Grieving Over Dead Celebrities
We can feel that we "know" athletes, entertainers, politicians, and others that we've followed, rooted for, or whatnot over a period of time and feel a genuine sense of loss when they're gone.
The deaths of more than 25,000 children in the Somalian famine and brutality cannot but provoke intense sadness.
The ongoing enslavement of 27 million people worldwide, many of them women and girls in sexual bondage, cannot but provoke intense sadness.
The bloody repression in Syria cannot but provoke intense sadness.
(They would also provoke intense anger, but Andrew’s statement isn’t limited to sadness).
Cue George Will, from 1997, on the reactions to Princess Diana’s death:
When it is the celebrity of the deceased that triggers behavior that gets identified as “grief” and “suffering,” what words remain to describe what occurs in, say, a pediatric oncology ward?
Enough. She had a great voice. She sang some really silly songs. She destroyed herself, with an assist entertainment industry culture. That is all.
This is . . . nonsense.
Now, it’s true that I didn’t much give a damn when Diana Spencer was killed in a car crash. And, while I thought the passing of Whitney Houston not only noteworthy but “A tragic waste,” I can’t claim to have been overly broken up about it. It’s sad when young people die but it happens all the time and I don’t get particularly upset about it unless there’s some personal connection.
But people feel sometimes feel intense connections to celebrities. We can feel that we “know” athletes, entertainers, politicians, and others that we’ve followed, rooted for, or whatnot over a period of time and feel a genuine sense of loss when they’re gone.
In his tribute to Houston, Andrew writes, “ don’t know what to say except that I came out to her in her heyday. ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ was my disco favorite back when I went out every weekend in my 20s, and it felt weirdly liberational.” That’s a meaningful connection at a particularly formative period in his life–particularly, one imagines, for a young gay man in an era where being openly gay made him a pariah in his own conservative, Catholic circles. Surely, he’s entitled to “intense sadness” over her death at a young age. (Indeed, if their Wikipedia entries are correct, Houston was born but a day before him.)