It’s OK to Criticize the Dead

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Speaker 1: Do not speak ill of the dead.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Hi. I’m Rachel Hampton.

Nadira Goffe: And I’m new to your dog and you’re listening to. I see. Why am I?

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: In Case You Missed It.

Nadira Goffe: Slate’s podcast about Internet culture.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: And once again, we are joined by the inimitable Nadira. We are still looking for permanent co-host. In fact, we actually just posted that job listing. So if you’ve ever wanted to be trapped in a room with me as I ramble about copyright and fan works, that opportunity is available. But in the meantime, Nadira continues to be our MVP, our pinch hitter, the love of my life, etc. etc. etc.. Nadira. Hello.

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Nadira Goffe: Hey. And also can confirm that being trapped in a room with Rachel is nothing but fun.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: I’m glad that you think so. Not that I sat watching you write that I’m the Google doc. Making sure that you said that.

Nadira Goffe: Listen, I wouldn’t have written it if it wasn’t true.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: We don’t lie here on this show. I feel like I usually try to start off every guest hosted episode with a random question, some might say just to get us warmed up. But I kind of struggled coming up with one that bit today’s topic. So instead of just trying to make anything be coherent, I’m just going to ask you the question I started asking at parties, you know, when the conversation started dying down a little and you have to like throw in a little bomb. Are you ready?

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Nadira Goffe: I mean.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Perfect answer. Do you think Jesus was canonically hot or Rachel?

Nadira Goffe: Okay, first of all. Now, which one are we talking?

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: We are talking like the historical figure. No.

Nadira Goffe: No, but the. The white one or the.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: No, no. Because he wasn’t historically canonically not a white person. So we’re not.

Nadira Goffe: Sure. Well, no.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: When I say canonically, I mean as the historical figure Jesus existed. Right. Do you think he was hot? Right. I think he was.

Nadira Goffe: I’m going to posit that I think he was made, but I think Moses was hot. All my. As it stands, stand up.

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Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Yes. Yes. No. Exactly. I think Jesus was mid but with hot energy. I think he had the charisma.

Nadira Goffe: I mean, he must have had a lot to do, the things that he. But he allegedly has no legit. Got to keep it real. Kind of keep it real for the. You know, we’re incorporating all sides. We can’t alienate anyone here nor there.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Well, I will never get over you saying this is allegedly did this. All right. We’re we’re going to in that bear.

Nadira Goffe: What to say? How how are you going to pivot.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Out of that? We’re not going to pivot.

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Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: It’s hard launching into the next day because today on the show, we’re talking about death.

Nadira Goffe: Expertly done. Expertly done.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: We’re hard launching death on the show. Specifically, we are talking about the way we talk about and deal with death online. And I’m sure that anybody who has been online in the past two weeks can guess why this is coming up. Yes, the queen has died. She is dead. She is currently in a box somewhere making her way through the U.K.. I don’t actually know how the funeral works.

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Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Anyway, the surrounding pageantry around her funeral and the ascension of her son, Charles has been trending at the top of my faith since she passed on September 8th. And what seems to be coming up again and again is the kind of consternation of her fans. Does the Queen have fans, subjects, cronies, whatever, when they’re confronted with what they perceive as disrespect by, let’s say, the Queen’s less admiring subjects? Now, despite my love for like the Tudors, I’m an avowed anti-monarchist. So is it really the least bit surprised when the meme started rolling as soon as we heard that she was in hospice?

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Nadira Goffe: I was not either. Also as an avowed anti-monarchist. But what I took issue with is royalists or even people who aren’t royalists, but just love decorum, chiding those who weren’t being entirely sympathetic. Mostly because I am also someone who is not a royalist but loves me some decorum and I’m not dubious. Yes. I mean, when you think about the legacy of colonialism, it’s ironic, to say the least, to try and start policing these people.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: The very least I do also. I love pageantry. I love drama. So I get it. But also, like Churchill and this dynamic isn’t new, right? There’s this instinct that appears online and feels like every single time someone with a heavy air quotes around complicated, complicated legacy dies where any criticism of them or their actions is kind of deemed verboten as soon as they kicked the bucket. But why is that? And where does that demand to not speak ill of the dead come from? It’s really fair to ask for that. Or is it just another exercise in prioritizing stability over fairness? We’ll be discussing all that and more after a short break.

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Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: And we’re back to talk about death. Everyone’s favorite topic, credit where credit is due in India. You came up with today’s brilliant episode. I must ask, are you good? What’s going on over there? You going through a little existential crisis?

