The Misguided Mourning of Celebrity Deaths

DAVID YANDA | OPINION COLUMNIST

The mourning of the recently deceased superstars Alan Rickman and David Bowie had rendered my social media feed temporarily mutilated, littered with fictitious lacerations bleeding inauthentic dismay. The majority of posts and tweets lamenting Bowie’s or Rickman’s death came from individuals who had never met the deceased celebrities; they only knew them through their respective art and gave little to no thought towards the celebrities’ escapades while they still roamed the land of the living. So why do we mourn their departure?

If we gave little to no thought about their lives while they were living, chances are we aren’t mourning the loss of further potential interaction, such as when you mourn the loss of someone close to you. For example, let’s say you enjoy playing checkers with your grandpa every Sunday after lunch. You’ll never be able to play checkers with your grandpa again if he dies. To your shock, grandpa suddenly suffers a stroke leading to the tragic 6-foot descent. This is a legitimate cause for grieving since (among other things) the pleasure of playing checkers with Gramps is now absent and irretrievable for your Sunday afternoon routine. If you weren’t waiting in anticipation for the next David Bowie album or Alan Rickman movie, then you aren’t mourning for this reason.

Even if you took their earthly existence for granted, like the act of breathing and experiencing an asthma attack, you still have to have a retrospective appreciation that stirs a yearning for more of their art before they kicked the bucket and regardless of the fact that the bucket’s been kicked. That is to say, if you find your love of “Let’s Dance” to be suddenly refreshed and invigorated, then it’s probably not the song itself you’re appreciating; it’s the fact that we possess the remarkable ability to transcend our dreadful demise as the footsteps of the departed resiliently writhe. Drawing out a haunting yet beautiful feeling, the arts of the dead remind us of this. But if this is the case, it’s not the art itself you’re appreciating; it’s simply the zest of defying death.

If we mourn for the reason that it’s frightening to think that the guy who played the Goblin King in the “Labyrinth,” or Severus Snape in “Harry Potter” is now dead, and you remember these films and characters fondly, you aren’t mourning Alan Rickman’s or David Bowie’s death, either (after all, it’s not like those films suddenly vanished from your prized movie collection); you’re responding towards the fear of death itself. It’s a terrifying reminder that the chasm between life and death is thin and the brilliant men behind the characters you warmheartedly and timelessly hold in lively memories intricate to your childhood are dead. It’s an unwelcome reminder that death is an inescapable end, regardless of any fame or fortune achieved in life. If that’s the honest case, then be honest in your posts. You don’t give a damn about Bowie or Rickman dying, you’ve just been greeted with an unpleasant reminder of mortality, and pretending to care about Bowie or Rickman helps you cope with that.

And that makes sense. It’s not about David Bowie or Alan Rickman or any other celebrity, for that matter. It’s about you and how you cope with death. It’s about you joining in with the rest of your community to try and figure out how the hell to escape or minimize the mental anguish of the thought of life’s inevitable ending invites. Because when you give those R.I.P. shout outs, it gets plentifully garnished with retweets, likes and shares. When you see your friends do the same, a sense of solidarity is then produced, and what better to buffer your mental fortitude than to search and find yourself in like-minded company? But please, let’s be honest in the motivations of our mourning. Pretentiousness has no place in the company of death.

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