Celebrity Death & Decorum, or How Social Media Has Made People Angry Over the Wrong Crap
Posted by Bill Gauthier
Saturday night my wife was about to go to bed when Courtney, my teenage daughter, said as she scrolled Twitter, “Do you know who Paul Walker is?”
Pamela and I looked at each other. “He’s from those Fast and Furious movies,” Pamela said.
“Yeah, well, he died in ‘a fiery car crash,'” Courtney said.
My wife and I both said, basically, “Oh no! That’s sad!”
That was about the extent of it. After she went to bed, I went on the iPad and was scrolling through my Facebook feed and Twitter feed. The news about Mr. Walker’s death was still pretty fresh but I already saw something unsettling. Someone (I don’t remember who) had posted to Facebook something alone the lines of: “150,000 people died today, but we’re all fixated on one celebrity.”
Over the course of the past two days, I’ve seen similar kinds of posts. A lot of them. On Facebook. On Twitter. I’m sure there are others out there.
It’s a lot like the essay I wrote about people liking to go out of their way to inform all the fans of a particular TV show, movie series, or game that they don’t watch it, but it’s uglier. Much uglier.
Unlike, say, Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton or Snookie or any other reality TV star, Mr. Walker actually worked his ass off to achieve what fame he received, and it’s not as though he was out partying when his death happened. Yes, it appears he was in a speeding vehicle, but he had just finished a fundraiser for Philippine relief. Oh, and he had a history of helping those who’d been hit hard by disaster.
In other words, Mr. Walker did something that made a lot of people happy, and helped a lot of people, and now he was being mourned.
Now, before I’m accused of being a superfan of his, I’ll state that I’ve never seen the Fast and Furious movies (though Pamela and I were talking about them just that morning) and I honestly had to double check what his name was before I began writing this. I know only as much as I’ve read about or have seen on TV in the last couple of days.
The thing that annoys me is the flippant dismissal over the man’s death. Yes, he was a celebrity. Yes, he was a star of a series of popcorn action flicks. But he was also the father to a 15-year-old daughter. Like I am. He was 40 years old—four years older than I (and my wife’s age). He organized help for those who needed it. And he’d worked for most of his life to achieve what fame he had, and compared to most movie stars, he wasn’t necessarily the biggest name. Consider the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson had more screentime in the recent Fast & Furious trailers and commercials than he did, even though Johnson had only done a couple of them.
That’s not to say that all the other people who died Saturday shouldn’t be mourned because they absolutely should. They all have families and friends and touched lives for the better. Unfortunately for them, they weren’t in one of the most successful franchises of the last decade or so. They were known outside of their local places or by those close to them. Mr. Walker was.
Instead of bitching about the public mourning of fans, and the media’s attraction to the story (which, let’s face it, is a huge piece of irony and is grisly, two things modern news loves), let’s use Mr. Walker’s death as a symbol to all those who died that day. His death becomes the face of those regular people who died that day, no less tragic, no less sad.
In other words, with all the silliness out there in the world, the racism and sexism, the growing socioeconomic chasm, the bigotry and hatred, let’s focus our energy on fixing those things instead of making people who lost someone they cared about in some way, whether it’s because they knew him or it was because they loved his movies, feel bad about their public mourning and the news outlets reporting of it.
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