Virtue Signaling Over Corpses

I was sent this lovely anecdote of Sean Connery today by a successful Hollywood screen writer. They said I could publish but did not want to be named.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I was involved in a series of movie projects with Sean Connery. He was everything you’d like a Hollywood star to be in person: charismatic, gregarious, intelligent, very focused in meetings, a great raconteur. He’d often remind you of his Scottishness and in case you’re wondering, he was more attractive in real life than he was onscreen.

One day we were in a meeting in his office, discussing whatever was our latest venture. The phone on his desk kept ringing. He’d pick it up, put it back down to end the call, then the phone would start ringing again. Then his mobile phone started to ring and ring and ring. Annoyed, he buzzed the outer office on the intercom.

Sean: What’s going on? I’m in a meeting.
Office person: It’s Tony Blair.
Sean (exasperated sigh): I can’t talk to HIM right now.

Then he looked at us, shaking his head and said ‘Sorry about that.’ And we carried on with our meeting.

He will be missed but when Scotland is independent, he can be in your pantheon.

I have also been deluged with social media postings about Sean Connery’s reported views on slapping women.

Do we have to do this?

What he said is not defensible: but are there really people out there who have never in their life said or done anything wrong? The worst thing I ever did in my life (which was not at all criminal but was wrong) still gives me nightmares of remorse, quite literally. I wake up thinking about it. I hope and believe it is outweighed as a single incident in a life in which I generally tried to do good. But I would not want it dragged up for public gloating when I die.

Every single human has made mistakes. I don’t think there is any reason to believe that Sean Connery was a generally bad man like Jimmy Savile. His first marriage was unhappy but his second was very happy and lasted forty years. Connery was born the same year, into the same class and the same city, as my own father. Ten minutes walk between their homes. My father would have shared Connery’s views on women – some of my father’s views were very worrying. They were the views of a working class man brought up in Edinburgh in the 1930s and 1940s.

I am not a moral relativist. I think that Connery’s view was plain wrong, just as my father talking of people coming “off the banana boat” or “having a touch of the old tarbrush” was plain wrong. But I also know why my father did not understand it was wrong, and why by contrast I did know it was wrong. Part of the reason I knew it was wrong is that my father worked so hard to lift his family out of poverty and enable us to benefit from the great free educational opportunities the state then gave us – opportunities he never had, leaving school at 13. Who was I to sneer at him?

I recognise the vicious circle of destructive macho that led Connery to repeat the claims when challenged. I should say that pretty well all my father’s closest friends were black, he actively helped several refugees and there was an extraordinary gap between his extremely kind and completely colour-blind personal behaviour, and the horrible views he used to state. It was a peculiar kind of defiance or assertion of identity, not something real.

Even today, I wish I understood this better of my father. Likewise Connery: I suspect that by the time he was repeating in the 1980’s his obnoxious views of the 60’s, Connery was doing something similar. He was defending the remembered tropes of his class and community, no longer what he was actually living by. And did not know how to back down.

I like to think that in seventy years time, people will look back at today’s virtue signaling students who are swamping the internet with anti-Connery memes, and be horrified at the completely unacceptable views that today’s students hold in tolerating massive wealth inequality.

I repeat that I found Connery’s view on violence against women absolutely obnoxious. It is a good thing that such views are now beyond the pale. But that a ninety year old man expressed a single obnoxious view in 1969 and 1984 does not invalidate him as a human being. It is not the most important thing about him. We are mourning one of Scotland’s most talented sons, and perhaps the most famous. He did not have to be perfect; nobody does.

It is possible to bury the dead without virtue signaling over their still warm corpse.

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