“Wearing your heart on your sleeve at least gives you something to wipe your nose on.” – Ophelia Oldfellow
Private expressions of emotion: grief, regret, elation or affection, may or may not be sincere but I believe in giving them the benefit of the doubt until their falsity is proved. Public expressions of emotion, on the other hand, should be judged more harshly and their exponents regarded as guilty until proved innocent.
It is a source of shame to me that I can remember where I was when I first heard about the death of John Kennedy or that of Diana Spencer. It reminds me that I am not immune to popular obsessions, no matter how hard I try. When I’m waiting at the supermarket checkout I anxiously scan the magazine covers on display. I am relieved whenever a celebrity is referred to by its first name and I don’t know who it is. I feel vindicated and uplifted. Occasionally I do recognise a name and gloom envelops me. Memento, homo, quia ovis es.
(For the record: I was at boarding school when John Kennedy died. A bloke called Mick W, who had got up earlier than the rest of us, came hurrying out of the bathroom where had been listening to the radio and said “The American President’s been shot!” Years later, I was ironing a shirt when the radio or television – I forget which – announced the death of England’s Bimbo-in-Chief.).
Diana’s death, while funny in itself, was completely overshadowed by the “outpouring of public grief”* that followed it. Cartloads of flowers dumped in public places! Oh if only I could have been a by-laws officer, with the power to impose on-the-spot fines for littering! “I’m sorry sir, but you’re not allowed to deposit decaying vegetable matter on the footpath.” Because human beings are such sheep this sort of anti-social vandalism has become fashionable and widespread. When the Australian cricketer Phil Hughes died after being struck by a ball people placed cricket bats in places where they were visible to passers-by (gateways, balconies, verandas) as a “tribute”. A number of his former teammates took every opportunity, when playing a match in front of a sufficiently large crowd, to gaze soulfully heavenward at moments when they knew the cameras would be on them, in pretence that their former friend was looking down on them. I suppose they were at least recognising someone who had actually existed, which makes them less ridiculous than those athletes who cross themselves or kneel and give blubbering public thanks to a god who is only a figment of their sick imaginations.
Nobody has been more appropriately scornful about contrived public emotion than the great South African poet Roy Campbell. His epigram “The Land Grabber. (On a Poet Who Offered His Heart for a Handful of South African Soil)” goes like this:
The bargain is fair and the bard is no robber;
A handful of dirt for a heartful of slobber.
*Did you note that? Journalism!!!!!