Over the past two weeks I've jetted between London and Puerto Vallarta. Between the two most disparate destinations on the planet- between chilly days and pints of ale, sunshine and margaritas, US Weekly and The Sun- I found a thread of commonality that cuts right through the heart of the UK and Mexico.
The spectacle of a dying mother is the ultimate tonic for the masses who crave the three C's of morbid, fetishistic entertainment: cancer, children, and celebrity. In the UK, Jade Goody, a reality TV star known for her by-the-bootstraps rise to pop culture relevance, is waging a very public, and depending on who you ask, heroic/tasteless final coup on cervical cancer. Sadly, the TV starlet isn't expected to live much longer (as I write this post some news outlets report that Jade has hours to live), so she's done what any reality TV star would do with their dying breaths and hired a celeb publicist and sold the rights to her wedding last month. OK! Magazine published photos of Jade's sobbing children, dressed in tuxes, under a hot pink headline "Heartbreaking Photos!" Along the way, she got kudos for her hustle from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
In Mexico, dead mamas mean lots of pesos at the box office. Every year around Mother's Day Univision plays a film from the 80s called Mama Soy Paquito (Mama, I'm Paquito) the story of a beggar child on the streets of Acapulco who has to step his game up after his mama dies of cancer. In an effort to win his aristocrat father's love, Paquito comes up with all kinds of songs to charm tourists, but the one he sings every night, to his mom, is Mama Soy Paquito, where he promises to be a good boy, even if he tires of scouring garbage for food, if the howling dogs at night scare him and his father loves him not.
If the popular pejorative term for reality TV content is "car crash," let's not forget the death of Princess Diana, who not only gave us a car crash, but a dead mother, a dead Princess, two motherless sons, a man to scorn and a conspiracy to chew over until the end of time.
No matter where you are in the world, the idea of a mother leaving this world before her children, and the void that creates both in her family and in society, is the more noble explanation for the attention devoted to this particular phenomenon in pop culture. But it's a car crash nonetheless and all of us, in spite of ourselves, are brazen rubber neckers.