So this week has been pretty terrible in Cancer news. Although however hard you took the news of David Bowie and Alan Rickman dying spare a thought for Celine Dion. She lost her husband and her brother both to throat cancer in two days of each other this week. After the initial shock and sadness at the loss of two brilliant creative talents I spent a lot of this week looking at the way the media reacted and how it shows our relationship to Cancer.
At first there were heartfelt tributes from those that worked with Bowie and Rickman. 6 music did a very good job on Monday with Shaun Keavney and Lauren Laverne playing some great music linked with anecdotes from the listeners. People on my social media timelines expressed shock and then admiration for a life well lived (shall we gloss over Tin Machine?).
Then the first glimmers of a backlash started, primarily by Sunday Times writer Camilla Long stating on her Twitter that the outpouring of sentiment was inappropriate and we all should grow up. Someone then awkwardly found an old post of hers from when Michael Jackson died and she stated that she was crying to 'Earth Song'. Policing grief can be difficult when facts get in the way. My main problem apart from thinking you should dictate how people grieve is bloody crying Earth Song? It's a terrible dirge and one that Jarvis Cocker was right to protest at the Brit Awards. I'm not sure Jackson would like to be remembered like that when you've recorded stuff like Dirty Diana.
The next meme to bubble up was the fact that both Bowie's and Rickman's illnesses were not common knowledge. The tabloids went with " 18 month secret battle with cancer" which for a number of reasons is false. Just because the media doesn't know doesn't make it secret. His family knew, his band mates playing on "Black Star" knew, and I'm pretty sure his doctors knew. That is not secret, its just not splashing your illness over the cover of OK! Magazine. People handle having a critical illness in many different ways. Both Bowie and Rickman got on with what they did best, creating and let the work be their legacy. Better that than a mawkish interview in a Sunday paper.
Lastly is the use of adjectives like "heroic" "battle" and "brave" in describing their conditions. It's almost a default setting when writing about cancer. For all we know they could have spent their last days bawling their eyes out in a foetal position. It's our own fear of death and dislike of talking about it which makes these words come out. It's problematic because it implies that people who survive illness had enough fight in them, and that those who lives are ended, haven't. This is patronising and deeply wrong. Cancer happens to everyone without discrimination. Whether you're rich or poor, brave or cowardly or multi-award winning stars of stage, screen or music. Bravery and fight have nothing to do with it. That's the scary thing we don't want to face. Even the big Cancer charities are now playing on this meme and its bloody annoying.
Anyway let's hope we can have at least a week off from high profile cancer deaths.
Currently I'm... Watching Jessica Jones on Netflix... Listening like everyone else to Black Star..reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.
* Close followers of this blog will have realised that every post is a title of a song. So this one is referencing New Order not that bollocks pseudo depression January bollocks. See this http://www.badscience.net/2014/01/blue-monday-is-churnalism-heres-me-shouting-about-it-at-npr-on-the-media/ by Ben Goldacre on why. Have a lovely Monday M x