Mourning celebrities, right or wrong?

Whenever I publish a new article or blog post on one of my websites, these days I post a link in my Twitter account. The day Michael Jackson died I had logged on to my Twitter account to post a link, and I read something like, “WTF! Michael Jackson is dead!”

It was very late in this part of the world. Our daughter had gone to sleep at 10 PM and awakened at 1:30 AM. After a futile attempt that lasted almost 90 minutes (involving copious vacillations between hope and despair) I gave up the idea of forcing her to go back to sleep, switched off the alarm I had set on my phone and came to my room at around 3 in the morning, grumpily.

First there was a trickle of messages; many people claiming to have come across rumors of Michael Jackson’s death. Many denied it. Then people started posting links to the CNN website that said he was in the hospital after a coronary arrest. The TMZ website said that he was dead. After about 30 minutes, 95% of the messages I got talked about his death. The messages ranged from “Unbelievable”, “weird”, “shocking”, “devastating”, “RIP MJ” to “Child molesting psycho is dead”. In fact so many people expressed themselves after his death that this article says that when Michael Jackson died he almost took the Internet with him.

So yesterday when I was reading this blog post titled Why Do We Mourn Some and Not Others?, I thought about it too, and felt like sharing my thoughts. Why does this happen? As rightly depicted in the blog post, children are starving to death almost every minute. The post talks about the children in Africa, but a recent study concluded when it comes to hunger and malnutrition, India fairs worse than the most sub-Saharan, perpetually famished regions. So why does the death a Michael Jackson or a Farrah Fawcett move us more than the death of a street child or a child in a starving country? There surely are deaths that are far more tragic and painful than the deaths of celebrities who mostly die due to their own personal follies (most). Remember this Pulitzer-prize-winning photograph? The photographer committed suicide because he simply left the place after clicking the photograph, leaving the child at the mercy of the approaching vulture. When you saw this photograph (if you did) how much time did you spend trying to know about the background of the whole story (I’m not questioning you, lest you think I’m accusing or preaching)?

These days you can easily say that this is about media; media creates so much hype around a celebrity death that you don’t even realize that you are being sucked into a whirlpool of commiserations, remembrances, trivia and anecdotes by all and sundry. All of a sudden, every other living celebrity has sounbites regarding the departed celebrity. It’s a party of the herd-mentality too: all of a sudden everybody wants to talk about a particular event and wants to throw his or her two cents.

On social media websites, since everybody following you or being followed by you is talking about it you too want to feel like a part of the communication upheaval. You have to say something, and it can be anything. Take for instance this blog post; the blog post above sparked the idea of this blog post.

Celebrities like Michael Jackson become personal despite the seemingly unsurpassable mental and physical distance. You may have put up his posters in your room, danced to his songs, idealized him or tried to imitate his steps. Secretly or openly you may have wanted to become like him (minus getting the face all messed up, of course). You may have even had sex with him in your imagination. You may have even detested him for the various charges he was facing. So somewhere, consciously or subconsciously, people like him become personal, you seem to know them intimately, you talk about them as if you’re bosom buddies. Hence, their death jolts you and encourages you to talk about them, and their death. This is a personal shock, and talking about it, reading about it and hearing about it is very comforting. For once, you are not the only one who is suffering. You can experience common suffering during a natural calamity too, but then you cannot talk about it with equally suffering people from the comfort of your bedroom or drawing-room.

An unknown child who is dying of starvation, on the other hand, although equally, or rather more heart-rending, is distant from your personal space. You aspire to become a Michael Jackson, but you don’t aspire to become a hungry, dying child. You don’t put the hungry child’s posters in your bedroom, you don’t buy songs with an emaciated child on their cover. It is scary. It jolts the foundations of your hope. What you like about the celebrities and famous people is that they have the ability to move the masses, they can inspire millions and they can also inflict anguish upon millions (like your favorite cricket or baseball team losing the match). A dying, hungry child is a total antithesis of this powerful feeling. I’m not saying this is good, and I’m not even placing a judgment, but this is how our emotions work. You may want to feed that child, you may want to rehabilitate him or her, and you may devote your life to the amelioration of such children, but you certainly don’t aspire to be in his or her place.

So there’s nothing wrong in mourning the death of a celebrity. But don’t lose track of the actual world around you, don’t stop feeling a part of it. That hungry child may not motivate you to spend two hours in front of your TV or post copious messages on various social networking websites, he or she is as real as Michael Jackson, and just you as could have ended up being Michael Jackson, you could have also ended up being that child.

0 thoughts on “Mourning celebrities, right or wrong?

  1. Pingback: Mourning celebrities, right or wrong? | Michael Jackson Died | RIP MJ 1958-2009

  2. Sayan Datta

    Wow! What a jolt! And to think I was worrying about a few problems in my workplace. This post has brought me back to earth again.
    About the huge majority mourning Michael Jackson’s death, I prefer to think of it as a passing fad. People like him are alive (in people’s minds) for only a few generations and then they go ‘pop’ like bubbles do (as opposed to diamonds which shine forever). His memories will soon be erased from the minds of the masses. Of course a new avatar of MJ will take his place simply because people need celebrities so desperately!
    Feeling distant evils acutely and consistently is very difficult (especially for us who haven’t experienced real pain and suffering) and possible, I would say, only to a select few- those, who, through control and practice have learned to feel them (one reason why, I think, sages of the old deliberately chose the hardest life imaginable – to expand their hearts to such an extent so as to be able to encompass the sufferings of all living beings).
    But the least we commoners can do is to take a stand which is at least logically coherent. So far as I can see there is little logic in mourning the death of one in such huge numbers while millions die of starvation.

  3. Pingback: Mourning MJ and Celebrities at Blogbharti

  4. J

    but sometimes it does become ridiculously embarrassing. like when princess di had died, we had people at work with a black band on their arms and all, looking all mournful, when around the same time Mother Teresa too had left her body for … wherever … sad!! what was amazingly ridiculous was the way the local newspapers went about it .. with pages and pages devoted to princess di as opposed to one column for Mother T. very, very sad. have nothing against, or in favor of anyone .. but just .. a thought ..

  5. Mai

    This reminds me of the hoopla when Anna Nicole Smith died. There IS a difference, of course. Michael Jackson was a talented performer who actually did something of note with his talents. He has been at least on the perifory of my life since the late 1960s. Someone who had “always” been there is gone. It leaves a blank space.

    Love is a strange thing. I have learned, to paraphrase R. A. Heinlein, the more I love, the more I CAN love. Each love teaches me to love a little more.

    I care deeply about poor people, hungry people, cold people, sick people, oppressed people, hurting people – but I have learned that if I don’t distance myself a bit, I’ll go mad. (Some say I already have.) I do what I can, mostly by alerting people online, as I am physically unable to do much and my financial resources are small and dwindling. Then I do just a little more than I can, push myself.

    My friends and doctors insist that I cut down on these 16-18 hour days, the world will go on just fine if Mai takes a nap in the park. They are right. Sometimes I wonder if all I try to do has any impact on anyone. Still, love compells me to try.

    The death of Michael Jackson is just this: He brought music, dancing and joy into the lives of millions. He gave us a lot to talk about with his weirdnesses and eccentricities. He made our lives a little more interesting, a little less mundane. And that, Amrit, (as Martha Stewart would say) is a good thing.

    Good-bye, Michael! The human heart is big enough to care about you and all suffering humanity at the same time.

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