Article: the Death of Celebrity & the Questions of Our Own Mortality

Many of us have heard that today (12/8/2014) that comedian & actor Robin Williams was found dead in his home of an apparent suicide.

Naturally, this has caused a massive outpouring of grief from the famous, the infamous & the mundane yet to put things into perspective, also in the world today famous Irish actor J.J. Murphy died after filming part of his role on the next season of The Game of Thrones, riots broke out in Ferguson Missouri caused by the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by members of the local police force, an apparent coup has happened in Iraq as the Islamic States continues to slaughter its way through that nation.

Yet this day shall be marked by the passing of one man.

I am not diminishing a family’s loss or grief but rather seek to highlight why the death of a single celebrity can impact us, as relatively secure members of the First World, more than the force of global events that occur every day in our most harsh world.

That is because we as consumers of media have a more immediately feeling of presence of a celebrity in relation to out lives. They aren’t some distance abstract that that many of us cannot fathom or relate to because it (hopefully) goes beyond our own experiences. Yet a celebrity is in our lives almost every day, whether you are a devoted fan or casually note random appearances of them. We find them more relatable because the cult of celebrity permeates our lives, we project out own hopes & desires upon them, using them for a touch of vicarious living.

There are also some celebrities who do genuinely affect our lives, open our eyes & actually help us through some very dark times that we may face.

Robin Williams was such a celebrity because he was very open about his own faults & addictions -having battled drugs & alcohol his entire adult life. Like many other comedians, such as the legendary Richard Pryor (1940-2005) or Billy Connelly, he shared his pain with his audience in order to both make them laugh & to exorcise them from himself. He also showed an exceptional ability for acting, both comedic & serious, which can be hypothesised as being part his natural ability to hide his pain -which has also been mentioned by some of his friends & contemparies as why he often acted so manic & did impersonations. His roles touched many & also helped inspire many, such as his famous turn in Dead Poet Society, as seen here:

That is one reason why his death has been so felt by so many yet it is not the entirity of the matter.

When anyone dies it causes us, as human beings, to reflect upon our own mortality. When someone whom is famous dies, the news is flashed through the media to both provide information but also for the ghoulish reason of making people watch that news service, which gets people watching sponsored messages & helps push brand awareness & revenue for the media provider up. It is difficult to escape the news of any celebrity death, which pushes up our own self-reflection of the Mortal coil up to levels they would otherwise not be.

In losing them, we lose part of ourselves.

In that we are once again granted awareness of our own deaths, causing the death of our ignorance and innocence within the same moment. It is this which causes us the most pain.

That is not to say that we do not have some genuine grief over the passing over another human being but it is a communal grief -a collective acceptance of our mortality & limitations. All the dreams & desires that died with the person yet it is also because we have some shared memory or experience of that person. Some part of our collective lives that was so deftly yet unknowningly touched by they who are now gone. Many were so marked by William’s turn at playing the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin, which is highlighted in this performance:

He was also a performer who crossed generation, with many first seeing him on screen in the odd sitcom Mork & Mindy. He then accompanied many of us through our media infused lives, in many guises. Some more memorable & touching then others yet it cannot be denied that no genuine, interpersonal connection existed between audience (with some natural exceptions), so our grief returns to the aforementioned point of us not grieving for the loss of an individual but rather for the passing of an icon, a memory & ourselves.

Whenever someone famous dies, we see the usual media scrum & wrenching of shirts because it is culturally acceptable. Again, it is the communal grief & the lifting the collective fear of individual mortality that permeates cultures so abstract from the truth of everyday loss & violence. It does not deny that people feel that loss acutely yet we still must acknowledge that we do not mourn for whom we don’t know, only for ourselves.

Even with that being said, any loss, known or unknown, weighs upon our collective humanity. With grief being a myriad beast that lies hidden deep within so many, merely waiting for release.

One thing I do hope that has occurred with Robin Williams’ passing is that is highlights issues that people do have with depression & addiction. I hope it does make people genuinely reflect upon themselves & their own lives; to seek out help where it can be found & to realise that they don’t have to suffer alone (as so many out there do because they do not know where or to whom to turn). Find the people & services that can provide the most help & if they are unfunded & overwhelmed, bring attention to the situation. In this: one life, voice can begin to help many -your own voice, your own life.

