Why do we cry when a celebrity dies? Ever since Heath Ledger died on January 22, 2008, millions of fans have shed tears for the man. People have compiled their own tribute video clips and posted them on YouTube. The day the tragedy happened, MySpace bulletin was flooded with postings from friends telling their friends that Heath was gone. I admit, I was one of them and I wouldn’t have found out if screener Sam from East Coast hadn’t told me about it. I looked around and saw some of my colleagues shocked by the info like it had completely ruined their day.
I’m not a psychologist or a professional analyst, just a movie blogger. It’s more fun sometimes to come up with questions than to solve a problem. I’m sure thousands of journals have been written on finding out the effects that popular culture have on society but once again, I’m not trying to publish a book, just a curious movie blogger out to ask some questions — and that’s exactly what I did.
Once again, I asked “What’s the Fascination?” or “Why Do We Cry Over a Celebrity’s Death?” We don’t know them. Most of us may not even meet them in our lifetime and yet somehow we have this connection with celebrities, especially those we deem as ‘good’ for instance, like Steve Irwin, Princess Diana and, of course, Heath. I don’t remember the same response was given when Anne Nicole Smith or Brad Renfro died.
How would we react if it were party girls Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan who were found dead lying on the floor with pills all around? Do their frequent appearance on the big screen or public eye matter in our decision to to feel sad for them? Do their personalities in real life (as seen through the eyes of the media) determine whether we need to support them or despise them?
I posted a forum on this topic on Rama’s SCREEN and readers/screeners left interesting comments:
- Screener DJ Mel, for example, said that she felt sad because she won’t get to see Heath’s brilliant performance on the screen anymore.
- Screener Teena brought up a good point that his death was too soon, which adds to the sadness of it all because he had so much to live for as opposed to those who’ve died after a long full life.
- Screener Marcus put deep, profound thought into this by saying that celebrities play with our emotion on the screen, we, the fans, make and break celebs. We give all this genuine passion to these famous human beings and what we see is what we want to believe.
- According to Screener Eli, celebs are the embodiments of fans’ aspirations, dreams and fantasies. It’s the same reason why we have posters of our heroes on our walls. They represent something that we hope to be. The fact that Heath died at his prime, when he was on top of his game, made his death all the more tragic.
- Screener Nick reminded us that the media has had a lot to do with making Heath seemed like he could be our closest friend. He also added that Heath was on the way of becoming someone big and we’ll never see it happen now.
- Screener Branden pointed us to the one-sided relationship we have with our favorite celebs, the kind of relationship that often motivates us to come up to them and bother them because we feel like we’re comfortable enough to do so.
- Screeners Melissa and Andrea explained the good ol’ concept of familiar face. When we see someone frequently, we’d feel more loss when that person is gone as opposed to another stranger who’s also gone but we rarely saw that person when he or she was alive.
- What about those fans who wished another celebrity had died instead of Heath? A harsh comment came in from screener Angela saying that that kind of thinking is complete favoritism, plus we should never wish a death on anyone. I agree, though it’s difficult to think the same about terrorists and murderers turned into celebrities by the media, screener Ivan felt the same way.
- Screeners Jovie and Katie from YSN said that this tragedy reminded us of how vulnerable we are and because of the life that celebrities choose to live, which is in the public eye, their death will go down the same road as well. Katie’s comment especially ended with a kind hope and prayer that Heath’s family would be all right.
- It’s plain to see that screener Yarita is a big fan of Heath. From her comment, I could tell that she felt the loss. Screener Ronald, on the other hand, said (and I quote), “Heath Died… who the hell cares?!”
(You can read all the comments on Rama’s SCREEN)
We like the idea of celebrity. We want to have someone better than us who we can look up to. I think it also comes with the old mindset that being successful means being rich and famous. At the same time we wish that in person, they could be the same roles we see on the screen, the ones we can characterize ourselves with, so much so that when we find a slight of imperfection, we try our best to justify their action and defend them against any criticism.
To some of us, overexposure of celebrities by the media can drive us crazy. Whenever we turn on the TV, we hear the same old stuff everyday instead of what really matters in this world. But there’s still something irresistible about it because in a twisted, weird kind of way, we like watching celebrities fall from grace.
In Heath’s case, I think his role in Brokeback Mountain as the gay cowboy who find it difficult to be open about his sexuality in a world that looks down on such a thing makes audiences everywhere sympathize for Heath… they can’t even separate the character from the actor anymore.
Who knows… maybe if Lindsay Lohan gets her act together and does an Oscar worth performance for once in her life, maybe she will be seen differently and her death will be felt as a tragic loss instead of another story in the obituary section.
Any death, celebrity or not celebrity, is a terrible thing. Death in general is horrible. We the fans would like to think that our favorite celebrities leave a mark in our hearts long after they die. It’s the driving reason why John Lennon and Elvis fans still commemorate their deaths every year. Maybe some of us need to cry over celebrity’s death because maybe it’s the only way to express the grief over losing someone who’s meant so much even if it’s only through TV or the movies. Dwelling in it may not be such a good idea because like it or not, in the words of Jack Nicholson from the movie The Bucket List, “We live, we die, and the wheels on the bus go round and round.”
YSN member and movie aficionado Rama Tampubolon runs the movie review and discussion blog, Rama’s Screen, and was featured in “United 300,” which won for “Best Spoof” at the 2007 MTV Movie Awards. He’ll discuss the latest hot topics and movie reviews every Thursday on Waste Time Wisely.