Monday, March 03, 2014

I Hate to Break It to You

I can't remember the last time I heard about a celebrity's death on the news. Michael Jackson, Brittany Murphy, Philip Seymour Hoffman... I learned about every one of those deaths on either Twitter or Facebook.

So when I noticed on CNN's Breaking News page that writer/director/actor Harold Ramis died, my first thought was, "Bet this is already all over social media." I clicked over and guess what?

It wasn't.

I considered posting it myself, but instead I stopped to think about why I would do that. Why anyone would do that. It all goes back to why we gossip...which I've written a little something about. ------->

We want to be the one who knows things. It makes us feel important. I was exposed to that feeling when I was in college, studying to be a TV reporter. News of Operation Desert Storm broke [video] and I thought, "How exciting to be present when history is happening."

But it goes deeper than that. We like to pretend we want to pay tribute to deceased people we barely know--to honor them because they touched our lives somehow. Cartoonist Ash Vickers even designed this tribute, which immediately began circulating on Twitter:


We can't wait to share the news online. Why? Because it makes us feel like we're part of the event. It connects us to other human beings in a very basic way. Yet if someone told us we had to break the news of someone's death to his family members, it would be the last thing in the world we'd want to do. Interesting how that works.

Social media just gives us a new outlet for our gossip. It's the online version of, "Did you hear?" around the water cooler. Speaking as one of the 13.4 million Americans who work from home and therefore no longer have access to a water cooler, we get gossip where we can. And these days, that gossip is on social media.

So the next time a celebrity dies and social media blows up over it, ask yourself--why is everyone so eager to add to the "RIP" posts once someone dies? Is it really to honor the deceased?

Or are there other, slightly more selfish reasons?

24 comments:

  1. Good points, Stephanie. I think we (including me) do it for selfish reasons, but that's not necessarily wrong. I posted about a few celebrity's deaths over the years (Whitney Houston, Russell Johnson - Professor from Gilligan's Island...) because I felt sad/nostalgic and the social media is a great venue for "Me too-ing." I think it amounts to offering a tribute, though a non-explicit one.

    Be well,
    xoRobyn

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think people want to be part of things...but a lot of it is just "look at me." I'm trying to refrain! However, when I see someone else post about a death, I definitely will comment on it--I just won't be "that person" who forwards it around. Sometimes these death announcements have been wrong, after all!

    ReplyDelete
  3. There are so many death hoaxes these days that I check several news sources to make sure it's real. I don't post RIP tweets unless I genuinely enjoyed the work of the dead person, I think some people do think it's expected for us all to have a bottomless pool of compassion for all, but the sad fact is if we cared about every sad thing in life we'd surely go insane.

    You have to care selectively.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yep, I think you'r right. I try to refrain as well. Probably one of the reasons I don't post much on FB or twitter. How much can there really be to say?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Just me Leah--So true! I find myself clicking through when someone posts a heartbreaking story but I, too, have learned to spot the real from the fake. I was surprised when I shared a post about a missing child and found out it was fake. Who posts fake messages about missing children? There should be a limit!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Ruth--I think I live in constant paranoia of becoming "that person" who Tweets or Facebooks too much! Nobody wants to read constant posts from someone... "Just finished breakfast." "So bored." "Watching TV now." That sort of thing! But I'd say most of us aren't active enough on social media. The worst feeling is when you post something insightful and not a single person comments!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Good point. But look at it this way...it would be worse to die and NO one mention it. A tribute, for whatever reason, is an honor. Next time you be first to tweet that...without any guilt. :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. BTW...I'm about to cook breakfast...thought you might want to know ;)

    ReplyDelete
  9. I have never done an RIP post. The celebrity death that was most memorable to me was Natalie Wood's. I'd still like to know what happened there. I thought she was such a neat actress.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I do think that social media is the new 'water cooler'. I know that as humans, we need to be able to interact and share with others. It's an essential part of our society. some people do take it too far and love to be the center of attention. But those kinds of people will find a way to do that with or without the internet.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hi, Stephanie,
    I don't say much, if anything at all in these cases, 'cause when people die, I never know what to say.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I heard plenty about his death, first on my Yahoo home page.

