Each time a celebrity dies, I am surprised anew at how speedily and enthusiastically my fellow humans mount the social media highway to express their shock, their surprise, or their sense of loss.
Some of these reactions are, of course, genuine, and it is presumptuous for me to assume that I understand how important a particular famous person was to another, less-famous person. But I also have a pretty well-tuned bullshit detector, and that detector goes red and blinky when someone claims her “day was ruined” when she learned of the death of someone she’d probably never met, probably never seen in person, and probably hadn’t thought about in the previous two weeks.
When this alarm fires like a siren in the night, I often feel compelled to wrench the thought pendulum back to what I perceive to be the midpoint — to counter all the maudlin with something that reflects my own attitude toward death, celebrity, and how we may be taking all of it a bit seriously.
For example, when David Bowie died, I had all sorts of Tweets and updates floating through my brain:
When faced with those embryonic Tweets of mine, most people would say that they very clearly fail the first test of Internet tastefulness, which asks:
Does the post kick someone when he’s down?
In this case, the person who is “down” isn’t just David Bowie; it’s also the netizen who is broken up about David Bowie’s death — who is “down” because he is just plain-old sad.
But here’s the thing:
Tweets (and thoughts) like mine aren’t meant for David Bowie, or for David Bowie’s family, or for David Bowie’s superfans. They’re meant for people like me — people who aren’t sure about all this idolatry we’re participating in, or who are sure David Bowie was cool, but aren’t so sure David Bowie would have pissed on them if they were on fire, because they know that most celebrities are the product of promotion, perception, and unreality.
And just as those who mourn the latest celebrity death need to know that they’re not alone, we need to know that we’re not alone.
Actually, strike that: we probably need it more. There’s plenty of content for people who want to participate in the death cult — the pay-it-forward belief system that makes people think that if they’re respectful about someone’s death, then someone will be respectful about their deaths.
There is not, however, much for those of us who don’t, which is why I took time out of a busy day that could have been spent doing all manner of productive activities to carefully craft those Tweets and-
**WE INTERRUPT YOUR REGULAR PROGRAMMING TO BRING YOU THIS SPECIAL BULLETIN**
I didn’t post any of those Tweets.
Well, I posted one of them — the one about my brother’s birthday.
And then, four minutes later, I took it down.
Well, because while I may not be able to take celebrity death all that seriously because of a (possible) hole in my soul, and while I do believe that my fellow near-nihilists need a reminder that they are not alone, I also believe in the power of hateful @ messages.
And I don’t need to deal with those on a Monday afternoon.
Plus, whether my Tweets failed the first test of Internet-worthiness or not, they definitely failed the second:
That they should, you know, be funny.