Monday, July 26, 2010

Tragedy whores

T is for tragedy whores.

A few summers ago, I read a memoir called What Remains by Carole Radziwill. The author focused on a period of her life where she lost her best friend and best friend's husband (JFK Jr. and Carolyn Bessett Kennedy, as it were) in a plane crash, and then her husband to cancer, all in the span of a few months. It was gut-wrenching, though she managed to give glimmers of hope and resilience throughout.

In the book, she talks of people who attach themselves to tragedy simply because they like the drama and attention that seems to come with unhinged personal grief. She wrote of the first time she ever noticed this phenomenon, after a girl in her junior high class died in a freak accident:

I gave a name to these sobbing girls later, when we were grown women. I spotted them in the wake that shook the world one July when I was too close to Fortune's rudder. I called them tragedy whores. Even as adults, they cluster in groups, feeding on these occasions, where they reap the reassuring comfort of connected souls. That is the small reward and point of the wake. They are eager participants, playing with Fortune from a safe distance, then going home to husbands and children, unmarked.

Tragedy whores don't feel the foundation break apart beneath their feet- the reeling blast of emptiness, though to watch them you might think so. They're voyeurs. They feed like coffin flies on drama, embroiled in virtual grief and the illusion of heartbreak. They all have stories they want to tell, insist on telling, proclaiming their link to tragedy. Emotional rubberneckers.

I didn't like them at twelve, and I hated them at thirty-five.

We all know at least one tragedy whore, someone who seems almost hellbent on claiming the loss as some kind of prize, whose behavior in the face of the disaster at times eclipses the event itself.

In this case, Radziwill seemed to imply that the whole of America was guilty of being tragedy whores. That as we all sat glued to our TVs, watching the search and rescue efforts and crying over montages that began with JFK Jr. saluting his father's coffin and ended with he and Carolyn on their wedding day looking like the American royalty that they were, we were relishing in a tragedy that wasn't really ours.

I can understand where she's coming from- to grieve two close friends in earnest as the world tries to grieve the one dimension of them they were privy to, would be unbelievably frustrating and exhausting. I too would want to scream at everyone that they know nothing of the anguish that this is truly causing.

At the same time, I had a flicker of annoyance, knowing that by writing this book, she was also capitalizing on the whole affair. That without the vultures she accused of usurping the disaster, her book would never have been published.

Has anyone else read this book? I just realized I have it as one of my favorites in my profile, but I honestly can't remember why I liked it so much. Perhaps because I'm such a tragedy whore that even being called one didn't take away from the fascinating account of someone on the Kennedy inner circle.