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heathmichelleoscars06.jpgThe Victorians, for all of their oppressive foibles, knew how to do death right. Sure, the intricate details and prescriptions of protracted mourning periods, sometimes of years, were surely a cause of much consternation, but the Victorians understood what we seemingly do not in this age of immediate access: That grief needs time and space.
Coming across pictures of Heath Ledger’s ex-girlfriend Michelle Williams and his daughter Matilda trying to make their way back to the U.S. from Sweden with captions noting that she’s “distraught,” strike me as not only being unnecessary (obviously she would be distraught over such a loss), but cruel.


Think back to a great loss in your own life. Did you want to be around people, or did you want to curl up into a tiny ball of grief and block out the rest of the world, nursing your pain? Now imagine that you have flash bulbs going off in your face, photographers competing to get a picture, as you try to deal with the death of a loved one. I personally can’t imagine what that must feel like.
But to add insult to injury, public figures these days do not even fall under the category of those protected by the old maxim, “Do not speak ill of the dead.” FOX News Radio’s John Gibson showed spectacularly poor taste and callousness when he announced the young actor’s death on his radio show by playing a clip of “Brokeback Mountain’s” Jack telling Ledger’s Ennis that “I wish I knew how to quit you.” Gibson then followed the clip by saying, “Well, he found out how to quit you.” Can you think of anything more inappropriate or insensitive to say? I can’t.
Gibson, who stirred controversy when “Brokeback” came out by saying the film pushed the “gay agenda,” then went on to call Ledger a “weirdo” and joked that maybe he took his own life – which was speculation at that point and proved to be false – due to recent Wall Street woes. He then played another clip of the movie wherein Ennis says, “We’re dead,” which he mimics. GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, has just started a letter writing campaign asking for the ousting of Gibson.
Granted Gibson calls Ledger a “weirdo” in the context of an interview the actor once gave expressing the feeling that he could now die knowing that he would live on through his child; Gibson thinks it’s weird for a 28 year-old man to be talking about dying. Well, I think it’s weird that Gibson should speak about someone so glibly, mere minutes after their death. But, this is John Gibson, after all, who has landed on Media Matters for America’s “Most Outrageous Comments of the Year” list. What must it be like for Ledger’s parents and friends to hear such callous commentary?
When Victorians who had been in mourning were ready to re-enter society, they would leave calling cards with their friends or acquaintances as a way to announce they were ready to resume their public lives. In a celebrity’s case that may be a call to one’s agent, Oprah, or People Magazine. So, let’s take a page out the 19th century playbook and step back from the doorstep of the bereaved. After all, watching famous people suffer ordinary tragedies shouldn’t be made meat for the entertainment sausage factory, even during a writers’ strike.

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