Sunday 11 April 2021

Nerd Church - But There Are No Saints, There Are No Sinners: The Extremes of Opinion When Public Figures Die


(Warning: this post discusses death (which you probably figured out,) suicide, grief, mourning, online abuse, domestic abuse, racism, colonisation, ableism, ageism)

Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, died on Friday. He was 99 years old, nearly 100.

...As seems to be the norm, the world then descended into extreme points of view.

Especially the Internet, obviously, because the Internet is like every extreme dialled up to the max.

'But There Are No Saints, There Are No Sinners: The Extremes of Opinion When Public Figures Die' against a background of water on a glass pane

But not just the Internet - the mainstream British press were also pretty extreme (in that polite, British way, that means you don't realise the extremity of it until later.)

Most of the main TV channels put off their regular programming to inform us that he'd died... and were still at it hours and hours later, and the next day, and possibly also today I don't know, to let us know that he was still dead. 

(I kind of think it would've been more newsworthy, after the initial announcement and repetition thereof, if he wasn't still dead, but that's just me.)

dividing line

Before we go further, I've been around said Internet long enough to know I need to clarify a few things:

  • This post is NOT a moral judgement on either Prince Philip's virtues or failings

  • This post is NOT a defence of racism

  • You can have your own opinion, I honestly don't mind

  • This post isn't an attempt to tell you how to feel in any given situation - you feel what you feel, and that's valid

  • I will however say that sometimes it's not appropriate to say some things loudly and publicly on the internet - especially if those things are quite crass - but only you can be the judge of what you think is appropriate (other people may not agree with you however - freedom of speech =/= freedom from consequences)

dividing line

I noticed this extremity of public opinion after the death of Caroline Flack too - suddenly she was either a poor troubled girl who was picked on by the nasty criminal justice system, or she was a bi*** and a she-demon.

Usually, in the opinion of the press, the former.

The truth? I couldn't possibly guess.

I never met her. I never knew her. 

And I 100% believe that innocent until proven guilty and believing that abuse took place are equally balanced on a metaphorical quantum level (i.e. both are true, legally and morally) until the legal proceedings and/or detailed examination of all the evidence tips the balance.

But it seems likely that the truth about Caroline Flack was somewhere in between the two moral statements - as it is with most people. 

And I realise that isn't as satisfying as an outright judgement, but life isn't usually an either/or dichotomy.

What I will say is that I think the police and the Crown Prosecution Service were justified in continuing the prosecution, and that it's important that the CPS are able to continue with prosecutions (with enough evidence ofc,) without the victim having to press charges.

Because when it comes to domestic abuse, hardly anyone would be prosecuted if the victim had to be the one to press charges.

But, because she's dead, her memory in the media has become weirdly saintly?

Like - this is an alleged domestic abuser, people. (Allegations which the inquest into her death kind of  upheld.)

I know that she had her struggles, and she had a lot of friends in the media, who understandably want to be able to discuss her and mourn her, but the amount and levels of fawning tributes after her death was... odd. 

It was odd.

I hope it helped her friends and family to cope, I really and honestly do, but I'm still not sure that literally referring to her as a 'hero'* sends the right message to abuse victims... or the abusers themselves, tbh. 

(Or, for that matter, people feeling suicidal)

*I know, I haven't linked my source - but the suicide reporting in this country (the UK) is horrendous. 

The media never follows the reporting guidelines, and with Caroline Flack it broke every rule in the book - and then probably invented some more so that they could break those.

I'm talking romanticisation x100 - so I don't feel comfortable linking any of these articles. Any of them. They're all awful.

So you can believe me or not, I don't care. I'm not linking that level of irresponsible journalism.

dividing line

It's a similar affect to what's been going on with Prince Philip - people think that either he was a saint, or a literal Nazi.

And the world, in my humble little opinion, rarely works like that.

(Except in the case of literal Nazis - members of Nazi groups, parties, or organisations - which I'd like to make clear that Prince Philip was not, though his brothers-in-law were, their actions are not his and should not be treated as such.)

Prince Philip was part of a colonialist system, and that can't be ignored. 

The level of his direct involvement is something I don't know enough about to make a value judgement, but he was one of the symbols of that system, and that sucks.

It is 600% NOT OK to use Philip's death as an excuse to attack Meghan and Harry, and generally be racist a**holes.

- I mean, wtaf is wrong with you?

It's also not OK to brush over someone's shortcomings with cleaner language.

Previous racist statements have been rebranded in the last few days (and before, to be honest,) as 'gaffes' and 'being outspoken' - and no-one is served by this sanitisation.

And in 2021, we need to come to terms with these problems.

Some of my beloved family members, like most White people of their ages, have said some racist sh** (and yes, the younger generations, myself included, have yelled 'you can't say that!' where necessary.)

We need to be honest - Prince Philip said (and probably did) some racist sh** over the course of his 99 years of life. He and the entire royal family benefitted, time and again, from the legacy of empire and colonialism.

