Dignity and good taste

October 27, 2009

billy mays deathThe concept of dignity has come up several times this past week, most recently around this man’s death.

The late Billy Mays was somewhat of a Tampa celebrity. The Oxiclean pitchman. Infomercial king. Yeah, I know. Tells you a little something about this part of Florida, doesn’t it?

Well, the son, Billy Mays, III, is trying to keep his father’s memory alive. He has a blog called Where’s Billy Mays? He’s sticking around. He’s encouraging people to dress as Billy Mays for Halloween and having a best costume contest with prizes.

And he says the South Park satire with the late pitchman haunting a child makes him “feel better” about his father’s death. That it proves his father “did something with his life”.

Young Mays “tweets” incessantly and is followed avidly by the media.

Local reporters, hungry for content to fill the insatiable online and blog newshole, are covering pretty much every blink the son makes. Some segments of the community are treating the senior Mays’ passing as if it were the passing of a saint.

With all due respect to his poor, misguided and grieving son, there’s so much wrong with this I don’t know where to start.
billy mays in heaven comicFirst, and foremost, the guy was a pitchman. Nothing more, nothing less. Maybe a good guy. But what he did with his life was make money. That’s it. He certainly was not a candidate for canonization.

The autopsy results showed ingestion of cocaine at some point and the widow is arguing whether that really contributed to his death or not, for fear of tarnishing his image. Tons of local media coverage of that. But in the end, who cares but the family? Is this important?

The South Park segment the son likes was not very complimentary to Mays. And a costume contest? Being reduced to a character on South Park and Halloween costume is certainly no indication of life of achievement. A life well-lived.

Or, maybe today it is.

This young man, his son, has a skewed idea of what should comfort a bereaved family member. Or what should prove that one had a worthwhile life.

I appreciate his loss, I do, but these kinds of activities and public statements are in such bad taste that they LEAVE a bad taste in my mouth. And there’s a constant stream of them. The media attention given to this death and his kid’s statements is over the top and reflects the crazy need to fill space .

A recent story noted that young Billy has been asked to step in and take over the pitchman role, something he apparently doesn’t have the same facility with as his dad. So keeping his legacy alive has increased urgency. It’s how the family will maintain its lifestyle.

be dignifiedI think the young man is sincere in grieving his father, but hasn’t yet learned the concept of dignity.

They — maybe his widow, his partner — are trying to preserve the Billy Mays legacy, but let’s not kid ourselves. The legacy is one of money-making.

This is a sad commentary on values, dignity and celebrity. And it tells you most of what you need to know about living in Tampa. Or maybe it’s just a sign of the times everywhere.

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