The online campaign that has seen Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead riding high in the singles charts following the death of Margaret Thatcher is puerile, tasteless and really quite funny.
Howls of protest led by the right wing press have put the BBC in a bind; should they play Ding-Dong during the ‘Official’ Chart Show on Sunday? At the time of writing they have announced a fudge to a classic Auntie recipe ; they will play a clip from it ‘in a news environment’. A clip from a 52 second song? It scarcely seems worth the edit.
Personally, I think that the decision to censor the song is both wrong and cowardly. Wrong, because the remit of the Chart Show is to play those songs which currently feature in the charts; cowardly, because the BBC has kowtowed to political pressure. In order to avoid criticism from the right they have invented a completely new protocol in embedding a news item within the chart show. Why now? Over the years, the chart success of dozens of songs has been newsworthy, from Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy becoming the first song to top the chart on downloads, through the campaign to keep Joe McElderry off the number one slot in favour of Rage Against the Machine’s Killing In The Name, to the recent success of the Hillsborough Charity release He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother.
Irrespective of the moral rights and wrongs of the case, what interests me most about the #DingDong campaign is that the song itself is entirely innocuous and has been continually available in one form or another since 1939. If the song had charted at any time up to the week prior to the death of Thatcher it would have been played without hesitation (albeit with a degree of bafflement). It’s not comparable to the re-release, say, of the Sex Pistol’s God Save the Queen ahead of the Diamond Jubilee last year; God Save the Queen is an intentionally anti-monarchist rant, and a bloody good one at that. Ding-Dong is not inherently subversive in any respect, other than by a third-hand association of the song with the intent of those who have purchased it.
This is the nub of the matter. The decision to censor Ding-Dong is entirely founded upon assumptions made by the BBC executive regarding why people chose to buy it this week. That they are almost certainly right in those assumptions is largely irrelevant. What is unique about the BBC’s decision is that they believe they have the right to take action, punitive after its fashion, based on their own suppositions regarding the motivation of those who bought the record. That, in an entirely literal sense, is Thought Crime.