It has been a bad year hasn’it? What with Carrie Fisher and Richard Adams joining a long list of other celebrities like Bowie, Prince and Cohen, to many 2016 seems like a bad year indeed.
And yet…First, it looks like much of the mourning might be a generational thing. For those of us born in the 1940s and 1950s and on to the 60s and 70s, the death of icons like Bowie and Prince, and for a songwriting poet like me born in the 1950s, the death of Leonard Cohen, was a reminder of our own mortality. These are the people of our music generations. For people born in the 1980s and 1990s the impact of their death is likely to be less heartfelt. I guess a rough parallel for them might be if George Michael were to die … Oh.
Zsa Zsa Gabor was almost as much a mystery to me as I am sure she was to my twenty something son and daughter.
These celebrities are the creatures of various branches of the entertainment industry and a convenient distraction from the everyday rottenness and brutality of life under capitalism. It is almost as if modern entertainment ‘is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless condition’; almost as if ‘it is the opium of the people.’
Carrie Fisher may have crossed generations but she might be the exception that proves the rule. The tired hackneyed themes of Star Wars, reworked, attracted new fans who could see no alternative in real life to the wage slavery that dominates or is to dominate their lives. Doctor Who is another example although in his case – funny how there has never been a female Doctor, isn’t it? – many might not grieve at all at the death of one of the earlier doctors yet weep buckets when one of the later ones dies, (in some far off future of course.)
And who is crying for Vera Rubin? No one. She was just one of the most important scientists of the second half of the 20th century. Not a real celebrity then.
No one mourns the Assad massacres in Aleppo and elsewhere across Syria. Je suis Paris did not become Je suis Aleppo. The murder by Assad of 250,000 Syrians is of little concern to Western media and its audiences other than as the occasional ruling class arrow in an inter-imperialist ideological, political, military and economic battle.
War criminals like George W Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard, and the soon to visit Australia genocidist Benjamin Netanyahu, are free to roam the globe rather than being in jail for their crimes. Western power and those who exercise it are untouchable in the annals of essentially Western institutions like international criminal courts, and the UN (despite the Security Council passing a motion the other day condemning Israel’s genocidal settlements in occupied Palestine.)
More than one million Iraqis have died as a result of George W Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. Where are the tears for these innocent men, women and children?
Here in Australia the anti-refugee politicians and their concentration camps on Manus Island and Nauru killed another asylum seeker recently. His name was Faysal Ishak Ahmed. Like Reza Barati and Hamid Khazaei, Faysal was not a celebrity.
The creation of pop idols, of film and book icons, is an example of our alienation from each other. Our tears for them expresses our basic social democratic thinking, of heroes from on high liberating us through music, or film or books, or politics, rather than the mass of people acting together to liberate ourselves.
I mourn not for George Michael and Carrie Fisher but for those dying on Manus Island and Nauru, for those dying in Syria and Yemen, for those hundreds of millions across the globe caught up in war or slowly starving to death. I mourn for the 50 million refugees rotting in camps across the globe.
In Australia I mourn for the pensioners losing their pensions from 1 January, or part of it. I mourn for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who are the victims of capitalist genocide for the last 228 year, for those who have or will die in custody, for the women whom their partners will kill or destroy, for the building workers who will or have died on building sites, for those without adequate health care, for the 2.9 million Australians in poverty.
2016 was a bad year politically too. Donald Trump won the US presidential election. Malcolm Turnbull continued Tony Abbott’s brutal agenda. The fascist Marine Le Pen went to the lead in polls on the 2017 French Presidential election. One Nation rose from the ashes to win four Senate seats and gain traction for its racism and xenophobia and will expand its base and influence.
2017 portends disaster, if we let it. We can create an alternative here and now. As Howard Zinn said, it is not who is sitting in the White House but who is sitting in, that is, who is fighting back with strikes, and street protest and sit-ins. Let’s make 2017 a good year. Let’s fight back.
Our task as socialists is to work to create a society where there are no celebrities because we all are. This can only be a democratic society where production is organised to satisfy human need. Only through doing that can we abolish war and starvation and stop the deaths of tens of if not hundreds of millions every year. As part of that we must not only make the case for socialism, we must make the case for fighting back. We must join those here and now fighting against any of the rotten manifestations of a rotten system.