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Реферат: Death Is The New Black Essay Research

Название: Death Is The New Black Essay Research
Раздел: Топики по английскому языку
Тип: реферат Добавлен 03:33:13 31 октября 2010 Похожие работы
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Death Is The New Black Essay, Research Paper

Death is the new black’Anyone who has ever hammered a nail into his nose owes a large debt to Melvin Burkhart.’ Some sentences yearn to be written. It is not hard to imagine the ill-suppressed glee with which the anonymous Daily Telegraph obituarist, writing last December in appreciation of this sideshow performer (known as the Human Blockhead because of his ability to drive a five-inch nail or ice pick into his head without flinching) flexed his fingers before starting on the one above, proving the point that, today, obituary writers get all the best lines. For too many years, ‘obits’ were seen as the dead arm of the newspaper industry, and that was about as good as the jokes got. Reverent, deferential and absurdly coy regarding what were often highly relevant parts of an individual’s life – the Times, for example, managed to obituarise Dylan Thomas at length without once mentioning the fact that he had been known to wander into the occasional pub – they also dealt almost exclusively with establishment figures, many of them criminally dull. This all started to change in the mid-Eighties, when Hugh Massingberd became obituaries editor at the Telegraph and James Fergusson became his counterpart at the newly launched Independent: arid humour, walloping understatement and a fine new breed of euphemism became the order of the day, the collected books of obits became bestsellers and the ‘morgue’ became, if not quite the sexiest part of a newspaper, that conceit being a hard one to sustain, certainly the coolest. And now the breed has fully come of age: not one but two recent books, Carl Hiaasen’s Basket Case and Who’s Who in Hell , the debut novel by the British journalist Robert Chalmers, himself a former contributor to the Telegraph obit pages, feature anti-heroes who work as newspaper obituary writers. It’s like coming across two musicals in which the star is an undertaker. It’s also a glorious amount of fun. Chalmers, in particular, uses his book to rework with exuberance some of the most inspired euphemisms used over the past 15 years or so by himself, Massingberd, Fergusson and others newly enthused by the idea that an obit is not about death, but about life, and about celebrating the ridiculous array of ambitions, self-deceptions, vices, prejudices, loves and fears and general eccentricities we manage to cram into it. Thus we have one dissolute old lord, widely acknowledged to be a borderline rapist, described, in homage to one of Massingberd’s finest confections, as an ‘uncompromisingly direct ladies’ man’. The codes, to those who love their obits these days, are fairly well known. ‘His door was always open’ – lush (or, to finesse it, ‘his door was always open, at any time of the day or night’ – lush, with an eye for the students). ‘Tireless raconteur’ – bore. ‘Vivacious’ – drunk. ‘He tended to become over-attached to certain ideas and theories’ – fascist. ‘Gave colourful accounts of his exploits’ – liar. ‘She did not suffer fools gladly’ – foul-tempered shrew. ‘Fun-loving bachelor with many male acquaintances’ – serial cottager (or, as we might say in obit-speak, possessed of unusually detailed information on aspects of location, opening hours and popularity as they related to the British public lavatorial system). For years, of course, there was one code used by all obituarists – ‘he never married’, widely understood to imply homosexuality, even though sometimes it meant, simply, ‘he never married’. Chalmers celebrates the way in which these old conventions of euphemism, often stultifying, were turned around when he has his fictionalised obituaries editor, based loosely on Massingberd, writing: ‘He never married, because hypocrisy, as he was fond of saying, was not a word in his Lexicon, and because he was a proselytising homosexual who liked to spend his evenings sashaying around Hebden Bridge in a skirt.’ He also manages the sublime obituary trick of having a pop at more than one target in the same dust-dry sentence, when his main character, Daniel, starts to rework obits of historical ogres, beginning with the satanist Aleister Crowley. ‘Circumstances indicate that the intellectual capabilities of a mate weighed more heavily with most men than they ever did with Crowley, who committed sodomy with a range of partners including a goat and two graduates of Trinity College, Cambridge.’ The classic obit for many fans was the Telegraph ’s for the Third Lord Moynihan, written in November 1991 by Massingberd’s then deputy, David Evans. It began with the lines ‘The Third Lord Moynihan, who has died in Manila, aged 55, provided, through his character and career, ample ammunition for critics of the hereditary principle. His chief occupations were bongo-drummer, confidence trickster, brothel-keeper, drug-smuggler and police informer…’ – and, absurdly, it got better as it went along. Not all the best obits, says Chalmers – and Massingberd and Fergusson have written along similar lines – are vicious, or even admonitory: the euphemisms may be finely honed. But the tone is very often affectionate. To praise someone for a real life, truly lived, can speak more volumes than screeds of drooling hagiography: think of John Hannah’s funeral tribute in Four Weddings and a Funeral . (’Fat. Rude. Gareth was fat, and he was rude…’) But the main thing these people have done is not simply open up obits to honesty and humour. The kind of person marked in them has changed enormously. ‘Who merits an obit?’ asked Fergusson in an essay three years ago. ‘The answer is the same as it was in 1731 or 1791. Anyone who is important and anyone who is, in some way, interesting.’ But his criteria are essentially the opposite of the ’small national élite’ of the Times of old: ‘Civil servants… armed forces up to a certain level… public-school headmasters… gentleman cricketers… neither unpredictable nor intrinsically interesting.’ Instead, since then, the pages have welcomed Melvin Burkhart, the Human Blockhead. And we have enjoyed celebrating, with what Fergusson has described as ‘a certain sepulchral hilarity’, on the very same pages as the dwindling number of generals – referred to on the Telegraph obits desk as ‘moustaches’ – a welter of, for once, interesting people: Tiny Tim, or the Wali of Swat, or Divine, or Marie-la-Jolie, Marseille’s most infamous brothel-keeper (who ‘ended her days in a small flat near the waterfront: alone, toothless but for one rotting fang’), or aviatrice Peggy Salaman, who doused her lion cubs in eau de cologne, or Philadelphia politician Frank ‘Big Bambino’ Rizzo (’I'm gonna be so tough as mayor, I gonna make Attila the Hun look like a faggot’). One-legged inventors, lepidopterist wrestlers, tax-fiddling cardinals… readers who forget today to read the broadsheets’ obits pages are missing on much of life. Even though most people likely to be obituarised are keen to see what’s going to be written about them – ‘On the whole,’ according to Telegraph editor Charles Moore, ‘it’s an ambition that people have, to read their own obituary’ – these works-in-progress, often updated several times as the years pass, by a handful of different specialists, some of whom will end up predeceasing their subjects, are carefully guarded. The art dealer Nubar Gulbenkian was so desperate to see his notice that he tried to bribe Times staff, a fact alluded to at length in his eventual obituary. Staggeringly, given the numbers of deaths per day, the papers don’t actually get much wrong, and the idea of the premature obituary is something of a myth, although Moore has cheerfully admitted to burying three people alive, including violinist Dave Swarbrick of Fairport Convention (’Mr Swarbrick, who was reported dead in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph , is recovering well…’). Now started, this trend for witty, wry, perfectly honed writing on the obits pages cannot be put back in the bottle; and one could argue that not only have these pages joined mainstream journalism, they often surpass it. Take one from earlier this month, in the Telegraph, of ‘Graham Mason, the journalist who has died aged 59, [who] was in the 1980s the drunkest man in the Coach and Horses, the pub in Soho where, in the half century after the Second World War, a tragicomedy was played out nightly by its regulars’. It ends with two sentences. ‘Graham Mason cooked Mediterranean food well, liked Piero della Francesca and Fidelio, choral evensong on the Third Programme and fireworks. With almost all his friends dead, he sat imprisoned by emphysema in his flat, with a cylinder of oxygen by his armchair and bottles of white wine by his elbow, looking out over the Thames, still very angry.’ You could look elsewhere in newspapers for many weeks and fail to find anything so close to poetry. Who’s Who in Hell by Robert Chalmers is published by Atlantic Books (£10.99)

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Olya23:52:55 28 августа 2019
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