If you do feel as though you are falling into a dark unfathomable place, reach out your hands to see who grasps it. Many of us suffer through such things but does not mean we have to suffer alone.

Yet to bring it back to a singular point: the world is diminished by the loss of a brilliant, truthful jester in Robin Williams yet we must use such passings as a means to uplift ourselves, our friends & families if they need to be uplifted.

All grief shall end, all memories fade yet to be touched by a single spark in a dark cold world can speak of the brilliance of existence that few truly acknowledge.

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12 thoughts on “Article: the Death of Celebrity & the Questions of Our Own Mortality

  1. Mish Singh 13/08/2014 / 11:21 AM

    I was in the middle of my Tuesday morning “Fame & Celebrity” lecture when a student tearfully brought up Robin Williams’ death. This morning, it’s all over social media, obviously, and some people have posted lovely tributes. Others have fallen to pieces; quite dissolved by their grief. In trying to sort out my feelings – professional interest, fan of Williams since Mork & Mindy, feeling the usual queasiness at the sheer level of emotion for a person who is, on one level, a complete stranger ….. and so on – I found your post in my inbox.
    You’ve pulled together some of the key threads, and done this in a way that’s critical (in the academic sense, not the carping sense, obviously), but also sympathetic, and nicely aware of the other reasons involved when we mourn famous people’s deaths.
    I really loved this post. I wonder if you’d allow me to use it in next week’s class – with proper attribution, of course? No worries if not.

    On a much lighter note, great review of Guardians of the Galaxy. Off to see it this weekend πŸ™‚
    Thanks,
    Mish

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    • andthegeekshall 13/08/2014 / 11:44 AM

      I’m find with you using it in your class. Just attribute to Shadow (the one name is all I have) & this blog.
      Am thinking of writing a follow up today because of the reactions to Williams’ death being a suicide. People in the more right wing presses calling him a coward & so forth; generally demonstrating their ignorance of how bad crippling depression (& mania) can be.
      If I do like that article if written, feel free to use it as well.

      Enjoy the film. I think I mgiht see it again next tuesday, when is cheap.

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  2. Mish Singh 13/08/2014 / 11:50 AM

    Thanks for that; much appreciated.
    Are you serious re commentators throwing around accusations of cowardice? Unbelievable. Perceptions of depression have changed a lot in the last few decades, but obviously not as much as I thought. Bloody hell. The utter lack of empathy (and lack of effort to try to understand) is absolutely chilling.

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    • andthegeekshall 13/08/2014 / 12:15 PM

      Welcome.
      & yes, people who work for the Murdoch press in the US have already rolled out that line. Same when Phillip Semore Hoffman OD. Entire lack of empathy & pushing the line that only weak people kill themselves, depression is something you can walk off (someone said that to me the other day) & you’re weak if you are addicted to anything.

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  3. Mish Singh 13/08/2014 / 1:39 PM

    Yes, I remember the “junkie dad” headline after Hoffman’s death. Someone jumped off the roof of a local carpark recently, and the bystanders were all bemoaning how ‘selfish’ an act it was. No imagination – no concept of how lonely and desperate it feels. And addiction as a weakness – I guess it holds credence because it has a tiny grain of truth (in many cases), but it’s so not the point. If only it were that simple!
    Well, I’m throwing my Zoloft in the bin and going for a brisk walk :).

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    • andthegeekshall 13/08/2014 / 3:14 PM

      Yeah, that can of story to appeal to the narrow minded & arrogant audience.
      Have heard people say similar things about suicide; it always factors into whether the end was a public display or not. A few years ago when I was still living in Canberra, a woman killed herself at the local Westfield by throwing herself off the third floor inside the mall, landing right next to the Santa display, so naturally traumatised everyone but al reports say it wasn’t a premeditated act. she’d argued with her partner & then topped herself.
      Addiction isn’t weakness but a consuming need; manifesting in many & varied forms. Addiction to narcotics or alcohol is the most visible but there are far worse addictions out there that people ignore to society’s cost.