Nadira Goffe: I mean, no, but it actually might not have anything to do with. We’re talking. Listen, as you witnessed, as we all witnessed the day the queen died, the Internet and our Work Slack channel, it’s like we’re so full of life that it was hard to really get any work done.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: It’s true.

Nadira Goffe: There were hot takes, there were trash talk, there were there were old takes and new takes abound. But a really big theme of the tweets that I was seeing on my personal feed were anti-monarchist memes and jokes that were them policed by, in my opinion, people who are no fun. Our colleague Natasha Power wrote a great piece that synthesizes all of the tweets and the general response to them for Slate, wonderfully titled I just have to say, like one of my favorite headlines at Slate, quote, Let the descendants of Britain’s empire have their glee.

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Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: It’s chef’s kiss. I know I use it a lot, but I don’t think I ever use it hyperbolically because this headline incredible. I don’t know how the two came up with the sauce editor, but like, oh, iconic. I’m going to read a passage from the piece because as you said, it’s a really great distillation of what was going on the day the queen died and the general vibe of what was going on, on at least my corner of the Internet and tissues too.

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Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: The vibe was such tweets shifted dramatically over the course of the day. At first, when news arrived at the Queen’s quote, medical care, simple and snarky tweets abounded, anticipating the official announcement and ensuing fallout. Then, as the clock hit 1:30 p.m. and the royal family officially declared the Queen’s death, anti-monarchy tweeters adopted an even more serious tone the double down on their lack of grief and highlighted not only the bloody history of British rule, but the Queen’s own role in perpetuating it, whether through history obscuring initiatives, direct orders for violent military crackdowns on colonial dissent in Yemen, and her other efforts at halting the mass independence movements that took place and succeeded under her reign. Another chef’s kiss and the doubling down caused some drama.

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Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Before we go any further, I think we should state. No one person isn’t going to be able to atone for centuries of colonial violence. But the thing is mismanage and try like she didn’t even try thing. In fact, she actively tried not to try. She tried to sanitize the legacy of the violence of her family. It’s more than fair for people directly affected by that violence to be a bit is that Elizabeth got to die in comfort and privilege, surrounded by her family and enmeshed in a world that is not only unimaginable most people, but is built on that violent legacy. That’s the PSA over. And so I think at this point, it would be remiss not to mention what happened with Uju Anya.

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Nadira Goffe: So Uju, Anya is a Nigerian-American associate, languages and linguistics professor at Carnegie Mellon, who, upon the Queen’s death, tweeted, quote, I heard the chief monarch of a thieving, raping, genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating, end quote. Then, of all people, Jeff Bezos, who apparently decided this was his moment to take a break from underpaying his employees union busting and generally cultivating a baffling amount of wealth. Responded on Twitter saying, quote, This is someone supposedly working to make the world better. I don’t think so. Wow. End quote. And yeah, I put all my emphasis into that.

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Nadira Goffe: Well, the original tweet was removed by Twitter because it apparently violated some of their rules. But some of Professor Agnew’s responses, doubling down still remain, including some can I say, absolutely bad bitch behavior responses to Bezos and her final word on the matter also still remains, which is a tweet that states If anyone expects me to express anything but disdain for the monarch who supervised a government that sponsored the genocide, that massacred and displaced half my family, and the consequences of which those alive today are still trying to overcome. You can keep wishing upon a star.

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Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: And I.

Nadira Goffe: Hope, as the kids.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Say, I would like to say that Jeffrey Bezos has posted just under 375 tweets in the 14 years he’s been on the platform, doing some quick math. That’s 26 tweets a year. So my man does that. It seems that one of his two tweets per month to say this, like what he doesn’t seem to understand is that when the revolution comes, we will be eating him first. So maybe he shouldn’t be reminding us of his presence like this. Like, sit down. Shut up. Enjoy your fucking billions of dollars.

Nadira Goffe: Absolutely.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: The swift response to Uju. Anya was wild, pronounced wild to behold. If you have been involved in or witnessed any of the cancel culture debate in the past few years be. So suddenly, suddenly there’s speech that should be suppressed. Speech that can be harmful. Speech that can be violent. Speech. Twitter can take swift action against who could guess that this was possible. Not me.

Nadira Goffe: Cough. Trump cough. But you know.

