Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Speaking ill of the dead for fun & profit
Roger Ebert’s flip comment about the DUI death of stunt actor Ryan Dunn has ignited a debate about the propriety of speaking ill of the dead.
I believe it’s high time to bury the quaint prohibition.
Can’t speak ill of the dead? Why the hell not?
I guess it makes sense if you’re afraid of ghosts.
But for someone like me, uncomfortable with confrontation, I can’t think of a better time to honestly address consensus flaws and shortcomings of a person than when they’re no longer around to punch me.
An extreme (true) example: Just last night we were engaged in a lively bar conversation about great war movies when talk turned to a notable World War II veteran.
“Now, that guy was really mean,” said one buddy.
Mean? Kids who steal lunch money are mean, I said. The guy he was talking about was satanic, pure evil.
I don’t think I was exaggerating because the vet was . . . Hitler!
This friend of mine was so well-raised by careful, fastidious parents he was hesitant to lay it all on the table about one of history’s worst monsters. Talk about polite.
(To be perfectly honest, his folks, may they rest in peace, must have been at least partial idiots. After all, their kid spends way too much time getting drunk with me).
I refuse to place any conversational shackles on any topic that might restrain my ceaseless urge to yap.
I speak ill of the dead, the living and often speculate what kind of unformed pre-natal moron a pregnant woman might be about to spring on the rest of us.
I’ve always been that way. But I learned the hard way years ago that candor often makes aggrieved people want to strike honest men like me in the face.
So now I find it prudent to just -- pssst! -- whisper my unflattering observations.
I try and always be truthful.
Unless I’m bored. Then I make stuff up.
Just the other day I told a jealous friend with a hair-trigger temper, “I hate to be the one to break this to you, but I caught Bert hitting on your wife last week at the bowling alley. He swore he’d deny it if you ever confronted him.”
It’s a despicable lie. His wife’s far too ugly for Bert or any other non-blind drunk to hit on, but the ensuing mayhem certainly had a way of demolishing the daily tedium and that’s my ultimate goal.
Really, talking ill of the dead should be a lively enterprise.
I’m thinking here of newspaper obits.
There’s no sensible reason death notices have to be so deadly dull.
They read like phone directories: “Frank died. Frank worked. Frank had kids. Frank had grandkids. Frank golfed. Say goodbye to Frank at McLaughlin & Sons Funeral Home today from 3 to 5 and 7 to 9 p.m.”
It practically kills me to read obituaries.
I could change all that overnight if one insightful publisher would give me free reign over what we in the newspaper business used to call the “dead beat.”
My honest obituaries would be more lively than the sports pages.
“Frank, a Latrobe boozehound, died of the massive heart attack his friends had been predicting since 2007. Married and divorced three times, he was an emotionally distant husband, was mocked for his Moe Howard haircut, and was known to area waitresses as the town’s worst tipper. He failed to pay child support to four children who are now dysfunctional adults nursing substance abuse problems of their own. He cheated at golf, sent annoying ALL CAPS e-mails and frequently drove in the passing lane with his left turn signal on. He worked at Kennametal.”
And that would just be the standard disquisition. God have pity on the sad soul who dies owing me more than $10.
Newspaper circulations would skyrocket, what once bored would magically entertain and, best of all, everyone would be on notice they’d better start behaving -- at least those who’ve been informed they only have six months to live.
We need to talk ill of the dead to help the living understand there are consequences to going through life mean, petty and stupid.
We need warts ‘n’ all death notices that really tell it like it is.
Yes, America needs “oBITCHuaries.”