For many years I co-hosted a local Amsterdam LGBT radio show called Alien. We broadcast live for two hours every Sunday evening. On April 3rd 2005 we canned our usual extraterrestrial opening jingle. Without warning or explanation of any kind, we simply began with the entire Munchkinland sequence from the film soundtrack of The Wizard of Oz, including the two rousing choruses of Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead. The message was clear: Pope John-Paul II had died the day before.
Disrespectful? Yes. That was the point.
The Pope and his henchman (most notably a certain German Cardinal we usually referred to as Rottweiler) had been a thorn in our side for years. We regularly discussed the Catholic Church’s medieval attitude toward homosexuality in general, and its lethal response to the AIDS crisis in particular. When the Amsterdam gay weekly Trash in the Streets ran the headline POPE HAS AIDS in the early ‘90s and published the Vatican’s phone number, Alien called them live on air. Nobody complained then, and nobody complained when we greeted news of the Pope’s death with the lively ditty sung by the Munchkins. We knew our audience.
So all the brouhaha in Britain about the attempt to boost Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead to number one on the pop chart with a social media campaign seems a bit over the top to me. But it’s been amusing to read some of the headlines, what with Britain not being known as a bastion of free speech. The first one that caught my eye was “Munchkin Fury at Maggie Ding Dong!” Apparently there are only three surviving Munchkins and The Sun managed to track down two of them, both in their nineties, to quote their opinions on the matter (not so much fury as sadness.) The Guardian took a more mature approach. “Ding Dong over Thatcher song makes the BBC no better than China,” announces a column in the Comment is Free section.
On Twitter #munchkingate trended briefly. But as it turns out, Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead only made it to number two and everyone can heave a big sigh of release that it will disappear from radios as quickly as the Wicked Witch of the West went up in a poof of smoke. (Did I say radios? Sorry. I’m from that generation.) It may pop into your head at the occasional inappropriate moment for a while, if your brain works like mine. For the most part, at least until the next hated political or religious figure kicks the bucket, it will remain in the movie – where it belongs.