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Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: And Anya isn’t the only person to have there Anti-monarchist. We’ve taken down or dogpile by a mass of people screaming civility. And it is ironic to have a mass of people screaming with civility at you. Like, is there not a paradox here? An oxymoron? And given the fact that most of these anti-monarchist tweets are sent by formerly colonized subjects, it’s like super fascinating to me to see whose grief and comfort is being prioritized right now. Like, it begs the question of who exactly is experiencing the most harm. Is it the people who like, love QE two and have to see some rude tweets? Or is it maybe? I don’t know, the victims of colonial violence and subjugation whose cultural artifacts are still sitting in the British Museum? Or I don’t know if you don’t even want to go that far. The people whose surgeries had to be rescheduled because a funeral that their tax dollars are paying for that part.

Nadira Goffe: All of those parts. So one of my favorite tweets in the moment came from Washington Post reporter Eugene Scott, who posed the evergreen question, which was for me now is not the appropriate time to talk about the negative impact of colonialism crowd. When is the appropriate time to talk about the negative impact of colonialism? And I think that that’s where a lot of my frustration of this instant respectability politics, policing comes from. Not only is it pretty situational, like you noted, but it also actively plays into two things the erasure of actual nuanced and complicated histories, all in the, frankly, vanity name of protecting the feelings of people who have been protected nearly their whole lives, and also in misunderstanding power dynamics like there is one or two tweets and then there’s ruling a literal dynasty. Nay, a dynasty that has colonized people.

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Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Not a dynasty. A dynasty. I feel like I say this once a week.

Nadira Goffe: The equivalent of the Library of Alexandria is.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Yes, I do say that once a week. And it is true, but not this time. What I’m saying is there’s this way that social media collapses context and power dynamics like the promise of a platform like Twitter, or at least the promise that was sold to us is a is an equalizer.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Right. Like my tweet can go just as viral as a tweet from the sitting president. Me and Biden are the same. Except we’re not. Because just because I can tweet like Biden does not mean that I am Biden. And I think we as humans tend to mistake ubiquity and popularity for real power. But a tweet with 100,000 retweets saying like Death to the Queen or whatever is perhaps not nice to read if you love the Queen. But it also doesn’t wield the same power that Charles now has access to and has had access to for most of his life. Like we mistakes, seeing a particular narrative gained traction online as indicative of a shifting power dynamic. It’s while the idea that woke teens are trying to destabilize the U.S. with gender theory is so popular even as we have the oldest sitting Congress we have ever had in the history of this country.

Nadira Goffe: And the way that collapse specifically presents itself in terms of like the queen dying is just, as you said, conflating tweets from former colonial subjects with the $500 million Charles just inherited, tax free, like I’m supposed to have sympathy for Charles because he lost his mom. There are lots of people who have lost their parents.

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Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: And they can’t wipe away their tears with $500 million. You know, I I’m be honest. Some of you might not want to hear this. I don’t give a shit. Okay. There was this viral video that went around. In this video, Charles is sitting at a desk signing some papers. Everything seems to be going normally until he realizes that he’s forgotten the date.

Speaker 1: Things are going through the assembly.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: And he just progressively gets more and more bothered as the pen stops working. And then Camilla comes in and then he’s just like, Oh God, I hate this.

Speaker 1: December 12, 2014. Oh God, this is going to happen about him. So pretty much. In the 30 seconds.

Speaker 4: I. To the studios.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: And it was fascinating thing. People be like, That’s a great response. Fanny Fields We should be more understanding. Frowny face. I don’t know why. It’s a little boy who loves bears and creams, but I guess it goes to show how little I care because my God, man, you are King of England and you just inherited $5 million tax free of my parents diabetes. You have to pay taxes on their estate like. They don’t have $500 million.

Nadira Goffe: Now, listen, I’m not saying that I don’t necessarily care. I do care. But that argument is so one sided. So here’s my thing. The family of Queen Elizabeth is not the only party grieving in the situation. The victims of the crown. And there are quite literally an empire’s worth. And empires, generations worth are also grieving. They are grieving the loss of accountability, respect, reparations, even basic acknowledgement of the harm that they’ve endured for generations and will continue to endure. When we balk at Charles for being dismissive and bratty during his secession ceremony, none of us have to be reminded that he’s grieving.

