Thursday, March 19, 2009

Celebrity focus

This afternoon, I got an email update from the Chicago Tribune saying that Natasha Richardson had died. I thought it was sad, especially for her family but, to be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan so it didn’t affect me personally. Online, I saw a comment from someone declaring an inability to feel sad, then asking why we should care more about a celebrity dying than an ordinary person.

At the time, it struck me as a bit grumpy, even mean-spirited—although I realised it was unlikely any of the grieving relatives would see the message. Still, the question is understandable in one way: Celebrities are people we don’t personally know, probably never will meet, and yet many of us seemingly care more about what happens to them than the people next door—perhaps more even than we care about some relatives. Why?

I think part of the reason for that is the constant media exposure. We see these famous people over and over and through that we tend to think that we sort of know them. This is especially true of actors and performers, it seems.

I think there’s something else, too: Our humanity. In a case like this, we see a vibrant woman, seemingly happy, with children who still need her, cut down in what seems such a freakish and arbitrary way. We can feel for her family, we can imagine how we’d feel in a situation like this. All of which is understandable and a good thing.

It seems to me that maybe there’s one aspect further: Our modern society is disconnected and detached, and we often have little or no connection to the people who live geographically closest to us. The “village” is long gone. This isn’t news, of course, but maybe the focus on the passing of a well-known person, especially in tragic circumstances, is a way for us to reinforce our shared humanity through sharing the experience.

There are a lot of theories why us ordinary people are so fascinated by celebrities. I’m sure some academic somewhere has a far better explanation for this than I have, but this is what occurred to me after I read the comments of one Internet user. I don’t care, I still think the whole thing is sad.


Mark from Slap said...

I, too, feel sad, but I had never really heard of this woman before yesterday, so I'm not sure if it was due to constant media exposure. I think it's just natural to connect with and feel bad for someone else's loss.

Obviously the story is getting a lot of attention here in Montréal, since the accident was nearby.

A strange twist to the online article comments here are the number of people from abroad who are using this story to attack or blame the Canadian health care system. Unbelievable.

Roger Owen Green said...

I saw her in Nell, but I knew her mother (Vamessa Redgrave), her husband (Liam Neeson) and even her sister (Joely) better. No, for me, it was because she was 45, hit her head and died. Freaky.

Nik said...

Good thoughts, I agree -- seeing famous people makes them seem real to us and we identify in a way we don't always when something awful happens to an anonymous joe. Is it right? No, but neither is it wrong. It is a sad thing and it seems quite curmudgeonly to be too cynical about our reaction to it - as you say, it proves we're human if we have a bit of compassion over this, rather than storming about because she's famous and overhyped and dead.

RGGAH said...

I think celebrities embody what we oftentimes find lacking in our own lives: wealth, beauty, talent, and power. For some reason most people, myself included, obsess over what we desire within ourselves. The information overload brought about by the Internet has just added even more fuel to the fire for our celebrity-crazed culture.

Jason in DC said...

I think celebrity has something to do with the coverage and reaction.

But I also think a large part has to do with the way she died. After all, it was just a "simple" fall on the beginners hill. How could that possibly cause someone to die?

It reminds us how quickly anyone can go. Even a celebrity.

Arthur Schenck said...

Great comments and observations, everyone! I'm fascinated by people's fascination with celebrities, even when I don't share it (or when I do, too, I suppose).

In this case, I think my own reaction is mostly about the freakishness of the way she died. This kind of thing also does remind us how temporary and uncertain life is. If only we could remember that lesson and live a little more in the moment, I think that would be a good thing.

Roger Owen Green said...

Still thinkin' about Natasha - http://rogerowengreen.blogspot.com/2009/03/march-ramblin.html

Arthur Schenck said...

I read it and totally agreed with you.