Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Death of [a] Celebrity

A. Title apologies to Neil Armstrong.
B. This is different from the earlier post.
C. I do not mean to be a jerk. It just happens.
D. I do mean to be insensitive, but that's not a bad thing.

I just read that a celebrity died today. All over Facebook, people are posting RIP or other supposedly appropriate comments bemoaning the loss of this actor. The guy was 51 (gawrsh, that's sad) and had a stroke (what? no reunion movie? That's sad) and he was on vacation in Italy (gee...when I go, I hope I'm somewhere nice. But isn;t it weird that he died just like a mob guy?) But I say "big deal." Yeah, big deal.

It isn't that I am not awed by celebrity. The idea that someone's skill is in entertaining, and that he has achieved a measure of fame through that is impressive. But people die. And I never met the guy. To me, it boils down to:

Didja hear? The star of a show I never watched was spending a vacation the likes of which I can't afford in a place I have never been to and he died, possibly as a result of his own life choices. He starred mostly in movies I haven't seen and is famous for grounds that I personally can't validate or don't value. I never met him and, had I died today, I doubt he would have cared. There, I said it. I'm not glad he's dead and I'm not sad that he's dead. I'm sad that someone is dead (cf John Donne, Meditation 17, "any man's death diminishes me") but did you know that today, over 132,000 people died? Why is the death of a guy who was on television any more significant? Why do we publically mourn a stranger and ignore the sadness and pain all around us? I'm not even asking that we all wail and don sackcloth and ashes all the time, but that we stop deifying Hollywood in absentia and make a big deal when someone from that one particular slice of the world passes on. Some deaths are tragic, but not because they happened to someone who is in the public eye any more than if the same thing happened to someone else. If James Gandolfini had not been on television, but was a successful appliance salesman who supported his family, helped the poor and played bocce on the weekends, would we be making a spectacle of his death on Facebook? Because I bet that someone with those attributes died today and we aren't scouring obituaries to find other people who died and posting about them.

I am sure that many celebrities are wonderful people and have families and friends who love them for who they are. And there are many celebrities who star in shows, play on teams, write songs that matter to regular folk. The death of one of these people will sadden those near him and leave a gap in the collective imagination of fans, but let's leave actual conspicuous anguish to those closest. Save sincere expressions of lamentation for those who have that personal connection to us, and when a celebrity dies, leave the sadness to the private circle. We water down our sincere sense of grief when we express it for anyone who happens to have been in the public spotlight.

A side point -- as I stated, there are some celebrities who are, I am sure, nice people. In fact, some have always appealed to me for their acting, performance in sports or some other artistic or expressive quality. In fact, there are some whom I have always dreamt of sharing a meal with, just to have time to get to know them on a more personal level. These are celebrities/artists who fascinate me beyond their public personas and I think that they would make for wonderful dinner companions and very interesting and good friends. I have emailed a few but, shockingly, have received no responses. If you are a celebrity, or just play one on television, and would like a nice home cooked meal, some nice conversation and, eventually, an expression of agony when you die which comes from a real and personal place, then please contact me. Otherwise, be forewarned: when you die, I don't intend to take much note other than to comment about how we'll never get to see, hear or read about your next _____. It isn't that I am insensitive - I mean, I am but that isn't a bad thing; it is that I am saving my sensitivity and sense of sadness for a person who has, through a lifetime, earned it.

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