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Nadira Goffe: We all know he lost his mother, and many of us are aware of what deep grief feels like. And plenty of us, particularly victims of the colonization of the British Empire, weren’t afforded the luxury of an unadulterated, messy grief process in public. We still had to go to work. We still had to take care of our families, and we still had to live. And the man can even clean off his own desk. I mean, knowing grief is messy is implied in many of these tweets. It just doesn’t excuse Charles’s behavior.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: And the thing is, this kind of retconning, it’s not even just applicable to the queen. I mean, it’s especially applicable to the queen because like, you know, colonialism and imperialism and billions of taxpayer dollars on a funeral wall, energy crisis threatens to leave people without heat in the winter. But I can’t lie. This whole past two weeks just made me think of how wild it’s going to be online whenever Henry Kissinger finally die. Like, Oh, my God. The respectability that’s going to come out.

Nadira Goffe: Truly no man’s land. But don’t take our word for it.

Nadira Goffe: After a short break, we’re going to talk about how this don’t speak ill of the dead paradox has presented itself in the aftermath of other famously complicated figures.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: And we’re back with more terrible people that have died. As we said before the break, the queen is kind of a special case. You know, there’s really only one monarch of the commonwealth, unless you’re like Mary, Queen of Scots, in which case maybe there’s two. But this dynamic we’re pointing out, this demand for civility over truth in the aftermath of death isn’t relegated just to the royals. I think one of the people we both thought of as we were preparing for this episode is, I’m so sorry to speak his name, Rush Limbaugh.

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Nadira Goffe: Right. So Rush gets in. Limbaugh the third.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Not his whole name. Listen, even though he had a whole name, we.

Nadira Goffe: We just we we got to do it. You know, famously, a conservative radio commentator died in 2021. And there was if you weren’t there and if you don’t remember, let’s say, well, sympathy was hard to come by, let’s put it that way.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: And it’s so hard to come by because of the way. I don’t miss them in a way. I’m like, ding dong the which is dead.

Nadira Goffe: I mean, among us. Well, actually, there were some among us because the conservatives did not like that rotten hell started trending after his death on Twitter. But this man played a large role in spreading disinformation and misinformation to the public by saying things like there was no insurrection on January 6th, or when he had the segment called AIDS Update on his show, where he would read a list of queer people who had died and quite literally mocked their death. So, I mean, you know, if you can’t stand the heat, etc., etc..

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Etc., if you can’t stand the heat, then burn in hell. I mean, he pushed the Obama birther narrative. He said that NFL games look like fights is between the Bloods and the Crips without the weapons. He repeatedly denied climate change. That man sucked so much as well and not in the fun way. And yet somehow in the wake of his death.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: And so to show decorum. No. Like this is a phrase that people love to pull out. Like he was the whose father? He was somebody. A person died and I don’t care. I’m glad Rush Limbaugh is dead and I’ll be damned. Henry Kissinger grave when he finally kicks the bucket. That’s not a threat. It’s just, you know, some plans I’m making. But this conversation does get a bit more complicated when the person who died isn’t the monarch of an imperial society or Rush Limbaugh. Take Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for example, Notorious B.I.G. RPG, if you will.

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Nadira Goffe: You know, I won’t. Actually, I won’t.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: I’m. That was a test. And you pass with flying colors. Stop fucking saying the Tories are RBG for the sake of like so much clarity because I do not want anyone to come for me. I largely admire Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She is nowhere near the same as Rush Limbaugh or even the Queen. I mean, for once she actually had a job, but when she died, I was sad for a lot of reasons. But I have to admit that one of those reasons was that she refused to retire during Obama’s term, and thus Trump got to appoint three Supreme Court judges in a singular term. And my God, has that decision had some far ranging consequences. Roe v Wade, for instance, and the fact that it no longer exists and these consequences were brought up a lot in the aftermath of her death. And those consequences were then shouted down in the name of this Clean the nation is morning narrative.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: It’s just so weird to me that people not only want the freedom to feel the way that they do, which is fair and valid. More on whomsoever you want, like go, go with God, I don’t care. But they also want other people to do the same and then get mad when we don’t like.

Nadira Goffe: What the absolute hypocrisy is. Mind blowing. It’s truly mind blowing. But this whole situation reminds me of Washington Post reporter Felicia Sanchez, who reminded people on Twitter of the rape allegations against beloved basketball player Kobe Bryant soon after his tragic death in 2020. Now, Kobe is a hero to many to me, to plenty of people that I know. And his death was so sudden and tragic that when Sanchez tweeted a simple link to a 2016 Daily Beast article that discussed the basketball players 23 rape allegations, she was met with absolute vitriol, like to the point of death threats, absolute vitriol. Her tweets were deleted, and The Washington Post actually placed her on administrative leave before other journalists chastised the publication for its lack of support. This is thankfully something that did not happen to Professor Anya at Carnegie Mellon. She was reinstated shortly after.

