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The Ungrateful Dead and the Judgmental Living: Why Celebrity Deaths Bring Out the Worst In Us

By Courtney Enlow | Celebrity | July 26, 2011 |

By Courtney Enlow | Celebrity | July 26, 2011 |

When someone of note dies, everyone has an opinion. Be it an actress post-mortally deified despite a mediocre career, a writer vilified as an overpraised hack after leaving the mortal coil, or a joke of a model/actress made a tragic angel when her light finally went out, each of us has a distinct reaction and perspective.

And those reactions and perspectives litter comment threads the internet over each and every time, exhaustively degrading into belittling pissing matches.

The death of a famous individual garners a great deal of attention. At times, that attention is frankly unearned, a rose-colored glass panel over a life perhaps less exceptional than we decide it was after the fact. On rarer occasions, and often due to those sunny reactions of the former, we turn on them the second they’re gone.

However we choose to remember these people, there is someone out there with the opposing view. And because it’s the internet, you’re going to hear it.

To some, Winehouse was a fuck-up who never took the help so accessible to someone of her stature. Others wished and prayed for a day she’d somehow find her way to the other side. To me, what makes the death of Amy Winehouse so tragic is this: she was never going to be okay. Her life and death showed that, for some, the sickness won’t get better. It never can. There is only succumb. For some, it’s a birthright, for others, an acquisition, but there are those for whom there can be only one way for the story to end. That’s what aches about this girl, and all like her. It’s not that Amy Winehouse didn’t get help, it’s that help was never going to come for Amy Winehouse. From the moment she achieved both spectacular fame and the deadliest drugs, I believe within the same six month period or so, this was it. This was always going to be it.

So, why shouldn’t we grieve? Why shouldn’t we be saddened, or at least mildly melancholied? Why should those who experience feelings of any kind be judged as foolish and vapid for caring about the life of a human being who in some way mattered to them, just because that person happened to be a celebrity?

What is it about not caring that a celebrity has passed that makes people feel so goddamn superior? The deaths in Oslo were an absolutely appalling tragedy, but there is room to feel different kinds of sad about both, and taking to Twitter to share that caring about one of those things makes you insipid and wrong and the other makes you smart and correct is just shitty. Perhaps the death of one doesn’t matter to you, but don’t use the deaths of many as a badge of special acumen for yourself. Those who died in the most tragic and horrifying way possible deserve better than to make you feel good about yourself by denigrating someone else.

An excellent point was brought up in the comments for yesterday’s Pajiba Love, the post that obviously inspired this. Ms. Anna von Beav made mention that, for a number of people, junkies are not people. And that’s absolutely true. I’m not sure if it’s just simple ignorance, or, to the other extreme, that addiction has touched their lives and they have been stripped of sympathy for those who can’t overcome. And I’m not going to get on my white stallion and tell them they’re wrong, because I’ve been on all ends of the spectrum myself. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Mine is that addiction is a complicated and, at times, impossible thing. It is not as easy as “getting help” or “going to rehab.” It can be, but it usually isn’t. Those who hit rock bottom and found their way back should be lauded for doing so. Those who never could and never did deserve some semblance of human kindness, the likes of which they were never able to achieve toward themselves.

This is not about respect for the dead. We spent that nickel last time. This is about looking inward. After a full year at Pajiba, I still get shit about caring about celebrities in the slightest, even in jest. And, in all honesty, I don’t care about most of them. I have little to no time for the Snookis and Kardashians and Lohans of the world (and I fully expect comments asking why Lohan is different from Winehouse, and I’ve said it before: she’s not an addict; she’s an irresponsible, entitled asshole. There really is a difference). But, like Heath Ledger, when a talented person whose work we enjoy leaves this world, never again to entertain us, and perhaps sent there because of the demons acquired while entertaining us, we’re allowed to be bothered by it. We’re allowed to mourn, as silly as some find it. And if you don’t, that’s fine. But must we fight about it every single time? Hasn’t it gotten old yet? Does anyone win?

That’s enough for now. We’ll pick up exactly where we left off next time this happens.

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