Cultural differences in death of leadership between UK and US

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United States (US) and United Kingdom (UK) cultural differences are recognized in the media in how they each eulogize their political leadership.

Regarding the April 9, 2013 death of UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a theater [1] proclaimed "Margaret Thatchers [sic] Dead LOL", social media giant Twitter saw the song "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead" surge upward immediately following the leader's death[2] and on walls and tee shirts[3] reflected the disdain of some in the UK for Prime Minister Thatcher. In the US, it is considered a sign of disrespect to publicly vocalize disrespect for the dead, even if they resigned in disgrace, such as former President Richard Nixon.

Chatham House Director Robin Niblett said when speaking of deceased Prime Minister Thatcher, "Having lived in both places, I can see the UK is far more deprecating, far more critical, and has far fewer taboos in criticizing leaders. In a way, her death is allowing people to vocalize the sense of frustration they are feeling with the current economic crisis."[2] Niblett explains that this untimely criticism reflects how Britain does not need to build any patriotic myths about its leaders. "America is building itself still and needing to believe there is a higher goal to which all Americans aspire, despite the partisan battles," he said. "When I see the trashing of Thatcher, I think of how strong Britain is and how in a way we don't need to do that. We don't rally round the flag, except in the most desperate moments. We don't eulogize our politicians."[4]

According to Gregory Katz in the article "U.K.'s attitude on political leaders' deaths vastly different from U.S., "Americans tend to put presidents on a pedestal and regard them with more respect. They are called "Mr. President" for the rest of their lives, but former Prime Ministers of the UK are not called "Mr. Prime Minister."[4]

Lucie McNeil, a Briton whose brother still lives in the UK, explained the “difference between Brits and Americans writ large. Saying something critical of America could be seen as unpatriotic here, but we Britons are conditioned to be critical of our country.”[5]

For example, former President Richard Nixon was the only US President to resign while in office and upon his 1994 death, according to Robert McGeehan, an associate fellow at the Institute for the Study of the Americas and dual national who worked with PM Thatcher after she left office, there were no signs of celebration. McGeehan continues "This really shows the dissimilarity between the two countries, one does not recall, with the passing of controversial figures in the U.S. anything remotely resembling the really crude approach we've seen over here," he said. "There is a class ingredient here that we simply don't have in America. They like to perpetuate this; the bitterness goes from father to son."[2]

The recent Twitter surge in the UK of "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead," referring to their own Iron Lady[6] is an example of public scorn in the face of death of an iconic Prime Minister. Gregory Katz of The Associated Press points out that "the willingness of small groups of Britons to publicly mock a longtime national leader hours after her death reflects a British contempt for power and its practitioners that many believe stands in contrast to attitudes in the United States".[4]

One explanation for this divide comes from Gregory Katz (AP) as he explains that despite the US and UK common roots, that the two countries operate in different political governments. In Britain, the monarch Queen functions as the head of the Church of England and as the Head of State and not the prime minister; in the U.S., the president fills the dual role as head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces.[4] It is possible that functioning as Head of State garners more respect in death, and not necessarily other political leaders, popular or not.


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  2. ^ a b c Associated Press (9 April 2013). "No UK taboo: Unlike in America, some Britons happy to publicly celebrate former leader's death". Associated Press. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ a b c d Katz, Gregory (10 April 2013). "U.K.'s attitude on political leaders' deaths vastly different from U.S.". Associated Press. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  5. ^ Brian, Howard (11 April 2013). "Margaret Thatcher's Death Brings Intense Feelings, Highlights Cultural Differences". National Geographic News. 
  6. ^ TBO Tampa Tribune (9 April 2013). "Even in death, Thatcher draws scorn from some". TBO Tampa Tribune. Retrieved 14 April 2013.