Mark Thompson

When a celebrity dies, we talk about ourselves

This morning, we lost the frontman of the Prodigy and the hottest man in 90210. However, with celebrity death comes our social media farewells. Disappointingly, we’re discussing the wrong issue.

 

 

This morning, we were jolted by the sudden passing of two of the nineties’ greatest icons, Prodigy frontman Keith Flint and 90210’s premier babe, Luke Perry. Death in the collective eye is puzzling, as the immediate departure of celebrity enables the immediate departure of our senses. In mornings such as these, there are but two primary commandments one must follow: blame the year we find ourselves in – and make it all entirely about you.

Of course, one cannot speak of noted celebrity death without speaking about the year of noted celebrity death, 2016. It was the year that blah blah blah, we all remember it. It was when everybody good died, and it was a good year for death. But, it was also a superb year for the traction of our social media posts that heralded their passing. Our grief was unique, completely different from the experience everyone else had with artists solely through their art. It was 2016, the best/worst of times.

This morning, I took a wander down the lily-covered boulevards of internet angst, noting the scribbled messages of woe. One mourner wrote, “my teenage years died wen (sic) Prodigy and Luke Perry” passed, earnest woe fired by a woman of three children and a relationship status of unspoken complication.

I don’t want to out anyone in particular here, as we’re mourning, but this tweet is exactly what I’m talking about:

 

 

I’m sorry for your loss, Zak. None of us could possibly understand it.

Today, if you’re brave enough, climb Twitter’s wall, and you’ll freely cut your hands on a unison chorus of the same. It’s seldom about the person gone, its all the first-hand account of how you felt that time you listened to a record, or sat down in front of a television set. I get it, those two passing also made us feel old. We long for a time since elapsed. Their mortality reminds us of our own. All of that is normal. What we miss in these moments, however, is the opportunity to illuminate something that isn’t ourselves. As death is the great equaliser, the circumstances that fell genius, do the same for us. It probably behoves us to speak about that, not about something as arbitrary as the teenage versions of us doing ecstasy (back when it was good) or wanting to fuck Luke Perry.

In the case of Keith Flint, his sudden death comes not with a lesson, but with an opportunity to learn. Mental health is something that lives with us, and many of us are chased around familiar corners by a snarling black dog of our own creation. Yet, the collective discussion about it when it claims a name we know is an official copy-and-paste legal footnote at the base of an article or an endlessly recycled meme that cobbles together happy dead faces that unequivocally states “this is what depression looks like”.

Each year we honour the passing of Robin Williams with renewed disbelief. We remember his movies and gloss over his end, shouting down those who have the gall to share an image of him in his final days, or discuss anything other than how sad it is, and how great he was. We cast those off as being disrespectful, or bump them down the comment chain with an inspirational/prophetic quote on his superimposed over his face. Each year, we miss the opportunity to understand him, we choose to rewatch his movies. We’re no closer to an open discussion of mental health, or suicide, we just reapplying last year’s woe.

However should we not use the fame they’ve built to magnify the reason for their death? It bristles, sure. Piggybacking the airwaves of Adrian Cronauer to give a lecture about depression seems a bit off. I get it. It is difficult to understand something we don’t – but we should certainly try to approach understanding. If you care about these people and what they created, you should endeavour to understand. Discussing their end doesn’t marginalise their legacy, or the moments they’ve enabled in you, it should bring them closer, humanising someone we never actually knew.

In prodigal Keith’s case, the lesson is important, and has great value, in that no matter how far you climb in life, unresolved/unchecked mental health is always (and forever will be) a danger to those who possess it. Keith Flint was not a man of infinite energy, wild hair and pyromaniac intentions, he was a real person with real problems. He’s us, and he’s absolutely someone we know. If you couldn’t think of anyone, perhaps that should be your focus today, instead of that social media epitaph. Breathe the pressure.

 

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