A Few Words on Reactions to Celebrity Deaths…

February 12, 2012 in Catnip, Op-Ed by apleau

When a celebrity dies, social media blows up and follows an amazingly consistent pattern.  Keep in mind, I have done some of these myself. I think most of us have at some point or another:

Round One of Posting: “What? [Insert name here] died!”

Round Two: “RIP [Insert name here]”

Round Three: Posts links to something the deceased did that the posters thought was amazing

Round Four: Other parties decide to chime in: “[Insert name here] was a [drug addict/creepy alleged pedo/tyranical CEO of a company that makes an Operating System people are brainwashed to like and I was brainwashed to hate].” I’m presuming they then find the highest mountain with wi-fi access to climb atop to then proclaim, “I’m going to save my grief for someone who deserves it!”

Round Five: “100,000 people die each year from [starvation/earthquakes/war/listening to Michael Bolton while driving on a windy cliff]. Why don’t you care about them?”

Round Six: “Check out this great video of a cat yawning!”

Here’s the deal, people: there is nothing wrong with being sad someone died, and thankfully we, being the advanced species we are, have the capacity to have sympathy for more than one person at a time.  In fact, we can have sympathy for an unlimited number of people and things.  Wow – Amazing, right?  All this time, conventional wisdom told us we had to hide away our spare grief in cigar boxes, old shoes and mattresses because we thought it might run out at a really inconvenient time.  After all, how much would it suck if the family dog or other loved one died, or we watched Titanic for the 50th time, and we had no more grief to give? “Well, shit, Jennifer; this would normally be the time I’d hug you and tell you I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m all out of grief and sympathy.  I really shouldn’t have burned the last of it on Whitney Houston.”

“I told you not to waste it; she was a crack addict, you know.”

Why are people sad when a famous imperfect person dies?  You can ask the people who are posting the RIPs, and they each may have their own unique response as to why they are sad; perhaps they have a great memory associated with one of the creations of that imperfect person.  Maybe they really are that person’s Number One Fan.  Or maybe, they’re like me.  Every time I’ve felt sadness over a famous imperfect person’s passing, it’s because I feel they’ve been robbed of the life arc I wish everyone could have but few are lucky enough to receive.  On the final curve of this life arc, we overcome our demons, find peace and joy, create more beautiful things with our inner strength and wisdom guiding us, and we die peacefully in our sleep when we are old and grey.

I think of how talented and lovely Whitney Houston was in the “How Will I Know” video.  When I watched that video today, I thought about how the young, vibrant person in that video had no idea what was coming in her life – I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have predicted her future would bring years of substance abuse and a publicly tumultuous marriage.  I’m sure she didn’t predict her final moments would involve drowning in a hotel bathtub, leaving behind a slew of rumors about her addiction and a beautiful young daughter who she didn’t say goodbye to.  I’ll admit, while I have always felt her vocals were about as close to perfection as you can see in pop music, I was never really a fan of her music.  Yet, I’m sad for her, and I am sad that yet another person didn’t have a beautiful and graceful final curve to their life arc.  I’m sad that the world still looks at addiction and other mental illnesses as stigmas.  I’m sad every time I read or hear someone state “fuck them” when they see a person falling hard.  I then get angry, because everyone who says “fuck them” is creating a barrier between those in need of help and the resources they desperately need.  “Fuck them” prevents people from admitting they can’t fix their life on their own.  “Fuck them” is what causes governments to cut funding to mental health facilities and programs.  “Fuck them” is what causes families to be afraid to seek help in the community, or to give up after the first few backs have been turned.

The person who passes may “just” be an imperfect celebrity, but to me? Their passing reminds me of all of our failures and all of the beautiful things that could have been created by those who left us far too young.