And whether or not any of that stuff is forgivable is not for me or any other White person to decide.

And the fawning adulation from the mainstream press is a lot right now - like, it's A Lot.

But I also don't think it's OK to celebrate the death of another human being - no matter who that person is or what they've done.

And that happened on Twitter. Extensively.

I also saw some ageist and ableist sh** about his appearance and... wow. 

No. Don't do that. 

You don't get to be prejudiced just because it's someone you don't like - that's literally upholding  and perpetuating the prejudice.

I'm not saying you can't feel pleased - although I personally find it gross to feel elated at the prospect of someone's death, you feel what you feel, and you can't help that and shouldn't try to repress it - feelings rarely follow 'should' and are valid regardless.

I'm saying that even if you feel like hitting someone, it doesn't mean it's OK to hit someone.

I'm saying that even if you feel like speeding on a motorbike without wearing a helmet, it doesn't mean you should speed on a motorbike without wearing a helmet.

I'm saying that even if you're happy that another human being has died, it doesn't mean you should post crass memes and disrespectful celebratory gifs.

Imagine that was the public reaction to the death of someone you loved - a grandfather, a parent, a brother, a spouse, a friend.

Regardless of what an individual's done, or hasn't done, this was a person - a life.

And the way I was brought up - you don't speak ill of the dead.

That doesn't mean you don't speak the truth about the dead - Prince Philip said racist sh** and upheld an elitist and colonial system, amongst other major faults.

No, what it means is you don't act unneccessarily cruel and disrespectful. 

Because those people had family. And those people were people.

You don't be a jerk. It's deceptively simple.

People aren't saints or sinners. People aren't gods or monsters. People are people.

Please, stop sanctifying and demonising the dead, and instead let their memories be who they actually were - messy, contradictory, human.

So, what do you think?

Do we need to stop splitting people into these extreme moral judgements? Or am I simply refusing to get off the fence and make a call?

Does the nature of individuals being in the public eye make us feel entitled to an opinion?

Can it be justified to celebrate the death of another person?

(I realise that's a lot of questions - it's cos I have a lot of questions!)

Talk to me! 😅💬

You can follow me on Twitter @CeeDoraReads, on Pinterest, and on Dora Reads @ BlogLovin. For more ways to support me, check out the Support Me page

Related Reading:

Sharing and commenting is deeply appreciated! 😊


  1. Interesting discussion, Cee! I'll be honest and say I am not a fan of the Royal family. I think as a member of the Commonwealth, we have moved past the need for a monarchy and we should definitely move past the idea of putting colonization on a pedestal. I am a huge fan of Meghan Markle and am angered by the people trying to blame her for Prince Phillip's death. However, I am not a fan of speaking ill of the dead. He was an old man with health problems and some of the comments are as you state, ableist and ageist. I would hate for someone to say those things about my grandfather, so why would I condone it on someone else?

    The idea of celebrating someone's death is complicated. I don't know enough about Phillip to relish in his passing. And I also think it is not healthy to relish in anyone's passing. What we do have the right to, is to refuse to grieve for someone who was a bad person. For example, I will refuse to grieve when Trump dies. That man does not deserve my sympathy. But celebrating a death I think will just cause more anger and perhaps negative feelings that don't serve anyone.

    1. As a good little Welsh girl, and Socialist, I'm also in no way a fan of the monarchy; as I've probably mentioned before, the English crown slaughtered the Welsh royals centuries ago.

      Ageism and ableism aren't OK, though - it's the same as any other prejudice in that it doesn't stop being a prejudice just because you're using it against someone you dislike.

      I think it's perfectly fine to not grieve someone - especially if you didn't know them, or felt indifferently towards them. It's the celebrations that I feel are out of line. We had a similar thing in the UK when Margaret Thatcher died - people were civil to begin with, but when certain sections started to sanctify her, the backlash started and 'ding dong the witch is dead' ended up at no. 1 in the charts! And I... wasn't *sad* that she'd died, but I tried not to celebrate it, because that felt wrong - but in the face of the sanctification, I think a lot of people felt like they had to push back - and maybe that's what we're seeing here.

  2. I truly wish the internet didn't make everything feel contentious. I think recognizing how complex and flawed people helps us understand each other better.

  3. When it comes to a death it does tend to go one way or the other with judgment of character. And there doesn't seem to be an in between allowed. Truthfully, I don't have much of an opinion on this matter despite being British. I'm anti-monarchist and don't know pretty much anything about the royal family or what they are doing as I don't really care :') So I didn't really know who he was until the news told me of his passing, and know pretty much nothing of what he has done. I just think we need to be more balanced, and accepting of balance.

    1. Totally get where you're coming from - my default with royalty is 'meh.' Balance is something that human beings in general seem reluctant to accept *nervous laughter* <3


Comments? I love comments! Talk to me nerdlets!