Many of these blog posts grow out of discussions else where: Not long back someone was using the Anna Akana/Carrie Fisher incident to condemn all expressions of mourning and grief for public figures on social media. Last year was after all quite full of opportunities. These were my thoughts in response.
The only real extended mourning I’ve seen in my newsfeeds has been from friends who are Bowie fans who really did feel it very personally, for all he represented in their lives, and all they seem to be now losing.
Bowie was, as well as the private person, a great icon and a symbol of many things. He is still representative of the acceptance of being different; of being allowed to feel free and to explore creatively; to change who we are and evolve rather than conform. He made his successful living from not just making music and singing songs but from reflecting the state of our society, and often how the outsiders feel with in that society. Effectively his death is another reflection of how we feel with the current state of the world. The loss of him from our lives is reflective of the loss of freedom and youth as well as the loss of his awesome output of audio art and social commentary.
However every one of those mourning him in this way are decent people who wouldn’t dream of making it about them *if they were ever in the presence of the family of the bereaved* which is the key difference. (Sometime I’ll write something about circles of mourning/support). In the company of the family they would be compassionate and sympathetic, they would tell the bereaved family possibly how grateful they were for all that the deceased had given us all.
In their social media accounts, sharing with their own friends and connections they are talking about what he meant to them and how the loss has affected them.
Away from the contact with those “closer to the loss than yourself” then it is quite reasonable to allow happenings in the world and deaths of those who were significant to us to touch us, it’s human compassion, acknowledgement of what someone was to you and can also be very healthy. Our society has more than enough problems actually dealing with death and grieving. It may be that celebrity mourning is teaching us to start to reconnect with what it is to actually grieve genuinely and openly, and some parts of society may be clumsy and naive, but if that is so it’s probably because we have buttoned it up and swept it under the carpet and kept a stiff upper lip for far far too long. However self centred it might sometimes look – at least we are trying to feel again and to understand it.
It can also help immensely for people to process other bereavements that they have been unable to address. When Lady Diana died I know of at least one woman who was for the first time able to mourn her own mother properly, because she had lost her at the same age that the kids were when Diana went. As a child she had been told to be brave and grown up about it because she wasn’t allowed to talk about it, she shut it down and got on with life. As an adult she looked at the bereaved kids, and saw how very little they were, and she had been when she lost her own mum, and grieved for her child self and her loss of her mother, as a result. Outsiders who knew no better would have assumed she was overreacting to Dianas death, as it was there was valuable and important processing of very personal grief happening.
Celebrities become archetypes and tell us stories of our own lives as well as their own.
If their deaths can be part of the process that brings us back to more compassion for other people they will have actually achieved something vastly more valuable than all their glory and success, all the entertainment and stardom, ever could.
That said anyone who either breaks news bluntly just in order to be the first on the scene reporting it, or those who pesters friends and family to comment, they are being insensitive and deeply offensive and do need to learn a lesson in decency. In general the most persistant elements of that seem far more likely to be the official media, having a sense of priveledge and imagining themselves excused from normal human decency rules.
Most grown-ups on social media don’t broadcast to the whole world either when discussion grieving or mourning, but to our friends; most of us share news we come across with our friends if we think they would want to know, to add our personal response to it is human; sometimes that response is one of strong loss.
To broadly criticise all users of social media is throwing out baby with bath water.
In the Carrie Fisher incident the character in question sounds to be a genuine self publicist, but then a youtube star with 132,000 followers is hardly your average social media user, and there’s an easy way of dealing with not liking her reaction – that is to not follow her.
I agree it was deeply insensitive to broadcast it to the world before her family were told through more dignified official channels, but to tar all mourning on social media with the same brush is harsh and unreasonable and misses the great potential for development there is in actually facing death a bit more squarely by actually talking about it openly, and seeing others do so. If we can learn to cry a few tears for strangers, maybe it’ll get easier for some people to cry them for the lost family and friends, for their own pain, and in doing so they might start to heal.