Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Death Of Mr George Best Was Reality Television For An Age In Which Religion Has Perished And Grief Means A Soft Rain Of Esso Flowers

According to today's newspapers, the funeral of Mr George Best, a former footballer, will be the biggest since that of Princess Diana. Half a million people are expected to line the streets of Belfast, though the arithmetic by which this number is arrived is not explained.
Certainly, Mr Best's passing has been a popular event. The details of his failing health were headline news for several days, and his doctor, Professor Roger Williams, became an unlikely celebrity.
No doubt the grief which surrounded Mr Best's hospital bed was real and sincere, but the play which unfolded outside the Cromwell Hospital was reality television taken to its logical extreme. I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here is a parlour game by comparison: this was a real death, served up as soap opera. It has been accompanied by all the usual paraphernalia of mass hysteria - the shrines and well-wishers' notes; the petrol station flowers, rotting in their Cellophane; the minute's silence at football games across the country. This brand of grief is often described as "an outpouring", which is helpful only in the sense that the term could apply equally to a jug of syrup.
What, exactly, are we grieving? Many who mourn the passing of Mr Best are in mourning for the loss of their own youth. Like Mr Elvis Presley, he represents a talent squandered; a shy man brutalised by the requirements of fame. He was a living symbol of the dangers of success, and the fact that wealth isn't everything, but also of the fact that a modest man could sometimes leave a mark on the surface of the earth just by being himself. Mr Best's death - the public event, rather than the private pain being endured by his family - is a parable in a time when religion has ceased to matter.
It is a hollow emotion, made more meaningless by repetition. The applause which greeted the hearse of Princess Diana as it drove through a rain of bouquets tossed from motorway flyovers was one sign of the confusion which exists in relation to celebrity and death. To be famous is to to court a kind of immortality. Fan-worship is a kind of faith. True, it is a nihilistic brand of religion, celebrating nothing but its own popularity, but that, in a sense, is where we stand in the early years of this century, in a world of war and famine and pestilence on every horizon.
But all religions are threatened when ritual becomes more important than values. This happened with Mr Best, whose death was notable for being celebrated in the newspapers on the day before it happened. That, too, is a matter worthy of grief.


Anonymous said...

It really was aweful.That bloody Prof. Roger Williams celebrating his own celebrity status, and those aweful old footballers parading to the cameras before poor old george was dead. The rotten Blair Broadcasting Corporation solemnly waiting for death every hour and the papers relishing every embarassing issue. Difficult to say who was worse, the BBC, print media or the f****** doctors. Wherever George is I suspect his habitual modesty will allow him to forgive their total lack of human respect.

Learson said...

George Best got everything he desired but he probably deserved better.