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Promiscuous Grief

 

ROGER G. writes:

Ilana Mercer expresses what I have been feeling about the public grieving for the victims of Sandy Hook, but have not been able to put into words:

“The pornography of public grief in our country is almost as warped as the evil (not ill), mother-slaying, mass murderer responsible for the Sandy Hook carnage. There is very little dignity in the freaky spectacle of mass contagion – where members of the public turn professional mourners, flock to memorial happenings for victims they never knew …

“The victims of killer Adam Lanza have become a sideshow …. Tragedy is denuded of any dignity, reduced to a showy public affair…”

—- Comments —

Thomas F. Bertonneau writes:

For a long time – since the death of Princess Diana – the practice of public grief in the West has struck me as perverse and excessive. Ilana Mercer’s use of the term “pornography” to describe these creepy usages is entirely appropriate.

Two semesters ago in my freshman-sophomore “Western Heritage” course, I taught some of Plutarch’s famous Lives, including the Life of Solon, the famous law-giver of the early Athenian polity. Plutarch tells how, after a period of social turmoil and near-civil war, the Athenians called on Solon to write a new constitution for the state. Among the laws that Solon found necessary for the restoration of public order and that he persuaded the assembly to enact were the following, having to do with the orderliness of wakes and funerals:

Mourners tearing themselves to raise pity, and set wailings, and at one man’s funeral to lament for another, he forbade. To offer an ox at the grave was not permitted, nor to bury above three pieces of dress with the body, or visit the tombs of any besides their own family, unless at the very funeral; most of which are likewise forbidden by our laws, but this is further added in ours, that those that are convicted of extravagance in their mournings are to be punished as soft and effeminate by the censors of women.

The anthropology of these laws is plausible: Extravagant emotional displays on funereal occasions affect the civic atmosphere because there is something delirious and unreal in them that can spread beyond the mourners to the general population; indeed, to mourn ostentatiously for non-family and non-acquaintances violates the necessary privacy of the funeral and again lets pass beyond its proper limits the passion of mourning. The final sentence, describing the punishments for trespassing the new restrictions, is especially fascinating, equating as it does large-scale fraudulent sorrow with pernicious effeminacy.

Laura writes:

[T]o mourn ostentatiously for non-family and non-acquaintances violates the necessary privacy of the funeral and again lets pass beyond its proper limits the passion of mourning.

Exactly.

Your phrases “large-scale fraudulent sorrow” and “pernicious effeminacy” are also very apt.

The problem isn’t that people mourn and show respect for these victims, but that they do so with excessive and maudlin intensity. It’s a form of emotional escapism.

Kidist Paulos Asrat writes:

This kind of public grief/hysteria is a sign of deep despair and Godlessness, which is part of what you call emotional escapism.

People can, and should, mourn in public, if only to acknowledge their solidarity and empathy. And to turn the horror over to a higher order, so that they can get on with life as best they can.

Joanna writes:

The local and national press is playing a big part in drawing out the public grief at Sandy Hook.

Police present at the scene told acquaintances that members of the press were stalking the victim’s families, some even hiding in the woods behind their houses. Police were assigned to guard each home and some officers had to threaten intrusive members of the press with arrest to make them leave.

Those who had business at the scene were far less intrusive. Some police officers were told they could view the scene inside the school if they needed to know exactly what they were dealing with. Many refused to look, knowing the horror that awaited if they did. Apparently, it is easier to engage in promiscuous grief from a distance than to have to face an atrocity in real life.

Sage McLaughlin writes:

Thomas Bertonneau, with characteristic erudition, has expressed the frivolity, even the indecency, of such vicarious displays of grief as we’re now witnessing.  I can not add to it, but I would like to relate an example.

My wife belongs to a mothers’ Facebook group, who share stories, advice, and so on with each other–a simulacrum of the sort of social interaction women might have been expected to enjoy in most any age, and not a bad thing as far as it goes.  One of the members, the day after the shooting, logged on and asked in desperate tones, “How can I possibly go on with my life after this?”  This struck me as not merely silly, but indecent.  The question was an obvious attempt to appropriate a level of grief that did not rightly apply to her.  It was a grab for sympathy and comfort that rightly belongs to the victims’ families.

Being “understood” and seeking unwarranted levels of sympathy is just one more consequence of the excessive feminization of public life, and of popular culture (it seems we can barely keep up with cataloging such consequences).  Every guest on every television show, and certainly on every “reality” TV show, goes through the same ritual process of eliciting sympathy from the audience for how difficult his life has been, and often their supposed grounds for complaint are incredibly trivial.  They surely do so at the prompting of the shows’ producers, who can think of no other way to make such a cavalcade of freaks likable.

In a similar way, the excessive displays of sadness and “pain” (a word I’ve heard applied over and over to people who do not necessarily have any direct connection to the shooting at all, and who cannot be suffering any real pain) are assuredly not an expression of modern man’s deep concern for his fellow man.  Rather, it is just another expression of his narcissism and vanity.  True empathy in these circumstances would have to begin with the recognition that the Newtown families’ suffering is nothing like our suffering, whatever “our suffering” is even supposed to mean.  However distressed we might legitimately feel whenever we imagine ourselves in their shoes, we are not experiencing any real pain of loss, and the attempt to make every one of us a party to that pain is not, in the end, a show of genuine solicitousness.

We are a society of blubbering, self-seeking effeminates, without even the grace and charm of femininity.

Laura writes:

Well said.

You write:

Every guest on every television show, and certainly on every “reality” TV show, goes through the same ritual process of eliciting sympathy from the audience for how difficult his life has been, and often their supposed grounds for complaint are incredibly trivial. They surely do so at the prompting of the shows’ producers, who can think of no other way to make such a cavalcade of freaks likable.

We’re so surrounded by emotional pornography on a daily basis that when something extreme like the Newtown shootings occurs, the public shifts into mass hysteria.

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