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Honoring Celebrity Deaths: Yes or No?

There have been numerous high profile deaths recently.

photo-illustration: Sarai Nissan • CU Denver Sentry

Since the turn of the new year, there has been an unfortunate amount of deaths sprinkling the news and social media. Most notably the passing of Ian Fraser Kilmister aka Lemmy, David Bowie, and Alan Rickman. Along with these tragic passings come a slew of “rest in peace” posts all over Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, with individuals describing how greatly these idols have influenced their own lives as well as others.

These celebrity deaths were poignant and staggering.

The death of celebrities and public figures has become, in and of itself, an event within social media as well as in history. Although these extremely public broadcasts of very fragile situations can quickly become morbid and grim, the memorializing of these individuals is ultimately harmless and further immortalizes the work of these talented stars.

A skeptic might argue that this mass media wave is symbolic of the state of society’s fame and celebrity-obsessed culture. However, when groups of individuals come together through a platform such as social media, one that is all inclusive, to commemorate individuals who impacted them in such a way that their death was calamitous, they make a choice to focus on an individual who has affected them in such away that it would be blasphemous not to.

In the case of David Bowie, his death was met with a wave of sorrow, as well as with critics. Although there is certainly an infinite number of ways to make a celebrity death more about oneself than anything else, a public proclamation of respect, as well as heartbreak, is an outlet for individuals to, in a way, thank Bowie, Lemmy, or Rickman for the positive impact that they have had on their own lives as well as on the world.

It is shameful to chastise an individual for merely giving their condolences and showing their admiration for an individual who may have introduced them to their passion, formed them as an individual, or even saved their lives. Regardless of opinion, these celebrity deaths were poignant and staggering, they impact society so much because death is perhaps one element that brings every human on this planet together, regardless of age, race, or status.

—Sarai Nissan

There’s nothing like a celebrity death to make everyone act like they had a deep connection to that person’s work. Sometimes that connection is even real. But in any case, the obsessive, exaggerated grief shared on social media is worse than pointless.

The only real loss is the future work they might have made.

The attachment to recently deceased celebrities, like Alan Rickman and David Bowie, is not based on them, it’s based on their work. Whether that best-known work is the Harry Potter franchise or The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, a celebrity’s death doesn’t take their work away from anyone.

The parts of Rickman or Bowie that impacted people are still out there, a click and a credit card number away. Even if the impact came from something they said, it’s still on YouTube.

The only real loss, then, is the future work they might have made, works that hypothetically could have further impact on the viewer or listener. It may be sad to not have more Rickman performances or Bowie albums to look forward to, but that hardly counts as mourning. In the aftermath of a real death, it seems selfish to make this sadness—barely more than annoyance— into a social media post.

Still, none of this would be a real issue if it weren’t for the way this shallow grief impacts the genuine grief of friends and family of the deceased.

David Bowie arranged to have his remains quickly, almost secretly, cremated. The family decided to honor him with a small and private funeral, which they announced via a post on his Facebook page. It actually is sad to see the second paragraph start. “They [the family] ask once again that their privacy be respected at this most sensitive of times.” Once again? Families in grieving shouldn’t have to deal with the public’s morbid, self-serving obsession, especially not while still reeling from the loss.

If some member of the family wants to post something publicly about that loss, the impact of it will be blunted by the million other posts about how much David Bowie meant to people who never even met him. In a sea of fakes, genuine mourning loses its meaning.

—Gideon Simons

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