Saturday, August 29, 2009
An End to State Funerals
I have to admit that I just hate the kind of "state funeral" that's been mounted for Ted Kennedy today. The monumentality of the wrongfulness and absurdity of this kind of event is beyond my literary ability to conceive and describe. But let's call it depressing, ugly, morally sick, bad democratic theory, bad politics, and bad history for starters.
A state funeral is also a horrifying way to honor Ted Kennedy's real accomplishments.
For the purposes of this post, I'm just going to stick with emphasizing the depressing character of it all though.
Starting with the church in the above picture--the "Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help." In the picture taken from the high angle, the basilica itself looks like a tomb just as much as Ted Kennedy's casket. I'm not a religious person and have not been in a church for a religous purpose for 34 years. But I know enough church language to know that the room where the service was being held is called a "sanctuary." At Kennedy's funeral, the sanctuary looks like a mass grave and the participants look like they're already dead but still under the illusion that they're alive. What happens when Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and the Clintons leave the basilica. Are they going to spring back to life? I doubt it. There are enough images in our culture of the dead having a kind of life as vampires, werewolves, the undead, or whatever Bruce Willis was in the "Sixth Sense" that we can't really tell who's living and dead anymore. The people at Ted Kennedy's funeral look like they're already navigating the line of being dead but not really knowing it.
The effect of living death is enhanced by the fact that the men at Ted Kennedy's funeral are dressed almost uniformly in shades of blue and charcoal-gray. The surface thought is that the "somber" colors are appropriate for a funeral and don't have any significance beyond that. But the thought is mistaken. These are the suits that elite men wear every day of their working lives. What the suits represent in the basilica is what they represent at the White House, in Congress, in business, and in the media. And what they look like to me is little blue and gray caskets for the ashen-faced men within them. Like Diogenes carrying around his coffin with him, all of the important men at the funeral look like they're encased in coffins. But where Diogenes was joking (at least I think he was), the men at Ted Kennedy's funeral look like they live their "undeath" every day. Or maybe they view their everyday lives as an on-going funeral.
What makes this depressing is to think that these men (and women) are the cream of "our" elite, the Democratic, liberal, progressive, socially conscious, rational, caring, thoughtful elite, and that they are just as much the undead as the Dick Cheney's and Rupert Murdoch's of the world. Even if Barack Obama isn't as fully committed to being a war criminal as Dick Cheney, he's still cut from the same blue and grey cloth, still pulled to the undead existence that characterizes the elite, and still pulling the rest of us into the sphere of the undead ourselves.