It’s not going to stop

I hate to be the one to say it, but it’s really not.

2016 – “the year that killed so many celebrities” is going to stop. I think we can all be assured of that.
But the whole celebrity death thing? No. Of course not. It’s not like the Grim Reaper takes any note of the arbitrarily imposed boundaries that some of us humans use to measure and delineate time.

It’s been a bad year for celebrity death (or, I guess, a very good one, depending on your frame of reference) for two reasons. The first was explained in April. Namely, that as the notion of “celebrity” became popular, so more people became “celebrities” and there became a larger, now increasingly-aging pool to be knocked off by the bloke with the scythe. The second is down to our good old (but still very much alive) friend, Confirmation Bias:

the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories

That is, that once someone remarked on the extraordinarily high number of celebrities joining the choir invisible in 2016, suddenly every clog popping incident – even that of a pseudocelebrity – seemed to be added to the ever-growing list of high profile coffin inhabitors.

And the first celeb death in 2017, be it at 12:01 on New Years Day or (if we’re super lucky and get through to) quarter past three in the afternoon on the 6th or something is going to ignite the social media grief athletes once again and the process will half-continue, half-begin again.

“I thought we were past this. I thought we’d left it behind!” they will wail.
“OMG! It looks like 2017 is going to be just like another 2016” will be proclaimed.

And the Proclaimers (soon!) will be right, for exactly those reasons I gave above. And then there will be more of this sort of thing.

Death doesn’t care about the tickover from 2016 to 2017, even of the passage of one month to the next. Our pathetically needy society means that we have ever more celebrities, ever older celebrities, and – come 2017 – we’ll have ever more dead celebrities too.

I’m sorry that I had to be the one to break it to you.

More on celebrity death

OK, first off, before we begin, I didn’t write this.
Well, I mean, I wrote this, but I didn’t write the thing that I’m sharing.
So don’t shoot the messenger.

Also, just because I’m sharing this, it doesn’t necessarily follow that I’m talking about you. There are plenty of thoughtful pieces out there (you know who you are) which perfectly describe the writer’s feelings about <celebrity> dying without resorting to hyperbole and the exhibition of apparent Munchausen syndrome.
So don’t shoot the messenger.

Those disclaimers aside though, I did enjoy this piece by Alex Proud in the Telegraph.
Oh, I enjoyed it so much.

On Thursday, Twitter, Facebook and various other social networks echoed with the wails of Prince fans who had come together to publicly grieve the Purple One.

In much the same fashion as the reaction to the death of Victoria Wood barely 24 hours earlier, the sites were soon overrun with comments such as “Can’t stop crying, feel so empty. RIP.”

Inevitably, we then had the immediate backlash, where people pointed out that if you are, say, a 45-year-old Surrey-based facilities manager with two children, who had never actually met Prince, mild sadness might be a more appropriate response than utter devastation.

Then we had the backlash to the backlash, where the mourners attacked those who questioned their heartfelt grief. And so on, like ever-decreasing ripples bouncing off the sides of a pool into which a dead celebrity has been dropped.

But ok. I’d argue that it’s not for me (or Alex, or anyone else) to tell people how they must react to the death of these public figures. Perhaps it’s the instant nature social media, and its enforced brevity that concentrates emotions and the perception of emotions. Add to that the narcissism and the egocentric nature of the platforms, throw in the faux-bravado of the anonymous commenter and the general lack of respect that individuals display for one another these days and you’ve got a recipe for the perfect storm, precipitated by the latest celebrity death.

People are over-emoting everywhere.

So you’ve got those “over-reacting” to the news, and you’ve got those “over-reacting” to those who were “over-reacting”. Because:

If your opinion (and the opinions of those like you) have come to dominate the media and the public discourse, then, surely, others are allowed to find this overwrought and tiresome.

Were these people always around? Was it just that we never saw or heard them?
Or is an entirely new phenomenon that has been spawned by social media?

Either way, we’re going to be seeing more of it, and that’s not good news:

Now, God only knows where it’s going to end. We’ve got an awful lot of pensionable celebrities these days and they’re all going to die at some point. Also, how far down the food chain we can take this? If I’m devastated when Kinga from Big Brother shuffles off this mortal coil, is my social grief any more or less valid than the utter emptiness you felt when Bowie died?

Alex Proud takes few prisoners and that column is worth a read.

UPDATE: As is this wonderful Michael Legge post, via Jacques. Thank you.

On celebrity death rates

I posed the question last night on twitter:

Have more celebrities died in 2016 than in other years or are we just more aware because of a couple of deaths early in the year?

David Bowie and Alan Rickman being those two early ones I was thinking of.
No-one answered. Perhaps that was because no-one was sure of the answer. It’s a very difficult thing to measure. The term “celebrity” is hard enough to define, before you even start to look at clog-poppage rates.

But I wasn’t alone in asking. The BBC website featured the same question this morning. And they have come up with an answer of sorts.

Fullscreen capture 2016-04-22 021617 PM.bmp

And that doesn’t take into account Victoria Wood or Prince who were April deaths. So yes, it would appear that so far, 2016 has been a bad year for celebrity deaths. Which bring us to the obvious next question: why?

The BBC’s obituary editor Nick Serpell has got that covered too:

One factor that may play into the impression that more celebrities are dying is that we have heard of more celebrities than before.


People who started becoming famous in the 1960s are now entering their 70s and are starting to die. There are also more famous people than there used to be.
In my father or grandfather’s generation, the only famous people really were from cinema – there was no television. Then, if anybody wasn’t on TV, they weren’t famous.

So, more celebrities, and more older celebrities. Add to that the social media phenomenon, meaning that no celebrities death has a chance of passing unnoticed, and you have the perfect recipe for huge awareness of vast numbers of celebrity deaths. Thus, there have been more celebrity deaths, but arguably, not a disproportionate number of celebrities dying, given that there are just so many more of them around to die.
And, if the BBC guys are right (and I have to say that their logic seems sound) then this trend of increasing celebrity death will continue.

So yes, 2016 has been an utter bastard thus far, possibly taking several (or more) of our favourite actors, singers, comedians and personalities, but sadly, it seems that it’s something we’re just going to have to get used to.