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Nadira Goffe: But here’s the thing. She was kind of right. I mean, she defended her tweet, basically claiming that someone’s entire legacy, the good and the bad, is important to remember and consider. We can mourn the loss of our heroes without silencing any potential victims in the process, which is something that happens when we claim that people were infallible while they were alive. And this silencing and erasure especially happens when people who push back against the perfect angel post-mortem rhetoric are actively shut down and silenced. What is the message that we’re sending to victims of abuse, of assault, colonialization, slavery, police violence, anti LGBT lawmaking and more? People are complicated. So is grief. So is power, fame, fortune and politics, legacy. All of that. We don’t need to simplify any of it.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: I never thought I would ever say this, but this is actually really good. Trevor Noah segment from when the Queen Died. That I think actually is really instructive.

Speaker 1: You know what it is most of the time it’s not about respecting the person or what they’ve done or what they have in a weird way. It’s it’s that people have this strange reverence for fame. You know, it’s that a famous person has gone. And so everyone must respect them regardless of what the famous person is famous for. You can’t say to people who have been oppressed by the British Crown that they should not in some way, shape or form, say whatever they want. First of all, the person’s gone. It’s not like they crying wherever they are. They’re gone. That’s the first thing to admit. And secondly, you can’t expect people to show respect for something. They’ve never respected them.

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Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: At the end of the day, what I always come back to whenever someone is chastising me or someone I follow, or just people who look like me for not showing reverence for the Queen or Biji or Scalia, rest in peace or whomever is what happens after someone dies at the hands of police. There’s none of this show some respect. There’s someone’s mother, father, brother. What we get is he was no angel or, well, she shouldn’t have been resisting or they committed a crime before. There’s all this justification for why we should not be publicly mourning this person. So what’s really funny, when someone who we know has done bad things or perpetuated bad things dies and suddenly it’s like we can’t talk about any of that.

Nadira Goffe: So funny. Hilarious. Can you hear me laughing? Haha. I mean, let’s just remember these are tweets. Just tweets. As you mentioned earlier, Rachael, let’s not over inflate the power of a bunch of people liking a tweet by a professor or whomever on Twitter, rather. This is having a respect. Yes, communities could have launched, I don’t know, rebellions, wars, forcible requests for actual justice. Lord knows how many times actual countries have politely, publicly asked for their treasures back that were literally stolen from them and just chillin up in the damn British Museum. Like This is them being nice. This is them holding their tongue. And since y’all apparently hate violence so much, which that was a joke. You do not you hate literally condone all types of violence until they’re in the name of actual justice. But that’s an entirely different conversation. You can’t just let someone be mad on Twitter.

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Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Like let bitches be mad on Twitter. It’s the only thing we have at this point. Like, does this conversation change when people stop being mad on Twitter and start dogging people? Yes. But also, you can talk to the queen. We all know where she lives. It’s Buckingham Palace. It’s right there.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Speaking of actually, I have one last question before we sign off.

Nadira Goffe: Okay. Go ahead.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Would you stand in the queue?

Nadira Goffe: No, I may be Jamaican slash British slash American, but I got bad knees. These like stand for no queen.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Okay? I mean, one queen. Beyoncé.

Nadira Goffe: True, true, true, true. You call me.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Oh, right. That is the show. We’ll be back in your beat on Saturday, so please subscribe. It is the best way to never miss news about who has died. Please leave a rating and review and Apple, Spotify and tell your friends about us. You can follow us on Twitter. I see why I might underscore POD, which is also we can be amongst the best memes you’ve seen about the Queen dying, and you can always drop us a note. I see why my Slate.com.

Nadira Goffe: Isomer is produced by Daniel Shrader, Rachel Hampton and Ayana Angel. Daisy Rosario is our senior supervising producer and Alicia montgomery is Slate’s VP of Audio. See you online.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Or Buckingham Palace.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: I’m an actor.

Rachel Hansen, Rachel Hampton: Give me the Emmy. Sheryl Lee Ralph. I’m coming for you.

Nadira Goffe: When you have a Nadira in your corner, when you have an icon in your corner, when you have a daisy in your corner. You have a Daniel in your colon.