The Politics of Grief

The Politics of Grief

In 1955, British anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer coined the phrase “pornography of death,” one aspect of which is using death to sell movies, magazines, and other products. It is an exploitation of personal loss and grief. It generally includes horrendous pictures of tragedy and violent death and often is accompanied by pictures of an individual’s intense reaction to seeing or learning about the loss of the loved one.

The first night of the Republican National Convention took the pornography of death to a new level, and it provided an excellent case study for Gorer’s concept. We watched speaker after speaker paint vivid word pictures of the death of a spouse, or a son, or a team member in the military. We watched the audience be moved to tears again and again. The cameras panned across those sobbing openly, while news commentators struggled to describe the scene. They repeatedly used the word “raw” and kept saying how difficult it was to witness the overwhelming emotions and grief of those who were the storytellers.

These presenters certainly were bereft and heartbroken. They had lost a loved one, and grief theory tells us that repeating the loss story again and again can help lead to acceptance of the loss and even to healing. That wasn’t, however, the purpose of the convention program. Instead, the collective loss and grief was politicized. It was used to make political statements and to place the blame for their losses on members of the opposite party.  As one commentator put it, we were watching the “weapons” of grief.

In today’s political debates, we are used to one party blaming all of our nation’s problems on the other party.  We even take the politics of fear in stride. But when we exploit those who are grieving, we have crossed the line of decency and are bordering on abuse. The bereaved have a right to have their grief respected and their dignity and vulnerability safeguarded.

Photo Credit: Yahoo

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