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 Jacksons 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 (Im not questioning you, lest you think Im 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 dont 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. Its 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 youre 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 dont aspire to become a hungry, dying child. You dont put the hungry childs posters in your bedroom, you dont 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. Im not saying this is good, and Im 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 dont aspire to be in his or her place.
So theres nothing wrong in mourning the death of a celebrity. But dont lose track of the actual world around you, dont 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.