Thursday, 29 December 2016

On Celebrities and their Deaths

A celebrity is simply a ‘famous person, especially in entertainment or sport’. Despite occasional appearances to the contrary, they are fully human and so subject to the limitations of creaturely existence, including death. The ostensibly high number of celebrity deaths this year should not be especially surprising.

And yet we mourn—largely by posting comments on social media. After news of Carrie Fisher’s passing hit the headlines, I made a point of checking my Facebook feed to see how many of my friends had (a) heard the news and (b) seen fit to comment. Quite a few had done both. Most of these comments were along the lines of ‘RIP Carrie’, though some of these also included comments about the so-called ‘curse of 2016’. But I don’t believe there’s a curse; I just believe that celebrities are mortal.

Let’s be clear: It is sad when a celebrity of any sort dies, especially when a particular celebrity has had an impact on one’s life in some way, or when that celebrity’s cessation is a reminder of one’s own mortality. I was saddened especially by Carrie Fisher’s demise (it’s a Star Wars thing); I was shocked and surprised by the deaths of George Michael and Prince (both a little over a decade older than me, and musicians who dominated the charts when I was a lad); and I was mindful of the historical significance of Fidel Castro and so his expiration. But let’s be clear again: The death of a celebrity is no more sad than the death of any human.

There is also a pious backlash against the socially mediated grieving of celebrities. The comments are usually framed along the lines of: ‘Nobody says anything about the deaths of people in [insert place name] due to [insert reason].’ But this isn’t true. It’s not as though the passing of people in, say, Aleppo or Italy hasn’t been noticed. It’s simply that these sorts of events do not command our attention in the same way. This doesn’t mean that the deaths of Syrians or Italians are any less important or significant than the departure of Carrie Fisher or David Bowie, but that they don’t register in quite the same way. These situations are more global or geopolitical in scale than personal, and they challenge those of us not directly affected to take action rather than purely to lament (which, I should add, is its own form of legitimate action). And I suspect Christians are more inclined to pray about such global or geopolitical events than to post about them on social media—meaning that the sorrow expressed on these outlets about celebrities is even more to be expected.

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