    I queued "Club Paradise," one of the movies he directed. It's on a "very long wait," which seems to happen whenever someone dies. Same is true for "Capote," with Philip Seymour Hoffman. I've had that one queued for some time now, long before he died.

    ReplyDelete
  13. @Elizabeth--YUM! I'm coming over!

    @Lisa--When I went to Hollywood, one of the only pics I got over in front of the Chinese theater was with Natalie Wood's handprints. It was my cover photo on Facebook forever. I have always been fascinated by her. My mom had a bio on her when I was a teen and I read it when I was bored one summer... I still think she is one of the most beautiful women ever! So sad...

    ReplyDelete
  14. @S.P.--It is fascinating to see how people react when someone dies. For many, they simply want that shared experience, but some people take the opportunity to get attention for themselves.

    @J.L.--You and me both! Everyone says, "Prayers for the family" or some variation, so by the time I get there, I feel like I'm just repeating what everyone else said!

    ReplyDelete
  15. @Jamie--Isn't that funny? You'll also notice cable channels marathon all their movies. I saw a Ghostbusters marathon last weekend. And they've been showing Stripes like it's "A Christmas Story" on Christmas Day!

    ReplyDelete
  16. According to me i am not interested to know about things. Whatever work is given to me i will do. I have got many scolding for this since i have know general knowledge. They tell me to improve and i am trying for it.

    ReplyDelete
  17. It was all over my Facebook page when Harold Ramis passed away, because he was from Chicago. It was very touching when non-celebrities wrote about what a kind and thoughtful man he was. He even spoke at the local high school. Harold Ramis was a comic genius, and a good man who will truly be missed.

    Julie

    ReplyDelete
  18. @Empty Nest Insider--There were definitely some touching tributes, including that photo that I included. Someone took some major time with that! I do think it's unfortunate all of this couldn't have unfolded before he died, though. He would have probably loved to see how many lives he touched.

    ReplyDelete
  19. You're right - we do share for selfish reasons. But I'm with some other posters; I don't think that always is a bad thing. The "look at me!!" reason is bad, of course, but often we do just want to reach out about something, and connect online. When Phillip Seymour Hoffman died, I was genuinely grieved - as much as possible for someone who didn't know him intimately, of course. My first instinct was to break the news to my best friend, who I knew would feel the same. Not because I wanted to be the one to tell her, but because I wanted to talk about it. Sometimes, we just need to talk - and social media is a new way to have that conversation.

    ReplyDelete
  20. That is definitely true, Liz. I think there are a variety of reasons for the way people react when someone dies in general. Even going to the visitation/funeral is part of that. People need to heal, and discussing with others is how they do that.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Twitter is changing how we get our news. It is so immediate and I do share if I think I'm actually breaking something unknown to most people. Usually, I'm the last to know and there's no point. Sigh.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Oh, Renee, I remember so well when the news of Michael Jackson's death appeared on CNN. I plopped the news item right on Facebook, thinking I was back in my TV reporter days where I could actually inform people of things they didn't know, and as soon as I hit post I saw the 7,000 other posts about the exact same thing!

    ReplyDelete
  23. I have to agree with you. I think we got a little out of hand with social media.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I didn't even hear about his death until just now, reading your blog! In fact, I'm so far behind on current events that I'm usually the last to know about celebrity deaths. It isn't that I don't care or don't want the knowledge, it's just that I'm so caught up in my own life that I forget to check in with what the rest of the world is doing.
    So wow, sad to see him go and it sucks I found out so late!
    But you're right about sharing celebrity deaths as opposed to family deaths. No one wants to be the bearer of such personal bad news.

    ReplyDelete