Prince has passed away. He was not a hero of mine, far too much Narcissus and childish (young soul) play on sex, and when the movie Purple Rain came, I was angry; he had sold out.
David Bowie passed away recently too. I respected him much more as artist and musician. In contrast to Prince he had managed to paint himself into an interesting corner where people always expect you to renew — yourself, your music, most everything. While Prince could “do his thing”, Bowie was somehow expected not to have “a thing”.
Anyway, both Bowie and Prince are dead, and now the vultures are gathering overhead (especially for Prince now). But it should be underhead.
When celebrities such as these pass away the press need not worry about not having anything to write about. Squeeze every last drop from the celebrity death, unearth all possible trivia, revel in (possibly correct) conspiration theories, etc. In other words, leave no stone unturned, be it sensational or mundane.
As the Swedish saying goes: Den enes död, den andres bröd (One man’s loss is another man’s gain, or literally, The death of one is the bread of the other).
But not only mass media are tasteless. We the readers can be that too.
The mechanism seems a bit complex. First, we have to consider that there is something called “celebrity” in our modern world. This was not always the case. We had family, friends, perhaps enemies, and then people we knew about but probably never met. And never ever saw in TV interviews. We certainly did not own these strangers.
Of course there was gossip in the olden world, but it concerned people we knew, who lived close to us.
Very much changed with mass media. Total strangers, beautiful, fascinating strangers (perhaps not so beautiful up close, but we never got so close to them) somehow entered our lives, through the windows of newspapers, magazines, radio and television.
Not only did they come close, we established a relationship with them. We became their fans and stalkers. We joined fan clubs and soon the celebrities felt that they owed us. Certainly their freedom was circumscribed.
If you do this or that move, said their agent or promoter, the fans will be angry. Do not irritate them; they hate with the same fervour as they love. What you own you have a right to both love and hate, right?
And when the celebrity dies it almost feels like a family member has passed away. Which of course he wasn´t. Rather a weird kind of pseudostranger, pseudofriend, something that didn´t exist 1-200 years ago.
Another facet of the picture is sentimentality. Many of us are sentimental and our sentimentality is always looking for chances to manifest. The death of an idol or hero is an excellent opportunity. So we revel in tributes, write lists of our favorite Prince songs, post links and R.I.P.-s on Facebook, wallow in Prince trivia. It is almost as if we had a great time at a funeral party.
I ask myself is I am too stern and stingy here. Maybe, maybe not. Somebody said “Do not love your enemies, treat our friends a little better”. This is something worth pondering.
Are maybe these celebrities, these pseudostrangers / pseudofriends getting attention, love and interest that our friends better deserve, and need?
There´s an almost promiscuous gossipy quality about these tributes and eulogies.
But then, massmedia has never believed in minding our own friends, our own business. Quite the opposite. Just stick your nose into all kinds of things that do not concern your own life. It will make you more cultured and broadminded (ha!) — and us much richer (that I believe).