Sunday, December 1, 2013

Just Talking: Celebrity deaths and the impact on society

It seems that when a celebrity dies, the internet goes crazy. The news outlets obsess, celebrity gossip sites dig deep into the dramatic final moments of their life and fans cry and mourn with each other. Numerous people play devil's advocate during the public mourning period, reminding people that cancer, war and tragedy strikes daily. While I don't intend to take away from the severity of these very important issues, I do want to play my own version of advocate and point out something about these spotlight deaths and what they do to the general population.

The entertainment business and (many) of our lives are tightly knit together. We listen to music, watch television and escape the chaos of life through a movies and the mix of it all. We become attached to the characters in our favorite show, pay money to go watch our favorite singer dance and sing for two hours, and for the really committed-- buy overpriced merchandise. We read about them in magazines, tweet them for a shout out, and well, I think you get the idea. Why we do this is for another time, but for the moment just realize that regardless of how they really are, celebrities are put into a spotlight and mean different things to different people. One of the larger meanings that celebrities and those in the spotlight have is that they remind us of humanity; even if they represent a skewed version of it. Some people heroicize celebrities, other strive to be like them, and some just enjoy the talents that they share with the masses. Regardless of where you stand, certain celebrities mean SOMETHING to you. Example: A few months ago the Glee fandom (and the world) watched in horror as the scene unfolded that one of the main characters, arguably THE main character, passed suddenly. Cory battled his own demons, and they won. The fandom and the world mourned, and masses of people took to social media and blogs to talk about what he meant to them. Some looked to him as a role-model to get clean, others looked to him as a normal guy who stumbled into acting. Others spoke about what his character meant to them, What the show meant to them. Some people spoke out that he shouldn't be mourned due to how he died or that there were far more important things to worry about, which may be true, but that doesn't discredit that to scores of people he meant SOMETHING. The same can be said for anyone who has passed in the spotlight. It's especially important that in today's world, you realize the impact that social media has on the relationship between entertainer and the general public. They can speak and reach out to them, even if it's nothing more than to get a retweet. Given that, celebrities are in a position of serving as a reminder of ourselves, a peer of sorts. Due to that, when one of them dies, you are reminded of just how precious your own (and your loved ones) life is.  You never really know when your number will be called, and I think that's where the impact of celebrity passings come into play. It's not that the celebrity is touted as perfect or THE only important death, it's that the celebrity is the realism OF death.

"Oh my GOD. I can't believe it!" Total shock comes to mind when we see the headlines. Most recently (and what has spawned this whole soapbox out of me) was the news that Paul Walker had passed away in a car accident. Here's the thing, Paul Walker isn't a name you see every day. He's not on television every week on a well-watched sitcom, he's not in the tabloids every day and he may not hold the most impact of celebrities in your every day life; but he is a representation of something. For me? He is a staple of high school. Varsity Blues reigned supreme in my small football town in it's prime, and ever since then, he's represented that just as much as James Van Der Beek's awful southern accent. After that movie, I followed him throughout his career. He's a reminder of a time that is fast fading and now that he's gone, a reminder that it can fade faster than we think. I was shocked, couldn't believe it, and then once it sank in that he had left the world, never to return again, I was overcome with extreme saddness for his family, for his only child. Regardless of his spotlight, he had a family; as do all the people, famous or not, that leave this world too soon.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that while many people fight against the public's mourning of a simple "celebrity", I think it plays an important role in the cycle of how we live our lives today. Our fast world doesn't allow us time to think about our own mortality. Our entitled invincibility doesn't leave room for time to reflect with and spend real quality time with our loved ones while they are here. We wait for a holiday, or worse, a death, to see some of the single most important people in our lives. People always joke that it takes a wedding or a funeral for a whole family to get together in today's world. Think about it though, how true is that for you? You never know what moment will be your last. What a better reminder, than to realize that even the people in the brightest of spotlights can fade in the blink of an eye?

In closing, go easy on the people who spend time mourning celebrities, hashtagging #RIP or reposting stories about the death. It may have been just the reminder that they needed of how precious life really is.

Now, go hug someone you love.