Everything in our age has become a product. Now the news has broken that television rights to view Nelson Mandela’s funeral have allegedly been bought by the SABC, I have realised, even more, that everything is marketable. Is there any longer a distinction between the marketable and the sacrosanct?
If they were collected, warehouses would overflow with authentic splinters of wood and ceramic shards from Jesus Christ’s crucifix and grail, not to mention all the genuine wood and preserved leaves collected from Gautama Siddhartha’s moment of enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.
Though responsible for the death of countless millions, Chairman Mao’s tomb and other paraphernalia in the mausoleum in Beijing are a typical tourist destination. The usual touristy bric-a-brac associated with him is available for purchase all over China, the “little red book”, T-shirts, mugs … and he is still revered by many. My previous maid referred to him as the “god-man” with a look of awe on her face, then briskly shut up and carried on with her chores.
Although Mandla Mandela’s supposed sale of the exclusive TV rights to the iconic granddaddy’s funeral was a news-breaker … come on, how many of us were truly surprised? I sort of grinned in bitter delight over my morning tea as I read the news from here in Shanghai, but I was far from surprised.
In fact, I fail to see selling the rights to view Madiba’s funeral to a TV company as a moral issue at all. Heck, if I was at all famous, I would happily sell the rights to view my funeral and my wife could take the proceeds, after the tax which any opportunistic, self-respecting government, would swiftly impose, having passed the required new tax law. (Hmmm, how does the tax law work in the case of Mandla Mandela’s alleged, clandestine sale … seeing it was clandestine?) I would rest in peace, knowing the missus could live out her twilight days with the dignity only cash flow now sadly affords us in the post-post-modern world. The notion sounds like a fresh, untapped market. Anyone for www.deathondemand.com? Oops, that was a conspiratorial Freudian slip of sorts. I meant www.demandondeath.com.
Instead of getting indignant about it, Helen Zille should get on the funeral bandwagon; unfortunately she won’t be worth as much. Is the purchase of Mr Mandela’s funeral TV rights distasteful? To me it is, but in this world we inhabit, tastes are changing, becoming ever more mercenary. The commercial sign in language, in all our discourses, has greatly replaced the transcendental, consigning words like sacredness, honour and taboo to the archives of semantic history.
I am in fact puzzled by my own response, where I do not see purchasing funeral-viewing rights as “disturbing” or “immoral” at all, as evinced in the links attached to this blog. The idea is a new one, to me anyway. Perhaps I am just used to the way various leaders and their families behave with partisan, monetary interests worldwide.
The ceremony marking the passing on of South Africa’s greatest icon, and one of the world’s, is going to be a huge event and many are going to buy the rights for various products that will appear overnight (oh they were long lying in wait): commemoratory T-shirts, mugs, cups, jerseys, books, god knows what else. How does one stop all of that and is it immoral? Surely not. Distasteful? To me, yes.
However, where the lack of morality lurks is how is it that the grandson, Mandla, came to be deemed as the sole heir who can determine the rights to sell Madiba’s funeral TV and film viewing rights without the rest of the family — apparently — knowing. How the family settles the dispute is going to be an interesting one to follow. Given the world we live in, one way or another, if not Mandla Mandela, then others are going to exploit the event of the great man’s wake.