Overkill: Social Media Takes Celebrity Death Mourning Too Far
This morning, I was reading my Twitter timeline and a friend posted: “If today is your birthday or 9-11, you no longer have a birthday…sorry.”
My first thought was, “What’s today?”
Then I remembered: Today is the third anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death. Oops. I’d already forgotten about that.
When Michael Jackson died, the whole nation (and parts of the world) immediately went into mourning. Twitter was still fairly new back then, but my entire Timeline was flooded with tears. Facebook was the same way and television networks immediately launched into All Michael Jackson, All the Time. Each network preempted their previously scheduled programming to air packages and programs they’d undoubtedly prepared a long time ago in anticipation of his inevitable fate. Bloggers foamed at the mouth reliving the King of Pop’s greatest moments and writing about the catastrophic loss our country endured.
Me? I was indifferent.
To be fair, I may have responded to Michael Jackson’s untimely death differently had my father not been killed in a murder-suicide, literally, the day before. I don’t know though. I was a total zombie that day, but I do remember finding some comfort in the fact that the world was crying with me – even if we were crying over two different events.
The day Whitney Houston died was the day before my wedding (apparently, I have a strange relationship with celebrity deaths). Michael Jackson’s passing had prepared me for the decidedly tamer (but still hysterical!) reaction. I loved Whitney Houston’s music and “The Preachers Wife” and “Bodyguard” are two of my favorite movies. It was genuinely sad the way she died and I was really hoping she would turn her life around for one last hurrah, but you would have thought people lost their family’s matriarch the way they were carrying on when the news broke.
I’m just not a person who becomes emotionally invested in another person whom I’ve never even met. Basically, the people I see on TV are one step away from being fictional characters. I don’t want any of them to die, but I can’t imagine soaking the carpet in tears if one did.
Don’t get me wrong, I love celebrities! I love the gossip, the breakups, the makeups, the fake hair, fake marriages and fake pregnancies. I read all about it. But I don’t think there is any celebrity death I would mourn like it’s someone I know. It’s always sad when people die, but honestly, after having experienced a real tragedy I don’t get how others can truly be broken up over someone who didn’t affect their lives in any tangible way.
When I think back to the 60’s and the civil unrest that took place then and all of the assassinations and untimely deaths of people important to the progress of this nation, I think that certainly called for a national time of mourning.
Now, we fly the flag half mast for people like Penn State coach Joe Paterno and equate a tragedy like 9/11 to Michael Jackson’s death? Many people over the age of 30 can’t name a single Etta James song besides, “At Last” but were nearly calling off sick in order to mourn after she passed. It’s crazy.
Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Etta James and others are certainly icons whom affected the entertainment industry in immortal ways, but I can’t think of a single celebrity whose death would warrant even the kind of mourning reserved for a third cousin.
So if today’s your birthday, let me be the first to say: Happy Birthday.
Am I the only one who is near indifferent about celebrity deaths? Are there any celebrities whose passing is (or would be) cause for true mourning?
[Editors Note: I wrote this for MadameNoire.com in June of 2012 and it was originally posted here: http://madamenoire.com/191019/all-cried-out-a-celebritys-death-is-not-my-personal-tragedy/%5D
No, I’m with you in every word that you wrote. Sometimes I think that people publicly mourn more for the sake of attention or to prove that they have some sort of compassion rather than it being about being genuinely emotionally wrought.