Someone Explain This To Me

>> Thursday, June 25, 2009

Why does the death of a celebrity electrify the media?

Someone asked me this on Ask Me Anything.

You know, I have no idea. Deaths can be tragedies, but they don't have to be, but of all the factors that make me think a death is tragic, fame is just not one of them.

Death can be tragic if it's preventable - a child trapped in a trunk or falling unnoticed into a pool, someone killed by a drunk driver.

Death can be tragic when it strikes someone healthy or someone who might have had a full and happy life before them if not for the condition that killed them - people struck down in their prime with cancer or children dying of meningitis.

Death can be tragic when it's senseless - people killed in a drive by shooting or teenagers killing themselves.

Death can be tragic when someone innocent is killed via deliberate violence - serial or spree murder victims, victims of child abuse, someone shot protesting an unjust regime.

Causes of death that are painful, that rob the victim of dignity or memory or other key characteristics can be tragic, though, after the causes ravage a loved one, you can also feel relief that the victim is no longer suffering.

People touch lives, add magic or pain, and it shouldn't matter if it's a thousand lives one touches or just one. The life is precious.

Just my opinion. Oh, and that picture up there, Earnest Louis Sulak died a week ago at home, leaving many people who loved him.


  • The Mother

    Did you hear that the news of Michael Jackson's death crashed Twitter yesterday?

    There was a two page spread about him in the paper. (Another page on Farrah, but that's irrelevant to what I'm going to say next.)

    The man was a child molester. If I see another blog post lamenting his death, I'm going to scream.

  • Stephanie B

    I didn't know anything about Michael Jackson's death until I got home, but I've never understood the brouhaha over someone famous' death. I didn't understand the freaking weeks of mourning after Presley kicked the bucket either.

    I can admire what someone accomplished (if they accomplished something), but often the people who do something appreciable for mankind (medical breakthrough, scientific accomplishment, world leader) are barely a footnote while long-time has-beens who provided a modicum of entertainment at some time or another are wept over publicly. I don't get that. But then, I don't understand the media frenzies over Brad Pitte and Angelina Jolie or whatever other celebrities are hot today. I know people care, but I'm at a complete loss to understand why.

    I did like Michael Jackson's music once and I have no idea if he were a child molester or not. However, I don't see his death as any more tragic than the thousands that took place yesterday, then the hundreds of thousands wiped out by say the Boxing Day Tsunami, for instance. He was a person. He died.

    Folks, this happens to everyone.

  • Relax Max

    Sensational events sell more newspapers and garner larger television viewing audiences, which, in turn, allow the media to charge their advertisers more. But the deeper question is "why" - why does the death of Michael Jackson, who never really did much to improve the human condition while he was alive, receive more attention than the death of, say, a life-long school teacher?

    The same reason we rubberneck when we pass the scene of an accident, I guess. Unexplainable, really. Just some sort of "lurid gene" in human dna.

    Of course, I myself am not affected by this sort of thing. I don't even glance at the tabloid photos as I stand in the grocery checkout line.

    The bell tolls for all of us, and, yes, we are all diminished when one of us dies. But right now I feel more diminished by the death of the WWII veteran than Michael Jackson.

    Here's another problematic question: Why is it that I somehow feel CLEANER now that Michael is no longer among us? I'm not trying to be mean; it is simply the truth.

  • Relax Max

    Upon further thought, it is more than that, isn't it?

    We somehow set these people up as some kind of "heroes". Doing that then makes them seem more important that "regular" folks. Isn't that crazy? I mean, I guess I can see why people would really morn the death of George Washington, because he WAS a hero to many people. But somehow these others get put into the same category, completely undeserving, but end up being treated as if it were legitimate hero worship.

    So where does that leave us? I guess, if a person is very widely known and/or is hugely wealthy, that seems to quality that person for "hero status" in our society, even if truly unworthy.

    So this is not really about rubbernecking at an accident scene after all. It is about putting people in the company of true greatness when they don't deserve to be in that company, and then treating them as if they do.


    Okay, you already said much of that. I just needed to clarify my own brain. Thanks.

  • Flemisa

    I am still trying to get my mind around the endless fascination with celebrities. Some of have done something of note like their music or acting skills so I can understand that to gain some insight into their work. However so many have done nothing more than sleep around and/or have money.

  • Stephanie B

    Flemisa, thanks. I don't get it either.

    Relax Max, I just don't understand the fascination with "celebrities". I remember the hullaballoo over Michael Phelps. I don't under why someone who has accomplished something or made themselves famous for something owes us anything outside of that.

    On the other hand, I don't see why so many people want to know every detail or care or weep for their disappearance.

    If someone loved Michael Jackson's music, it's still there. That's not gone.

    But isn't any different for noncelebrities who die. The learning a teacher imparts is still there, the love people have for someone still exists, the songs and writing and memoirs are still there. We remember them even if the number of rememberers is far more limited.

    Quality, not quantity.

  • Bob Johnson

    I'll never understand celebrity, don't get it, the fascination people find in their lives, beyond me. But I did appreciate Micheal Jackson for his musical genius, but that's it, not looking around the web for any smut or tribute, got my own life.

  • Aron Sora

    I think it's because celebrities are icons, time marks. When they die, it might show that we will never go back to the good old days; the time when they were kings. People hold on the the status quo and when a celebrity dies, we will never return to that time.

    Also, when an icon dies, it reminds people who idolized that person, that they are old; a part of their youth dies with them.

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