When famous people die, the beloved ones anyway, there’s a natural tendency to remember how much they meant to us, how it’s sad they died when they did and how the world is a slightly diminished place. I felt that way about David Bowie’s death. But truth be told, I hadn’t listened to his new music in years, if not decades. I think he was a good person, as much as any one of us is, but I don’t know for sure. But he was a significant part of some of my younger years and for that reason it made me sad.
In polite society, when complicated characters die, let’s say a Ronald Reagan, it becomes more nuanced. Beloved by tens of millions, loathed by as many or more and regarded as somewhere in between for the majority, when the eulogies come we tend to err on the side of “if you can’t say something nice…”. I would suggest that this is a pretty good default position for a great majority of these circumstances. We’re all complicated, each of us with our redeeming qualities and our character deficiencies and to be judged on a black and white scale when we’re mostly all varying shades of grey seems ungenerous.
Ghandi was racist toward black Africans. MLK was a philanderer. JFK too. Maybe they all were. There were only a handful of Presidents before Lincoln who weren’t slave owners. John Lennon was probably a real asshole most of the time. People revere Mother Theresa while many think she did some bad, bad things. And the list goes on.
Roger Ailes died today. He doesn’t fit into this narrative for me. He was an evil man. A television genius, he entered the political field in the sixties. From Nixon through Reagan and Bush and Fox News, he’s done more than any other in the last fifty years to make America the mean, dumb, paranoid, racist, sexist, fearful place that it currently is. A sexual predator himself who created an environment that condoned such behavior, he died with his reputation destroyed. Without him we wouldn’t have had Bush, Palin, O’Reilly, Trump and just about every other mean, racist and sexist provocateur who makes millions spewing lies to an audience whose ignorance has been cultivated for generations. He didn’t create our most base and crass emotional tendencies but he did more than anyone to exploit them. How much blood stained his hands?
And it was all for money.
Of course, he’ll have an expensive funeral and his ancestors will live well for generations. His family may have loved him and maybe he had some friends who are now sad. He’ll be remembered as a pioneer of a certain kind of media. But he pioneered nothing to be proud of. He most certainly did exponentially more harm to his industry, his country and this world than he did to better it.
Dying doesn’t deserve respect in and of itself. We all die. The way we live deserves respect. It’s not that I’m happy he died. He was old and powerless and the immense damage had already been done. I simply wish he’d never been born. We all would have been better off.