For the record, if somebody decides to play “Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead” at my funeral, I will not be angry. It’s worth the disclaimer.
That song -- sung by Judy Garland for the 1939 feature film “The Wizard of Oz” -- is currently at the center of a minor scandal in the United Kindgom.
After former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died on Monday, some left-leaning Brits created a Facebook group to encourage downloading the song on iTunes. Their ultimate goal was to top the charts, and they succeeded.
Now the BBC, of all things, has landed in hot water.
The BBC plays a Radio 1 countdown of the week’s biggest hits on Sunday, which means that “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead” would have been in the top slot. But that caused an uproar -- Thatcher supporters were outraged by the perceived disrespect.
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And so the BBC was presented with a choice: to play, or not to play? And in the end, it took the worst possible route and went with neither option. They’re going to play a brief clip instead, which is funny since the song in its entirety only lasts 51 seconds.
I extend my sympathies to Tony Hall. He’s the guy who’ll take the heat for this decision -- the guy who just got the job as the BBC director-general just last week. The Daily Mail, one of the publications leading the charge against the song, has already criticized Hall over a cushy exit contract.
On Friday, the Mail ran a quote from Tory MP John Whittingdale, condemning the song.
“This is an attempt to manipulate the charts by people trying to make a political point,” Whittingdale said. “Most people will find that offensive and deeply insensitive, and for that reason it would be better if the BBC did not play it. It's a political act.”
Whittingdale is the chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, which I imagine gives him some credibility regarding this issue. And he’s right; this was a political act.
But Thatcher was a political person.
The thing is, she’s endured some pretty serious criticism before. The Iron Lady has been the object of massive protests. She’s been burned in effigy. She’s been the target of a bomb attack that killed five of her friends and colleagues. A cheery Judy Garland tune definitely can’t top any of that.
It is of course taboo to speak ill of the dead, which is why all recently deceased are referred to in suspiciously glowing terms. But why sanitize a life story that way? Margaret Thatcher was at times stubborn and argumentative -- it’s part of her legacy. If anyone wants to call her a witch and ring doorbells over it, they are fully within their rights.
In the end, the worst thing about the BBC’s decision is how badly it fails to pay tribute to one of Great Britain’s most iconic leaders. I disagreed with Margaret Thatcher’s politics, but I liked her personally. She was bold, principled and tenacious. It would have been wiser for the BBC to follow suit: pick a side, stick with it, and deflect all criticism with raffish charm.
Waffling on the matter is about as far from Thatcherism as you could get.