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Why death isn't automatically a tragedy, and Mathew McConaughey can't make it so

Genuine tragedies occur every day.

Oh, I'm not talking about when your football team gets humped or when you struggle to do up the top button on your jeans, or when some other entirely minor misfortune overtakes your daily existence. I mean when a genuine catastrophic event enters your life and changes it forever.

Like, for instance, the loss of a young life. Someone, that is, you actually know.

I could never understand the over-the-top national outpouring of grief which followed the undeniably sad demise of Diana, Princess of Wales. A tragedy for her family undoubtedly - her sons in particular, I'll give you that - but surely an exercise in some sort of angst-based self-aggrandising hypocrisy for the millions who lined up to shed tears and lay wreaths in honour of someone they didn't know with even the most basic level of intimacy.

Hundreds of young men and women perish in car crashes every week and nobody - save those in their immediate family - gives much of a toss. Why? Because we didn't know them.

Just as almost none of the tear-stained rubberneckers who thronged Central London as Diana's cortege rolled past actually knew her. They might have thought they did - through the pages of Hello magazine or whatever - but really it was grief by proxy rather than the real, genuine article.

Nice work if you can get it, if you ask me - you get to do the full-on weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth thing and then, by the next day, you're perfectly all right again, because, since you didn't actually know her, it doesn't really affect your life in any significant way at all.

I recently caught the latest blockbusting Hollywood movie, Dallas Buyers, Club in which a sexist and bigoted rodeo rider/electrician played by Mathew McConaughey contracts the HIV virus and subsequently undergoes a journey of tolerant reconciliation by turning himself into a (sort of) caring sharing kind of guy who realises gay folk are people too.

McConaughey won an Oscar for his performance of course, largely because - it seems to me - he shucked off a huge amount of weight which, according to Hollywood logic, automatically means it must have been a bravura acting performance.

In truth, he isn't bad, but the film itself is basically bollocks, relying on a succession of clich├ęs and an overwhelming sense of patronage toward homosexuals, every one of whom is portrayed as a weak hopeless victim, much more to be pitied than scorned or treated with anything approaching equitable respect.

Leaving aside the ideological flaws, much, much worse is the fact that the film is incredibly boring. Call me heartless, but I couldn't wait for McConaughey's character - Ron Woodruff- to die, since I knew that when he did, the movie was finally over.

When it did end and we all trooped out the cinema, I was amazed to see people choking back the tears which they justified by citing the fact that the movie was one of the dreaded BOATS variety - based on a true story.

Never mind that Ron was, up until infection turned him into some sort of saint, an incorrigible ratbag whose live was entirely focussed on sex, drugs and rock'n'roll, the pervasive feeling was that he didn't deserve to die.

The fact is, everybody deserves to die. You, me and everybody else. It's an entitlement we all possess. Once you get a birth certificate, the one that signifies your death also gets printed - it's just that the details haven't yet been filled in.

You might have noticed that almost every Hollywood film - even the ones with a modicum of artistic credibility, are based on a premise that no one should ever die - and if they really, really have to, it should be when they're about 109 years old, at the very least.

And then, it's a national tragedy for all concerned. Even, it seems, for people who barely knew them.

Death isn't a tragedy. Well, not always. It is for parents of young children or the family of people whose lives are ended prematurely - due to accident, illness or, worst of all, crime - but unfortunately, such is the nature of mortality.

And after you've reached your three score and ten, the spectre of death tends to hang around like a bad smell - but it's best if like, a bad smell, you try your utmost to get used to it, because, hey, there's not a thing you can do about it.

To paraphrase Star Trek, death, rather than space, is the final frontier.

I include myself in the equation, incidentally. I'm not exactly looking forward to death, well not in the sense that I see it as being a happy reunion with an old friend.

Even though, when you think about it, it is. After all, where exactly where you before you were born? You weren't dead exactly, but then you weren't alive either.

You were in the same place you go when eventually you do drop off the twig. Nowhere.

I'm ready to go nowhere, though maybe not quite yet.

But when it does happen, it won't be a tragedy. And certainly not for me. Actually, I could do with the rest.

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