October 2, 2012 by McDowski
Michael Clarke Duncan died nearly a month ago, and a lot of people tweeted about it. Posted condolences and “RIP” messages on their Facebook (because why wouldn’t Duncan’s family stumble across posts on random people’s Facebook profile, right?) and all in all made a fuss of pretending that they gave a shit. I can’t help but wonder… Why?
Now before I come off as heartless, let me clarify. It’s not the act of displaying care for someone’s demise that I have a problem with. It’s the fact that the majority of people who post such things do not, in fact, really care. We saw the same phenomenon with Amy Winehouse in July of last year. A lot of the people who confess sadness and proclaim the event a tragedy never really cared about the person when they were alive. So why start now?
I can understand feeling sadness over a death, even if it wasn’t someone you personally knew that well. I felt sadness when one of my best friends’ father passed away a few years ago because… well, he is one of my best friends. I felt sadness when Steve Jobs died last year, because he was someone who was an influential visionary. Love him or hate him, it could not be denied that he was a man who had a presence, and was a force to be reckoned with in the world of business and technology. If, say, Jack White were to drop dead tomorrow, I would feel sadness over that, too, because I love his music and consider him to be the last remaining rock star in the industry today.
But Amy Winehouse? Sorry if this sounds crude, but I hardly batted an eyelid when I learned of her demise. I can empathise with her family, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t affect me personally. Because I was not a fan of hers, and sure as hell didn’t know her personally. Same for Michael Clarke Duncan. As far as I was concerned, a person died that day. But then, plenty of people die every day, around the world, and I am not expected to shed a tear for them. If I tell you a person died of starvation somewhere in Uganda, you would say, “Aww, that’s too bad,” and then move on. So why is it expected of us when a quasi-celebrity dies?
Shocking admission: I do not have the definitive answer to that. But I do have a two-part theory. The first part is to do with our interest in other people’s lives, which I consider a form of voyeurism. This is exemplified on a celebrity level by the never-ending interest in gossip news and paparazzi photos of naked Princesses. It even exists on a personal level. How often have you seen a friend or coworker spend hours scouring through every post, photo and status update of people on Facebook? How often have you, yourself, done so? We are endlessly fascinated by the goings on of people that are not us. Our lives are boring and mundane, so maybe someone else is up to something better? And looking at clippings, photos, videos, etc. of someone who has just died? The one final act of voyeurism this person will be subjected to.
The second part of my theory – inclusion. I think people have the need to feel included, to feel that they are not left out, to feel that they are a part of something. I think this carries over to such situations. I think, maybe, that some people have a subconscious desire to be a part of the conversation. A famous person dying isn’t just news, it is an event. And it just doesn’t feel right if we are not part of the event, even if in some insignificant, end-user sort of way. I also feel that this is the reason why people still continue to queue for hours – or even days – leading up to a new iPhone launch. (It sure as hell isn’t for any rational or logical reason.)
But that is just one man’s opinion, of course. An exceedingly bright and philosophical man, true, and one who is right more often than just about anyone. But just one man, nonetheless.