In Which I Am A Mean Cranky Person (Wotta Shocker)
I've considered the idea a couple of times of making an anonymous blog where, whenever someone famous who was actually, on balance, kind of a shitheel dies, I can put all the things about that person that people were thinking silently to themselves but didn't have the guts to say in a public space because then the wolves would immediately turn on them and they would become the shitheel.
Read it again; I realize it's a run-on, but it does parse.
The thing is, on-balance-bad people don't magically become on-balance-good people when they die. Death is not automatic redemption. It does not forgive their sins, at least not here among the people who survive them. (I refuse to speculate on the existence of any afterlife and the nature of forgiveness/purgation therein.) Their historical record is not wiped clean, nor should it be; and the wrongs they have done are still just as vivid among the wronged as they were when the person was alive.
In some ways, the "oh, let us not speak ill of the dead" tendency does a disservice to the living - especially any living who were victimized by the dead. Let us speak ill of the dead. Let us speak well of the dead too. They're dead. It's time for it all to come out in the open.
I think a lot of people who believe in "let's not speak ill of the dead" are scared of how it makes them look, because we've developed this strong cultural taboo for no particular good reason. No one wants to be the first to speak up, because then they look like the asshole. So we wait and wait, and finally when someone feels brave enough and thinks that enough time has passed, they'll timidly say "Well, now let's consider the real facts" and we can finally get to the revisionism. It's the unnecessary delay there that gets me. Sometimes it takes decades.
As far as I'm concerned, when someone dies, that's often the first time you can safely get the truth about them out into the open. If the person was merely problematic - if they had bad points scattered among mostly good points - then I can see where this would strike people as petty. But if the person did A Lot Of Bad Stuff, then I feel like it needs to be aired as soon as possible, ideally soon enough to prevent people from shooting off their fool mouths about what a good and wonderful person the deceased was when he was very clearly not. I don't want to give the mythos any time to build up. Why build it up then tear it down later? Why not just start with the facts and avoid a step?
It's possible that I'm just extra grouchy because while half of Twitter is currently eulogizing someone who was Not A Nice Person, the other half is flat-out refusing to believe extremely obvious truths about how horrible our president, his cabinet, his personal staff, and a whole lot of congressional Republicans are, and the damage they're doing. They're not refuting; they are refusing to acknowledge facts. To me, it feels like "refusing to acknowledge the bad" cuts the same way with the living as it does with the dead. When the dirt is out there and it is demonstrably true, we do ourselves no service by denying it, no matter whether the person we're discussing is still with us.
Anyway, this rant is brought to you by Chuck Berry, who was demonstrably a tax evader, nonconsensual pervert/peeping tom/surreptitious toilet photographer, and probably also an abuser, certainly a serial sexual harasser. Who robbed a long-time performing partner of his for credit for a lot of songs. Who was an asshole to other musicians (some of whom continued to work with him anyway, so he must have been a fairly charming asshole). Who gets a lot more credit for the invention of rock and roll than he deserves (if you don't believe that, Sister Rosetta Tharpe would like a word).
Does all of that diminish his greatness? No. Putting stuff in the bad column doesn't remove any of the stuff from the good column. I think sometimes people don't remember that, that they don't want to admit that people are complex and can do both good things and bad things. It doesn't make "Maybellene" or "Memphis" or "Rock and Roll Music" or "Roll Over Beethoven" or "Carol" or "Thirty Days" any less important or good. ("Johnny B. Goode" is overrated and always has been, though. Fight me.) So why not air it all out? What harm can it possibly do to air it out?
Chuck doesn't care. He's fucking dead. Vale, Chuck.