When a celebrity dies, the first wave of public response consists of shock and devastation. The second wave consists of the cynical among us who say, “Harrumf! Normal people die every day, and no one notices or cares! Why should they be so special?”
If the “harrumf” is not literally uttered, it is, at the very least, implied.
Well, here’s why “no one notices or cares” when “normal” people die:
1: Because how would anyone notice? No one tells you when the guy two blocks down dies, AND
2: What did the guy two blocks down ever do for you? Even if you’d met or spoken to that guy, does his contribution to your life necessarily surpass the contribution made, albeit unknowingly, by a singer or actor?
No. Of course not.
Let’s say you like a band. As in, like a band a lot. I’m talking you know pretty much every song, go to the concerts (or daydream about being able to), buy the t-shirt, and generally never shut up about how fantastic this band is.
If you like a band this much, there is a very god chance that you will obsessively stockpile fairly useless information about at least one of its members. Maybe you won’t, and that’s fine. But a lot of people do. And when you spend a lot of time reading articles, watching interviews, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, you start to get a sense that you know the person, to some extent, and I don’t believe that assumption is completely incorrect. Obviously, there are delusional people who take things way too far, but I do believe that in most cases, you can get a decent sense of what someone is like from interviews and the like. You can’t tell me that every word a seemingly pleasant and down-to-earth celebrity utters for the press is a fabrication and that all of them are secretly terrible. You just can’t.
So firstly, you have this fondness for one or all members of a band because of the work they produce, which honestly kind of speaks for itself and gives you a good enough reason to care if they live or die. And then you have an awareness that they seem to be a genuinely awesome person on top of that.
…And then they die, and you’re expected to shrug your shoulders and say “Oh well, people die every day”?
No. The random people who die every day don’t mean anything in particular to you. That celebrity does. AND THAT’S OKAY. That’s kind of the idea.
I also think that when we mourn a celebrity’s death, we’re also mourning mortality in general. We don’t think of celebrities as human. We know people all have to die eventually, but celebrities? They’re not like normal people. We don’t see normal people on magazine covers and make-up commercials, so we forget that the same rules apply to them. When we are reminded of that, we are reminded of our own inevitable ends, as well.
There’s nothing wrong with being gutted over a celebrity’s death. Musicians and the like set out to touch lives. What’s wrong with acknowledging that they succeeded?