Although the events in this comic occurred nearly a year ago, they touch on some things I’ve been thinking about lately – society’s culture of celebrity and it’s culture of death, and when the two collide.
Now, right off the bat, this isn’t going to be one of the smug, superior posts about how ridiculous it is to feel sad over the loss of someone you’ve never met, nor is it going to be a back-patting on a soapbox lecture that “no one should care about the death of famous person X when more-important-news-story is happening! Aren’t I deeeeep for pointing that out?” I never really got the notion that humans only have the capacity to follow or care about one social issue or news story and quite frankly, if someone you’ve never known has created or done something that meant something to you at any point in your life, so be it. Human minds constantly take in information, impressions, emotive sensations and process them. Were you moved by a song, a film, a book?
In an increasingly sensationalistic and yet sterile culture, emotions are vilified or derided— “Think positive!” “If you’re sad you’re giving them your power!” (whatever that means). “Ha ha ha LOL U mad?” — Stendhal Syndrome to me is an exalted state, not a medical condition. (Ok, maybe if you have it to the point of fainting…)
Of course, as suggested in the above cartoon, who and what moves a person, what cultural landmarks and signposts exist in their personal psychological landscape, varies. Some things will be more totemic to you than others. Some of the things our culture serves up will mean nothing to you at all. Hell, the kicker of all that I’m writing here is that honestly little to nothing our predominant culture holds up as all the rage means anything to me. And there are a number of other people who feel the same way, and sometimes when a celebrity death becomes a Grand Media Spectacle, it gets a little awkward.
For example, the latest flags-at-half-mast media frenzy, the tragically untimely death of Whitney Houston. Now, in the interest of honesty here, no, I never was a fan. As a kid I pretty much lumped her music in with all the other sanitized and bland Top 40 music I was not a fan of. This doesn’t mean I wished her dead, or I’m glad she’s dead, or that I have any doubt that this has impacted the lives of people who actually knew her in the same way the deaths of any of my family or friends who have gone impacted me. But to suddenly claim I adored her music, open my wallet for posthumously marked up “Best Of” collections? This would be disingenuous, and in it’s own way disrespectful. And yet…that’s exactly what some people do.
There’s a phenomena I’ve dubbed the “Instant Death Fan” that I began to notice after the passing of Micheal Jackson. I’m not talking about the person who owned his records, attended his concerts, never said they weren’t a fan. What I’m talking about is the person who prides themselves on their record collection of nothing but three chord guitar rage, or perhaps their collection of shit so obscure that if more than 5 people have heard of it it’s “sold out”, suddenly carrying on as if they were the number one fan. The person who, if asked their opinion even 15 minutes before that news broke, would have either made a string of snarky and likely tasteless jokes, or maybe just looked at you blankly and wondered why the hell you were even asking about this, suddenly weeping and moaning. Is it some bizarre need to be part of some grieving zeitgeist? Or simply not to come across like a callous douche?
Who knows, maybe I’m coming across like a callous douche for even questioning all of this. It’s not even a “oh, the loss of any human life is a tragedy” kind of point I’m trying to make – I’m certainly down for a “Joe Paterno in Hell” wisecrack (touching back on the uncertainty of grieving over MJ there), but then again, I think there’s a huge difference between condoning the rape of children, and simply singing mawkish songs about believing they’re the future.
However, that’s enough rumination on death over breakfast for one day. Eric and I are off to the Feminist Zine Fest at Brooklyn Commons.