Thoroughly enjoyed Frank Rich's Times Op-Ed today on Pope John Paul II and Terri Shiavo media coverage and the developing American Culture of Death. Got me thinking about how I experienced the pontiff's slow demise as it was happening. Full disclosure, I was raised Catholic and I'm a journalist, but I have to admit that by day 3 or 4 of the Pope watch I didn't give a shit. (This slightly undermined my efforts to get the goods when on a related assignment.) The important thing to me became not when the pope died -- because it was certain to happen, and soon, even though Fox's Shepherd Smith has now gotten into some trouble for reporting "the fact" about 24 hours early -- but who he was and what he meant. After he died, the majority of stories (as you well know), addressed not the legacy but the event. "Millions wait in line; some are turned back! Rome copes. Presidents and dignitaries arrive! The media is really blowing this out of proportion," some outlets reported. "The conclave, the conclave -- it's totally secret!" (OK, I admit I kind of like the conclave. It's excellent Broadway musical material.) Anyway, the point is that after wading through all this tripe I had neither the energy nor the determination to ferret out the gleaming nuggets about this historically invaluable man. Even now, I'm still essentially clueless about the former Karol Wojtyla, and I blame the media.
The other thing Rich got me thinking about is the excitement and preparation of these death watches. And then the great vast release of the post-mortem. The pre-death coverage is all masturbatory -- the tension builds, we get fantasy shots of humans in agony, closing in on their ultimate breath -- and the death brings an orgasmic explosion equivalent to the wattage of the celebrity. Witness the nonstop Pope chatter relative to the dead Terri who? More importantly, Americans can now dream a new and improved American dream: Death, it's the new life. If I cannot become a celebrity in real life, to be hounded by reporters and paparazzi, my every moment catalogued and deconstructed and analyzed ad infinitum only to be devoured by the vapid, faceless millions, the new non-thinking will go, perhaps I can still be famous in death, if only for a day or two. I'm not kidding. Just you watch, soon some lucky reporter will come across a suicide note that reads: "I'm truly humbled by all of this attention. For further info, please contact my PR agent at..."