What does burying Richard III mean?

Late last week, England laid to rest King Richard III, whose legacy was, shall we say, mixed.

The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee was intensely displeased (with typical British understatement, she called him a “child-killing, wife-slaughtering tyrant who would be on trial if he weren’t 500 years dead”). Most of the current monarchy stayed away, since they officially call him a fraud. It seems Shakespeare did enough bad PR for the guy to keep him controversial. Having an average of one rebellion against your rule per year, even in a small sample size, doesn’t help with the sabermetricians, either.

Why did England turned out to watch? Are they that consumed by their monarchy? Maybe that’s not the whole story.

The bones exhumed from a parking lot belonged to a historically relevant human whom most of England had at least heard of. We also know that he was struck down in battle, so his last moments were probably fraught with anguish – and maybe the burden of regret, if half the stories about him are true.

There’s certainly a fascination with history, and burying Richard allows modern England to reach back and touch a part of their distant past. Of course there is a human element too: Richard was known, which forges a connection that isn’t there for the discovery of most other remains.

Regardless of what one thinks of Richard himself, no one wants the weight of their sins pulling them down across centuries. And certainly no one wants to be buried under a parking lot and forgotten. 

Burying Richard is a show of respect for the dead and for history, but really it’s for the English people; funerals are always for the comfort of living.

How big was the fall of the Wall?

Today, the world commemorates the symbolic victory in the Cold War against Soviet Communism.  It is telling about the nature of humanity how that oppressive regime, despite having occasional military advantages, collapsed under its own weight.

There is no shortage of excellent intellectual commentary about what the Berlin Wall meant – and means.  But sometimes it is the mundane or non-intellectual items which put the development in the best perspective.

When the news of the wall falling broke, my fifth grade history teacher told me that it was one of the most significant events of my lifetime.  Still, it was hard for a ten-year-old to grasp history.  A few years later, I heard an Elton John song from the mid-80s with the line “The reputation / of the woman you’re datin’ / Is ’bout as nasty as the Berlin Wall.”  As poetry goes, it wasn’t Bernie Taupin’s best effort.  But the fact that the Berlin Wall was such an easy simile puts the wall itself in perspective.  It wasn’t just a dividing line – it was a kill zone for anyone seeking the fundamental human right of freedom.  Nasty indeed.

The relief the world felt after the wall unofficially ended a half-century of nuclear brinkmanship was also chronicled by songs that actually made it to the top 40 charts.  Trite?  Maybe.  There are millions people unshackled from Soviet slavery who could offer poignant, personal testimonials about what the fall of the Wall meant to them.   But what better way to see the broad impact of an event than to examine how it seeps into society’s personal time – such as art and pop culture?