Sunday, March 22, 2009

Jade Goody: Are We Donne Yet?

One of the most surreal and profound moments of my life came the morning after TV's Diana, ex-princess of Wales, died. I was up late the night before and had caught the announcement that she had been in a crash, but did not yet know of her ultimate fate; that she had, as her name acronyms, Died In A Nasty Accident. My Mum came into my room, swished open the curtains to let the Sunday sun flood in and said, "Well! You should see what's on the news!" I replied to her that, yes - I already knew. Car crash in the extremely photogenic city of Paris, TV's Diana taken to hospital where she'll no doubt make a stunning and speedy recovery, and before we know it, there she'll be; hobbling slowly down the red carpet of the (private and pricey) hospital on platinum crutches, photographers flashing around her, snapping every angle of her Gucci dress and Versace cast and Gaultier eye patch, any one of which could have paid for an entire National Health Service hospital wing. And everyone will be all a-glow about how brave she is and how wonderful she looks, and what an inspiration she is to all the little people in the world whose stretch Mercedes has crashed in an exotic location because their personal chauffeur was drunk and driving at twice the speed limit.

"No," Mum said, "She died."

Aw well, said I. Who cares? Yet another member of the privileged elite gone to the great country club in the sky. The only tragedy that occurs when these people cark it is that their death doesn't leave open a job for somebody who actually needs one. My mother, perhaps shocked by the severity of my argument - or maybe just surprised that I was compos mentis before noon - left the room, quoting Donne's 'Meditation XVII': "any man's death diminishes me". And, in a flash of literacy, two paragraphs of working class hero vitriol were expertly rebuked by five words of pointy-bearded Jacobean wisdom, and her opponent in the battle of wits was left unarmed. And hungover.

In the perfect world, and were this the Hollywood version of the blog, I would have changed my stance on death at that point and would have spent the next twelve years trying to being more sympathetic, eventually opening some sort of vastly successful grief counseling service, and then triumphantly running up some stairs to a fist-pumping John Williams soundtrack. But I didn't. Nothing changed. I still feel little more than the minimum sympathy for the camera-hungry ex-royal who lived, and died, in luxury. Could it be that any pauper choose his manner of death, I'm sure they'd be more than happy to spend their final night on earth speeding away in a fancy car from a pricey restaurant in Paris. They'd probably tell you that they're ready to go right now.

Is death a tragedy? Sure. Is an "untimely" death a tragedy? It's a subjective term, but sure. People are always affected by the death of someone close to them, and no amount of riches, privilege or servants serving you swan pate on toast in your four poster bed can make up for the loss of a loved one. The only difference is that those people don't have to heave themselves out of bed and go back to work making someone *else* rich once they've taken a corporate-approved paltry amount of "grief leave". But is the very public death of one figure worthy of any more grief than the private death of another? Is a death in the headlines more tragic than a death on a housing estate? What if the death was that of an "unworthy" figure?

Fast forward to 2002, when "Turner Diaries" author and noted white supremacist William Pierce finally cashed in his chips - and in my own fair state, no less! Pierce, member of the antisemitic, neo-nazi National Alliance and the man behind the book that allegedly inspired the anti-government firearm enthusiast Timothy McVeigh to kill 168 people in Oklahoma, died from cancer. And there was much rejoicing. He wasn't executed in an ill-informed act of 'revenge' like McVeigh was. He didn't commit suicide in a fit of shame. He withered away and died. Sure, we all stifled a snicker that day, perhaps we looked up to the heavens and imagined to ourselves the scene; Pierce arriving at the pearly gates and St Peter laughing right in his face, pulling a comedically outsized lever and a vast, cartoonish trapdoor opening up beneath his feet to swift the white supremacist down to where he rightly belongs. But chances are, in whatever way, we probably celebrated just a little, and felt that retribution had - finally - been served on an utterly ghastly human being.

And such subjects - those of celebrity, racism and death - brings us nicely to the life and legacy of the late Jade Goody. That very British creature whose claim to fame, notoriety and vast fortune is only that she served as a televised mirror to a sub-section of the "great" British public and as a modern-day freakshow to the rest. I'll let you do your own research on her and what made her what she was, this bleedin' post is too long as it is, but let me say this: Yes, I do feel sorry for her. Yes, I do think her death is a tragedy. No, I'm not pleased that she's away. But, and this may be a controversial viewpoint, it seems that she could actually do more good in death than in life. Bear with me on this one.

Death has always done wonders for careers. Look at John Lennon. Is anyone really under the impression that he would be as lauded today had he survived? Come on, of course not! He would have disappeared even further up his own pretentious backside. But Jade's legacy won't necessarily be that of a continuation of the brand. It might not even be one visible to the public eye she so endlessly and desperately craved. Word has it that ever since her (televised) diagnosis with cervical cancer and her (televised) struggle with chemotherapy and the (televised) spread of her cancer, instances of younger women getting tested for the disease has increased by more than 20%. TWENTY PERCENT.

Jade was not a pleasant character, but I find it hard to fault the media blitz that has ensued over the past few weeks since the disease was classified as hopelessly terminal. I find it hard to criticise the fact that she and uber-publicist Max Clifford did everything they did to grab as much cash as possible which, we're told, will all go towards her two kids' education. And I find it near impossible to feel nothing but raw emotion for those kids who, at five and six, have lost their mother and have had to watch her disintegrate in such a short period of time. I don't believe that there is a grace period for staving off criticism when someone dies, but I do believe that - unpleasant or not - Jade Goody has finally done some actual good, both for her kids and for a countless number of younger women who may not have otherwise gone through the hideously unpleasant and undignified pap smear tests.

Jade did very little to further the cause of humanity when she was alive, other than to serve as cheap entertainment. She certainly didn't serve as a positive role model and her actions were based solely on personal gain than to be an inspiration to others. But in death, she may really make a difference to people's lives. And, as far as I'm concerned, that wipes the slate clean.


Chris James said...

I hadn't thought of it like that. Great post. Thanks.

All Click said...

Awesome post, Spike. The news of Jade Goody's death has left me feeling strangely and fairly deeply saddened and I think you capture some of that feeling for me. I'm not really sure why it's got me feeling so bad as I wasn't exactly a Goody fan but I'm glad to hear it's had a positive impact.