We can’t wait for this year to end.
It’s not your imagination. In the first three months of this year, we saw a huge increase in celebrities (“Notable people” as the BBC puts it) passing away (Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-38329740). Admittedly the number has actually dropped back to normal levels, but the damage is still done.
And we feel sadness. For some, it’s serious – people have died who really affected us growing up, even if we didn’t realise. And their mortality hits us like a block of ice to the stomach. To others, it’s become a joke or a parody. “2016, when will you be satisfied??” But the joke has gone beyond satire, and suddenly everything is starting to seem a bit strange.
And between that all, you get people who can’t be bothered with it at all. “You didn’t know these people”, they say. “How can you be sad about them? This is unhealthy”.
And is it unhealthy? That’s what I’m starting to think about.
We probably do over identify with people we haven’t met. I recently had coffee with a guy I met at the Fringe, who has accumulated a certain amount of fame. In fact, a friend of mine is a huge fan of one of his youtube channels. And to me that’s funny, because for me he’s this funny, charming dude who likes coffee and plays guitar hero and is overall just chill and normal, so I ask him; what it’s like to have fans?
“So weird”. He takes out his phone. “I was at this party in New York, and after I left people were messaging my friend like ‘Was that the guy from the show?’ People will just tweet me saying things like ‘Just saw you walking on 58th street’. And it’s nice, but what am I meant to say to that? ‘Yep, that was me. Walking around. Existing.’”
And that’s it because of course, these are just people, walking around, existing, doing stuff with their daily lives. Like, sometimes to entertain myself, I try to imagine what Obama is doing right now. Walking around. Chilling. Not thinking about, and yet painfully aware of, the fact that almost everyone in the world knows who he is – that some mad blue haired girl in Scotland is thinking about him right now, imagining what it’s like to be him. But I digress. The point is – we build these people up, into things which they are not, and that is true. And to some extent, perhaps it is unhealthy. Because we end up not with the full understanding of who that person is – but the snapshot, the public persona, and we assume that that is them and who they are. And in some ways, we don’t think of them as human. Perhaps they are not even mortal. So when it turns out that that is not them, and who they are is different, and more than we first realised, often there is a sense of betrayal. How can they be human, like you or I?
But do people deserve to be looked down on for this?
I never listened to Wham! Or Prince, or David Bowie. I vaguely remember seeing Star Wars as a kid, but never knew much about Carrie Fisher. So honestly, all this celebrity stuff kind of passes me by. I don’t really get it.
But I do spend a lot of time thinking about death. I work in a care home, so a lot of my day to day life is spent forming close emotional bonds with people who will likely die soon. What’s more – people close to me tend to die. That’s been a part of my life for over a decade now. And those close to me who haven’t died – well, usually they’re grieving. So I’m surrounded by grief and I’m surrounded by death. And I don’t want to call myself the resident expert on death or anything – but, well, it is kind of my area.
So here’s the thing; I can’t comment on how healthy or unhealthy our overall relationship with “Notable people” is. But what I do know is – you cannot have grief without love. Because grief is love – it is the loss of it. And if you love something, you’re going to grieve it, at some point. And if you care about something, if you let it into your life and it shapes your thoughts, your ideas, your hopes and your ambitions, then the loss of that hurts all the more. And of course it will hurt. Even if you never shared breathing space with that thing. And if it represents something which helped you cope in this world then you will feel that loss, as you felt that gratitude. For many people, that was Prince, that was George Michael and that was Carrie Fisher. And that is not shallow, it is not wrong. You grieve something – that’s the price you pay for loving it, the pain you feel from losing it. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s inevitable.
I read someone saying that people are cunts because they only care about famous people. “Fuck everyone dying in Syria, right?” I wonder – I have stronger emotions about my dad dying than I do about Syria, even though I recognise Syria as a bigger tragedy. Am I a cunt because of this?
(That’s a rhetorical question. The answer is no.)
So I dunno. Ultimately, you feel how you have to feel, and loss will always hurt. You will form connections to people who you feel like you can understand, even if you never meet them. And that’s fine. Be considerate, understand that they are human, understand that having someone you’ve never met speak to you like you’re best buds might feel a little uncomfortable. But if you feel grief over the loss of someone you never met – that’s ok. That means you loved something. That’s kind of cool.