May 25, 2016
May 1, 2016
‘One of our aircraft has failed to return’ – the language demands a suitably decorous response. From a nation of wonky-teeth men, and women with black lines drawn up the back of their legs: wartime pastiche of seamed stockings in desperately short supply.
No way of telling if it was the way they told it: keeping calm, carrying on, ‘your mother running about putting sandbags on incendiaries’, and years later her pointed remark to a teenage son on the brink of overreaching himself: ‘the pilots who never came back were only the same age as you, y’know?’
Quietly but vehemently; quite possibly prompted by closely guarded memory of lost first love.
Bearing in mind this far-off culture of understatement, I have to ask if recent reports of Flight MS804 seem grossly exaggerated. I mean all that footage of gurning – the twisted features of close relatives beside themselves in shock and awe (too early even to call it grief), when the EgyptAir plane failed to return to Cairo and news was first broadcast across airport offices and lounges.
Of course last week’s stricken faces were as old as the hills, and the hills were still there throughout All Our Yesterdays. But who decided to tell it this way? That is, through pictures of people sent briefly back to nature.
No, I shan’t say you might as well take pictures of them on the lavatory. But if we accept this wreckage as our common humanity – the collapsing faces of those needing time, the fullness of time, to re-assemble themselves as human beings, aren’t we assuming much the same as the people who blew up the plane*?
Better to re-write Wilfred Owen’s re-take of Horace, and message it to those journalists responsible for today’s mourn-porn: de morte decorum esse necesse est.
* Itself an assumption yet to be verified.
In Trafalgar Square on Tuesday 19 April, Mayor of London Boris Johnson unveiled a scale model of the Roman arch of triumph which had stood tall among the classical ruins of Palmyra, Syria, until Islamic State (IS) militants destroyed it during their 10-month occupation of the ancient city.
‘Palmyra’, sounding something like ‘Ikea’. And thousands of lightweight copies wouldn’t look amiss on supermarket shelves.
Imagine: for easy self-assembly, user-friendly semblance of the lost art of moral authority; models of a model which arches from hommage to…..a cheesy rhyme on the c-word that can’t be said.
Western Civilization – let’s call an ace, an ace – was never pure and simple. The eternal city gave us rule of law, but the IS death-cult wouldn’t look askance on the legion of death-displays during the Empire Days of Rome.
If time ran the wrong way, mischievous Caligula might even copy the cultists: stringing up the decapitated corpse of Khalid al-Asaad (83), Palmyra’s retired director of antiquities, placing his bespectacled head on the ground between his feet, and, noting thick black frames below the badger-brush of white hair, only adding a line underneath:
‘So it’s goodnight from him’.
But they couldn’t make it up, these barbarians. They couldn’t have, because we did the spadework for them. Based on banality, the pantomime savagery of so-called ‘so-called Islamic State’ is mainly a magnifying mirror of Western regression since the 1960s – always ready to scale back on the story of human achievement, presenting instead the model village version (as did the Mayor in Trafalgar Square last month), downsizing to meet the diktat of the day.
We aced our own civilisation; and as we scale it down, they step up the bar-bar-barbarism – all for the cameras, of course.