Alive One Minute, Saint The Next
Posted on 29. Nov, 2007 by The Gimcracker in News, Sports
I grow weary of people speaking of the recently departed as flawless, sinless individuals despite the life the person actually lived. There’s this fear of speaking ill of the dead that stays around for months and even years after the burial. Why is this? By “ill”, I’m not talking about slander and falsity. Usually, an honest recollection of the not-so-great things the person did is considered ill-speak as well.
I realize that God forgives and doesn’t focus on our sins after we’ve repented of them. We don’t know what’s going on outside of time and space with the departed, thus it’s possible that they’ve repented all their sins, and we surely know that God is prepared to forgive them ahead of time no matter what the atrocity.
If a human being purposefully lives life in a certain fashion, and, while alive, is known to behave a certain way and have a certain lifestyle, why do all our memories change simply because the person dies? They still lived the life they lived and acted the way they acted. Sure, it feels natural to suddenly change our opinions of the person simply because they’ve passed on, but do you ever stop and think why? Is it because we feel sorry for them because they’re dead or something?
A good example is Princess Diana. People are still talking about her like she was a saint. Funny, I don’t remember anyone saying that about her while she was alive, and I doubt, by the way that she chose to live, that she was a blameless individual. Other examples off the top of my head are Biggie Smalls, Tupac Shakur, Elvis, Sinatra, Chris Farley, and Phil Hartman. These people were by no means saints, but we trick ourselves into thinking they were because they’re dead, or, especially in Hartman’s case, because of how they died.
I bring this up because of an article I read, written for Fox Sports News by Jason Whitlock, regarding Redskins safety Sean Taylor’s recent murder. The article discusses some of the controversy regarding his death:
Within hours of his death, there was a story circulating that members of the black press were complaining that news outlets were disrespecting Taylor’s victimhood by reporting on his troubled past.
No disrespect to Taylor, but he controlled the way he would be remembered by the way he lived. His immature, undisciplined behavior with his employer, his run-ins with law enforcement, which included allegedly threatening a man with a loaded gun, and the fact a vehicle he owned was once sprayed with bullets are all pertinent details when you’ve been murdered.
Taylor has indeed had a troubled past and chose to be involved in a certain way of life. Yet the media wants us to disregard all of that and treat Taylor as purely a victim who had no influence on his life’s circumstances.
I’m not saying we need to scrutinize the things this young man did in his life. I’m just tired of society telling me that death is the only prerequisite to being canonized. Why would we talk about someone in a certain way while they’re alive, and not say the same things after they’re dead? It’s still the same person, and just because their body is dead doesn’t mean they’re not alive in a different way somewhere else.
It either tells me that we need to stop talking the way we talk about the living, or change how we regard the precious departed. I’d wager it’s a mix of both.
I see where you’re coming from — especially with the elevation of Diana to sainthood — but I think you’re wrong about Phil Hartman. He may not have been a holy man, but he was a good man, beloved by those he worked with and genially friendly and helpful to everyone. When he returned to his hometown, shortly before his death, he was super accommodating, shunning the star gig for the demeanor of a guy just grateful for his talent.
He lived like a really nice guy — and that’s what most people remember, yes, especially after his death.
Hmmm, I didn’t realize that. I probably could’ve come up with much better examples than those, especially Phil Hartman. I really like the guy and I guess I hastily assumed he lived a lifestyle that he didn’t. Thanks for the insight.
I had a different view of the Sean Taylor story than you. I had not hearc about the black press side of complaining about the reporting of his troubled past. I had only read the news stories listing his troubled past, and I thought something very similar to you…. with all the trouble he’s caused, it’s no wonder someone was after him, and I can’t really feel sorry for him for that.
Topics and situations like this always leave me wondering about my own life and how ‘the media’ might portay me if something would happen tomorrow, because there is certainly no lack of information about me on t3h interwebs. I see a lot of news stories about teenager/young adults that die, and they put pictures from the person’s myspace page on the story… but they always crop out the beer bong and kegger in the background. A good example is this kid (who I only knew and heard about through friends of friends): http://butler.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2230839516
Just read the comments and look at the pictures. The media surrounding the drunk driving accident made him look like a saint, but I can hardly be surprised that it happened.
There’s my 2 cents.
Wow, that’s a really well written article by Jason Whitlock. In fairness to the articles written about Taylor’s murder, I haven’t read any that don’t mention his checkered past (and most acknowledge that the tragedy here is how he seemed to be trying to turn his life around after the birth of his daughter). In this case, I don’t think it was the media who wanted to hide his past, but for some reason, the “black press” mentioned in the article took offense to its being mentioned. That is an odd objection and I think you’re right that in most cases, as a society, we tend to overlook a man’s sins after his death and focus on the good things.
I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, but it’s definitely worth thinking about. I would also take it a step further and say that in most of these cases, this “sainthood” phenomenon is only bestowed upon those who have their lives “cut short,” or die of unnatural causes. I think these “tragedies” tend to cause us to be a bit more sympathetic to the deceased.
