Why teenagers worship the dead

7th July 2000 at 01:00
SCHOOLS always encourage children to write about their heroes. In my father's day it was obligatory to admire Captain Oates. Anyone who didn't was taken outside and might be some little time. I plumped for the cast of The Dambusters because they had a good theme tune. Later I was shocked to find that most of 613 Squadron were killed humming it.

My own kids belong to a generation of neo-classicists whose admiration is set on heroes like Homer (Simpson), Leonardo (diCaprio) and Michelangelo (the Ninja Turtle) but Ginny is taking the whole thing rather seriously.

I hadn't even realised that her English teacher had set this old chestnut, but last night Ginny suddenly asked me about Emily Davison. I wonder how many of you know that name? Ginny didn't.

Up until 1913 Miss Davison was famous only as the suffragette "of a certain age" who beat up a baptist minister she mistook for Lloyd George. Then in 1913 she tried to grab hold of the reins of George V's horse at the Derby and was trampled to death. Ginny prefers to think of Emily Davison throwing herself uder the king's nag in a suicide protest. Nevertheless the fact remains that she died and became a martyr.

One thing seems to mark out my daughter's heroines. Their deaths eclipse their identity. "Dad, who was the Pankhurst who died as a result of force feeding? And who was it died discovering radiation, Dad? Madame Tussaud or Madame Curie?"

I would have hoped in this age of female assertiveness that my daughters would go for successful women like Anita Roddick or Madonna who have made it clear they control their own career. "Nah," says Ginny. "It's all hype. Liking pop music doesn't mean you have to admire the people who make it."

What about Susan Sarandon, the star without a bra of Thelma and Louise who demonstrated that a woman over 30 can still share top billing with a bimbo? Ginny won't put actresses on her list either. "They all smoke dope." But she does admire Thelma and Louise as a film. "They committed suicide rather than go back to bad marriages."

It seems even in this post-feminist world the only good heroine is a dead one.

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