22 January 2008

The Death Pedestal

My mind has been racked with a new capacity and has little time to dawdle on those seemingly meaningless nothings that prove so though provoking when we step back.

I had been every so slightly perturbed of late and I was struck today with the reason for it. No its not politics or the economy, though those are surely troubling things. Nay, it was one of the things I detest and fail to understand, celebrity news. It was this evening upon hearing of and seeing the reaction to the death of Heath Ledger that my mind clicked into gear.

Facebook is becoming prevalent in many ways and if used critically can offer broad insight into small networks. I say that to say this: I counted no less than 12 facebook related statuses that mentioned and mourned the death of this actor. To this I had a series of responses. First: This has no bearing on me. Second: Its caused a media storm and is already provoking public debate (People care.). Third: Am I emotionally dead so as not to be affected by a sudden death of a talented actor? Finally: No, I am not emotionally dead, perhaps (and forgive the vanity), perhaps just far more broad minded.

Death is no stranger to the human race; people die daily, hourly, even minutely. Old people die, rich people die, young people die, poor people die, babies die, fat, thin, black and white. This makes death no less tragic on individual and situation bases, but I doubt that so many know Heath so well as to truly feel sorrow. Still, on daily news coverage I see reports of shooting and death. And I say, "this happens all the time, why does it make news?" Perhaps a better question would be why do certain deaths make news? The media and the general population seem to pick and chose which deaths matter most and such choices are often fleeting and trivialize a deeply saddening occurrence.

Celebrity news and gossip is perhaps the most perverted sort. People spend much of their time and sometimes even lives to being completely in the know about, ultimately, meaningless people.
(I use meaningless not to downplay success and influence in certain spheres but rather to question their being arbitrarily "made" as significant.) People even become significantly insignificant from studying insignificant people. (Have fun with that one!) I see Britney Spears on covers of magazines that have no qualms of exploiting her downfalls. I hear people feeling sorry for her. But should we seek out the miserable and mourn death, or celebrate that the reason we seek out exciting news of death and misery is because of the large absence of it in our daily lives? Perhaps it makes us feel human and gives a sense of community. But have we gone so astray as people that, in order to feel human community, we must seek out the terrible in the lives of the insignificant?

Heath's death is no less sad and tragic and sudden to me, but merely put in perspective with the millions of other, equally as affecting, deaths. I mean not that the world will be the same without him or that individuals will miss his presence. It is the act of placing, not only death, but certain "elite" deaths on a pedestal to be mourned and become topics of debate and conversation that I disagree with and hope to challenge.

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