In the latest edition of Esquire Magazine (yes, I read Esquire, at least once a year, particularly their end of the year specials), Stephen Marche has an article entitled, “A Thousand Words About Our Culture: Aren’t We Enjoying All This Death A Little Too Much?” In it, he analyzes this idea of celebrity death, its permutations, significance, and manifestations in 2009. In general, his point is two-fold: we make celebrities in large part to celebrate their fall / death and in death, celebrities find new life.
I gave it some thought with a critical eye, and I realized just how right he was. While we may have noted more famous names dying, we also know that the names of notables recognized at any given award show won’t change by much. We so just so happened to have given each and every one more analysis.
I don’t remember much about Heath Ledger before The Dark Knight came out other than his pretty-boy charms and the buzz of his role in Brokeback Mountain, a movie I never watched. I became more intrigued by this man, not so coincidentally, when I heard about his role as The Joker in The Dark Knight and as the details of his death slowly trickled out.
Almost ironically, his role as a demented, tortured, and purposely ugly man hellbent on destroying the psyche of all around him made him most notable to a society that let the affable, incredible, and handsome actor behind the role die silently and with no one to save him before he became a tragedy. Everytime I watch The Dark Knight, I still think about the dichotomy between our culture’s dual isolation and community.
And if it can happen to Heath Ledger, it may certainly happen to any one of us, no matter what we bring to the table.
This year’s even stranger in that now we not only have 24-hour news channels highlighting every ambiguity and angle possible with people who may have had an experience with the recently deceased delivering some off-kilter and semi-unique eulogy to their sibling / friend / acquaintance / former interviewee / co-worker, we also have floods of messages from the Internet controlling our opinions and giving us different dimensions, some warranted, some not-so-much.
Now, celebrity deaths become more than events, but memes ingrained into everyone within a few feet of a keyboard.
It’s to the point where we want to have first dibs on the breaking news of failure and inevitably telling the world how they stuck by that person through their travails, whereas we take our time celebrating successes while people still live. Everyone’s a Michael Jackson fan again this year, whereas before his death, people hid. Everyone’s naming their babies Ted or Edward [Kennedy], but only nodded while his name came up for the last 20+ years. Everyone pontificates on the merits of John Hughes movies, but only caught the ones with commercial interruptions on TV.
Still ruminating over Marche’s article, my thoughts went out to those who currently sit at their deathbeds that matter to us, whether visibly or not, and I thought about how we, as a whole, could remind these folks that they matter before and after they’ve passed on. Thus, when that person passes, the procession of memories don’t pain us as much, and we get to keep those pillars of our lives exalted before our human instinct to knock those individuals down overpowers our rationale. With our impermanence so inevitable, we owe it to ourselves to do so …
Jose, who gives thanks for life daily …