Not long ago, news broke of the death of Marvin Lee Aday—better known as the iconic singer Meat Loaf.
Sources confirmed that he succumbed to COVID-19, and it took little time for social media trolls, politicians and even well-known media outlets to revel in his untimely demise. The reason for their delight is that he had expressed serious concerns about COVID-19 vaccine mandates, forced lockdowns and mask requirements. While it should come as little surprise that a rock legend didn’t like being told what to do, it’s unclear whether he was vaccinated or not.
Sadly, Meat Loaf’s posthumous treatment has become par for the course. Increasingly, when vaccine or mask skeptics die from COVID-19—whether famous or not—some media outlets and those on social media leap into action, gleefully report the news and metaphorically dance on their graves. To be clear, I am not defending their views in life; I am triple vaccinated, but I think the urge to mock the recently deceased reveals a lot about society’s respect for life—or lack thereof. Some strangely think it is not only OK, but it is actually the appropriate course of action.
In one of the more abhorrent columns I’ve read in the LA Times, Michael Hiltzik appeared to make the case for ridiculing anti-vaxxers’ COVID-19 deaths because, he claimed, it is an opportunity to inform people. “Mockery is not necessarily the wrong reaction to those who publicly mocked anti-COVID measures and encouraged others to follow suit before they perished of the disease (sic) the dangers of which they belittled,” Hiltzik wrote.
“Nor is it wrong to deny them our sympathy and solicitude,” Hiltzik continued, “or to make sure it’s known when their deaths are marked that they had stood fast against measures that might have protected themselves and others from the fate they succumbed to.” With respect to Hiltzik, educating people on COVID-19 countermeasures is noble, but making light of COVID-19 deaths is “ghoulish.”
The pandemic has been hard on most people, and hard times are often breeding grounds for gallows humor. It’s how many folks process stress and grief. This might partially explain why some pandemic deaths have become dark punchlines, but to make the case that you ought to laugh at victims who flouted COVID-19 guidelines because it is a “teaching moment” is downright disturbing.
Would you laugh at teenagers who died while texting and driving? How about overweight individuals who perished from heart attacks? Of course you wouldn’t poke fun at them; that would be reprehensible, but like some of those who defied COVID-19 guidelines, they too made choices against their better judgment. Nevertheless, each one of these cases is a tragedy, and their lives had intrinsic value. But it would seem that Hiltzik is arguing that some lives do not deserve dignity and have only diminutive value at best—other than serving as cautionary tales.
According to a recent poll, roughly nine in ten Americans know someone who has contracted COVID-19. As of this morning, the United States has had a little over 900,000 pandemic-related deaths in around two years, and many more have been hospitalized. This means that the virus has personally touched many of us, and publicly mocking those who may hold different views on vaccines can become very personal.
Like many, I’ve watched those close to me fall ill and be hospitalized with COVID-19, and two cases quickly come to mind. Before vaccines were created, one of my friends came down with the coronavirus, and his blood oxygen level plummeted to below 50 percent. In what seemed like a miraculous turn of events, he recovered. Much more recently, an unvaccinated person whom I’ve known since my childhood contracted the virus and landed in the emergency room with a serious case. Thankfully, after 10 days in the hospital, he pulled through.
Had the unthinkable happened and one or both perished, then it seems, according to Hiltzik’s line of thought, that it would have been appropriate to deride the case of the unvaccinated, but not the other. That’s where Hiltzik is so wrong. The death of either person would have been a terrible loss that would have left an unfillable void and a family destroyed.
I assume that’s how Meat Loaf’s family and loved ones feel right now. I have no connections whatsoever to the rock star other than I like some of his music, but I think he should be treated better in death than he has been so far. I don’t know if his passing was related to his pandemic philosophy, but even if it was, extending a little grace can go a long way. Meanwhile, Hiltzik tries to present mocking dead vaccine and mask skeptics as a public service, but really, it just makes you a jerk.
Marc Hyden is the director of state government affairs at the R Street Institute. You can follow him on Twitter at @marc_hyden.