Tragedy is a personal matter. Unless we’re talking matters of historical proportion, the justifiable grief attendant to tragedy is something not to be shared cheaply. As in anything cheap, it then loses value.
Thus the promiscuous urge, not just seen in our culture at large, but predominant in our news media, to gratuitously share personal grief is unseemly and childish. It is merely attention seeking and virtue signaling, attempting to be thought of as the noble empathetic soul who is proving their goodness by loudly crying at the back of the church. The current incarnation of this unfortunate tendency is in the case of Gabby Petito. But we have seen it before.
Labor Day weekend, 1997. I was teaching a Politics 101 course to a Libertarian group in Philadelphia. Between sessions I watched the news and heard of the car accident in Paris that took the life of Diana Spencer. It was a horrible tragedy, for her children. Instead of being given the opportunity to grieve for themselves and miss their mom (I understand the process, as I lost my dad when I was nine), they were subjected to a relentless media circus that saw millions try to take personal possession of the sad event. It was disgusting.
Going with the flow, the chief spin doctor at 10 Downing, Alastair Campbell, wrote an inane line for his boss, new PM Tony Blair. He deemed the mother of the future king “the People’s Princess.” And throngs of slobbering goobers bought it. Never mind that “the people” is an egalitarian, almost Marxist, as in “People’s Republic”, turn of phrase and thus precludes royalty in its basic formulation. The dichotomy was tearily embraced by the multitudes attempting to shoehorn themselves into the British consciousness as sort of a national tear duct.
And no, it was not a proper national event, as she was divorced from the royal family and thus no longer a legitimate figure of national awe and reverence. Those who still thought to make her so were solely following the treacly media bandwagon.
For a fair recounting of these events look to the 2006 film “The Queen”, starring Helen Mirren as HRM Queen Elizabeth II. Her Majesty, brought up in the stiff upper lip Britain of the Blitz, could not believe her subjects had devolved to such a state of emotional weakness and attention seeking. They had. Which brings us to the land of the strong and silent type, here.
The coverage of the Petito death has been excruciatingly maudlin in recent days. Media, of course led by social media, has been chock full of images of the poor woman dressed in angel’s wings crowned by halos. Posts and articles tell us how she suffered for us and that her death has a high, even global, resonance. That is ridiculous. She is likely the victim of foul play at the hands of someone close, like the fiancé. It is a tragic and horrific crime. And that’s where it ends for the public.
That’s also where it should end in publicity. But assignment editors are well versed in the public tendency to indulge in brag crying and acted accordingly. Thus now another women is made, in death, a media plaything. One doubts her family is happy about her cultural semi-deification.