career move for reality TV stars, however, unlike those who can expect posthumous royalties, the pay-out has to be on the nail.
It would be a hard-hearted cynic who would deny Goody the opportunity to earn her own bloody money, and so provide for her two young sons after she's gone. Well, I am a hard-hearted cynic - but I'm not gainsaying her that right, I'm merely dissenting from the grotesque sentimentalising of what is little more than a modern freak show.
It's death that's to blame - of course; death, and more specifically our collective need to at once gaze fixedly upon the memento mori of other people's extinction, while carefully averting our eyes from our own extinction and that of our loved ones.
Whether it's an assisted suicide in Switzerland, or a cancer sufferer in suburban Essex, we're happy to look the Grim Reaper full in the face, so long as that face is seen through a television screen, or a grille of newsprint. Our public celebration of death is only the botched catharsis we undergo, trying to cope with our inability to deal with it in private.
Shorn of religious faith, and the stoicism it inculcates, we go to our deaths sedated
I've had cause to remark before on what a curious fact it is that in the lifetime of the average Briton, 90 per cent of the expenditure on his or her healthcare occurs in the last six weeks of life. In such a strange world Alan Johnson should be dubbed 'Secretary of State for Death' - not health.
Shorn of any religious faith - and the stoicism that, rightly or wrongly, it inculcates - we go to our deaths sedated, palliated, screened off from public view, and attended by the same teams of medics that ushered us into this life.
Our overriding concern about our leave-taking from this world - given that we have no belief in the existence of any other - is that it be painless, and that we cause the minimum of distress to our families (given that they, too, are devoid of any stoicism).
The much-trumpeted view that our willingness to bear witness to Jade Goody's expiration is an example of how healthy our attitude to death is, is exactly the reverse of the case.
Goody may well be dying now because of her own capacity for denial - she ignored the follow-up letters following her cervical screening - but it's those who ignore the tawdriness of her demise, while claiming her as a Diana-type saint of public health awareness, who exhibit the most flagrant denial, and how strange it is that the justice secretary should be one of their number.
Will Self. March 22nd.
Don't worry, this very out of character bout of seriousness will be replaced next week when normal service will be resumed and it'll be back to the usual shite about gak, birds and music.