Kravitz had a good article today too, and he also kind of focused on black crime. I think he says it well when he says (in regard to the way Taylor died), “Nobody — nobody — deserves that.” I think deep down we know that even if a person has made stupid choices, nobody should be killed like that. There’s something essentially wrong with it. So we tend to make that person a “victim,” even if they “deserved” it.
Heck, I don’t know, but it’s a good topic.
Brian good post, and good points.
Brad – yeah, also good points. Ok, so that kid died from a drunk driving accident…and to immortalize his memory they have put up multiple pictures with him partying and looking snookered in nearly every one. Wow. I’m not saying anything cruel – the boy is dead and died tragically at young age, and that in and of itself is heartbreaking. But it seems that what is more heartbreaking is the culture surrounding it and the response by his friends – to remember all the great parties. There seems to be no remorse for a lifestyle that most likely led to one man’s death. The epitome of this is the girl that wishes him well on his 22nd Birthday and “hopes that he’s celebrating hard up there, because I’m down here celebrating for you!” Again, where the crap is the common sense and remorse, or even acknowledgment of what led to his death?
“Gee, my good friend died because we all acted like idiots and drank irresponsibly and then he decided to drive intoxicated and died. Maybe I should re-think my life.”
You’re right that the media made him look like a saint, but no, I’m not surprised either. Most of his friends have the same attitude – that their friend will meet them at the pearly gates with a six-pack and they’ll tear up heaven partying together. Add to that the sad fact that many of them represent his death as “a car accident” or “the angel of death taking him early”. His death was not a result of the consequences of his actions – no, it was a tragic coincidence.
Ok, so I’ll stop before I look like an even bigger asshole. Basically, my point is, I liked both the post and comment, and I’m sick of a culture that promotes life without consequence and then covers up or denies those consequences when they actually do occur, as they must. That’s all. I could say it much more eloquently, but that’s the basis of it.
I think you clarified what I was trying to say very well. It’s a catch-22 because this person who obviously lived a certain lifestyle is now dead and we’re all left eugoogalizing only the few good parts about him, but deep down we’re all thinking about the bad things and that maybe he got what was coming.
I don’t mean that judgmentally because in reality I’m a sinner just as he was, and I would never wish death upon anyone. It’s just an observation.
BTW, I added Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur to the list of examples of people that seemed to suddenly turn into saints upon death. They are much better examples than Phil Hartman, and I wish I could’ve been less hasty in the posting of this article and thought to list them originally.
Three reasons I can think of for immortalizing someone as a saint:
1. No one wants to think of a loved one as a bad person after they die, because that means they might be in hell.
2. No one wants for the children of the victim to remember mommy or daddy as horrible scum-bag a**holes.
3. They are not around to defend/repent of their actions. It’s almost worse than talking about someone behind their back, because now the person you are bashing them to can’t even go to that person to verify/clarify your statements. You and society are the only ones left to judge them, and the person can’t even show up for their trial. If you remember them poorly… everyone will. No chance at change/redemption now. The gigs up.
4. (you got a bonus!) The rod you use to measure others is the rod God will use to measure you. Sooo… how would you like to measure others once they’re dead? Cause that’s the way God will measure you once your dead…
So, not that we should canonize every jerk, but let’s not be too hasty to commit character assassinations on people who have absolutely no way to defend themselves whatsoever. Hate the sin, not the sinner. Since the sinner is dead, no point in harping on his sins since it won’t influence him to repent… and after all, isn’t that why we harp on a sinner’s sins? To encourage repentance? Of course, this doesn’t mean we should make up fantasy fairy-tales about how “good” someone was if they were not. A simple “this person was a child of Christ. Let us mourn their passing, and pray God has mercy upon their souls.” will do for people whom there is not really anything good to say about…
That’s my two cents…
Oh, and I liked the article and agreed with you that it is silly stupid ridiculous how we tend to canonize the dead. Like Maralyn Monroe (sp?) for instance… Wasn’t she like in playboy and stuff? Wasn’t there some kind of adultry revolving around her and a president? Why the heck does society love her? Why the heck did EJ write a freaking song immortalizing her? Why does it seem like some people think of her as some sort of royalty? Doesn’t make sense… Maybe the worse someone was, the harder people try to make up for that by shouting all of their “good” qualities to try and drown out the “bad”. Especially famous people…
Sorry, I’m really done this time, I promise…
I agree with Chris in that I think the idealization of the dead stems from their inability to further defend their actions. This applies even if the actions would have no good defense. When the bad is taken away (almost out of respect), we are left to chat about and remember the good. Which is probably kind and appropriate of us.
Plus, we all know that eventually some family member/relative/friend/fan etc. is going to re-ignite their knowledge that the person who passed is not a saint when they find out that they don’t get anything in the will. Or, maybe the person didn’t even have a will, and then assets are tied up in probate court until the end of time. At that point everyone looks up and shakes their fist at the heavens in frustration at their dearly departed.
We idealize them for time, but I think at the end of the day we strike a balance and somehow remember people for who they were, good and bad, and how they impacted our lives.