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  4. Mish Singh 13/08/2014 / 10:04 PM

    I guess that’s what I meant about addiction – because it’s consuming need, as you say, it’s seen as weakness. The subjectivity of the addict is too permeable, lacking boundaries and self-control, etc; which is something to be avoided for contemporary citizens. Years ago, when people started wearing those “Drug-free body” t-shirts (white shirts, of course), it made me laugh on so many levels :).

    Depression can be walked off – again, this has a teensy grain of truth, in that physical exertion of a certain kind does the whole endorphin release thing, among other benefits. Even Neil Gaiman now acknowledges this :). But this is more to do with maintenance, once one is relatively stable – it’s not going to help someone who cannot get out of bed. To suggest otherwise is just so cruel.

    One more unrelated postscript: have watched the first 6 episodes of Gankutsuou – the visual style is just incredible! The storyline is hooky enough, obviously, but the look of it … wow. And the intro and finish songs by The Stranglers .Thank you once again for the recommendation πŸ™‚
    Mish

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    • andthegeekshall 13/08/2014 / 11:38 PM

      I tend to mock so called “Straighe Edgers” for similar reasons. Using sobriety as a form of superism rather than wanting to be healthy.

      Non-crippling non-chemical depression can be held at bay with exercise but doesn’t always work. Know that because I suffer from manic-depression & have a body crippled by pain from surgical reconstruction.

      If you know the original novel &/or its plot, you can understand Gankutuou & how it’s animefied & altered to change perspectives. Visually it is an amazing film. Look at the characters’ clothing to see the roles or their style (such as it reading reporter or pirate). It’s many to be utterly gaudy & overblown because of the excess of the original age.

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      • Mish Singh 15/08/2014 / 4:59 PM

        My f*Β£$% computer died on me!! I had to force re-boot the thing. This is when one realises, so painfully, how dependent one is – can’t do work, can’t mark assignments, can’t look for new home, can’t do anything but whinge and complain (which I just realised I’m doing, oops).
        Yes, I’m painfully aware of the difference between chemical and non-chemical depressions, having had both varieties. The chemical one is so disempowering and alienating. That’s been enough to deal with, but you have physical pain as well??! Jesus. I hope you’ve had good support and/or good professional help.

        I’m intrigued by how Gankutsuou is set well in the future, but is so very late 19th century in many respects – including the decadence and gaudiness you mention (and the cars!). I read the original novel years ago, but only recall the bones – which can be a good thing, as books can have such a powerful effect on how one views a story. The Count is very well done, I think – mesmerising and scary – you can just see the bad news rolling in for Albert as he falls headlong.
        Great stuff.

        Hope you’re well and work is progressing πŸ™‚
        Mish

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        • andthegeekshall 15/08/2014 / 6:36 PM

          I have lots of drugs. They don’t do much really.

          I think they mix the eras well. The Moon/Luna stands for Rome & other alien places represent foreign countries & ideas. So in that it sticks well to the original book. Also, the original novel was given a very supernatural translation in Japan, with the old man who gave the main character his wealth & knowledge actually being a demon rather than a mortal -hence the name “the demon of the cave”.
          I haven’t had a chance to watch beyond the 2nd disc yet & might be going on a work-study trip to Qld soon but thanks. All the best to you as well. Hope computer stuff is sorted.

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          • Mish Singh 16/08/2014 / 8:05 AM

            Lots of drugs, but what about persons? Persons can be good. Or cats (mine have kept me together on many occasions).
            If you come anywhere near Brisbane (should your Qld trip eventuate) I’ll buy you a coffee – there are actually some good cafes here now. If you’re feeling anti-social, I can just get the coffee and you can drink it all by yourself πŸ™‚
            Cheers again for permission to use your post on Williams’ death; I’m venturing out of sociology a bit towards social psychology, but it should be fun, and this semester’s crop of students are great.
            Mish

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            • andthegeekshall 16/08/2014 / 12:12 PM

              The drugs comment was a touch of sardonicism on my part. There aren’t many people I get to chat with face to face since moving but do have lots of friends back on the mainland, who do help greatly. & I do have a cat & will probably write an article on the personification of cats online for an article in the near future.
              I’ll be catching up with various people whilst up there but drop us a line at andthegeekshallinherit@gmail.com & we might be able to sort something out if/when I get up.

              & no probs. hope that your class finds it interesting too. Good to have engaged students. πŸ™‚

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