Even if you're not sad about the celebrities who died in 2016 - don't judge those who are

In memoriam: Celebrities who died in 2016IBTimes UK

Although statisticians and cynics will tell you otherwise, there's no doubt 2016 has certainly felt like a bumper one when it comes to celebrity deaths. Whether it's simply that the calibre of losses has been higher, or the unexpectedness of the majority of their passings, we're more plugged in than ever to the idea of grief as headline news.

Celebrity deaths feel at their most brutal at Christmas, and, alongside many others, we have lost two popular culture icons who meant the world to many – singer George Michael including actress and writer Carrie Fisher.

Social media is now the perfect sounding board for our thoughts at all times. It has all but replaced stiff upper lips, crying on a best friend's shoulder or sulking in the bedroom. While the benefit of this can vary – perhaps it would be better if we kept certain, unpleasant feelings to ourselves – we are less repressed, more willing to talk about things that bother us and, crucially, not suffering alone. Eventually, for example, your nearest and dearest are going to tire of hearing about how much you loved David Bowie and can't believe he's gone. Your grief gets in the way, they don't share it and want you to get over it. You could call it wallowing or you could call it working through your problems, but with the internet, there will always be someone who feels just like you. Always. This is why the internet is both the most perfect and the most poisonous place on the planet. But, just like your unsympathetic sister who wishes you'd move on and stop quoting Victoria Wood lines at her, there are pernicious corners of the internet desperate to mock you for it, whether it concerns them or not. Make way for the grief police.

Advertisement

We've seen enough celebrities dying to know how it's going to go. First comes the initial outpouring of sadness or, if it's a particularly divisive figure, shock, or recognition. You'll see quotes, iconic pictures, examples of their work, heartfelt anecdotes and, if they were loved, fury and sadness that they were taken too soon.

This initial reverie and celebration doesn't last long – any regular social media user will tell you there's much more currency in a backlash. It may well begin with the dead person; perhaps they weren't as perfect as the tributes claim, or had a problematic edge that not everybody saw. Usually, though, because it's still not OK to speak ill of the dead, the ire will be directed at those doing the grieving rather than the subject. An army of realists cavilling at the sentimentality of it all. "You didn't even know them!" they'll say. "How long is going to go on for?" "Typical snowflakes crying over their hero when actually they were..." and so on, like a tuneless brass band marching into the middle of a quietly contemplative tea shop and demanding attention.

The idea that we can only feel grief for those we have known personally is nonsense. Grief police use this as an indicator that our common emotional state is becoming even more fragile and incapable of coping with the harsh realities of life. If anything, their resistance proves that the cult of being emotionally distant, and not asking for help when we don't feel OK, still has a strong hold over us.

Fans mourn the death of pop star George MichaelNiklas Halle'n/AFP

Many will point to the death of Princess Diana as the moment the world lost its head and we all became "grief tourists" — once a popular concept — desperate for inclusion in some way and using the death of famous people as a conduit for our own unresolved issues. While the reaction to Diana's death was quite the spectacle, this was nothing new. They lined the streets for Queen Victoria's funeral cortege almost 100 years earlier, after all, and some Elvis fans have never got over their idol's death, 40 years on.

Sharing pictures, music and stories, or meeting up and reminiscing – perhaps at a huge vigil or maybe just a few drinks down the pub – is a perfectly natural way to deal with a part of your life being taken away from you. You will seek comfort in the others who understand you.

Perhaps the animosity toward outpourings of grief for stars comes from a general mistrust of the concept of celebrity, or an annoyance at its perceived vacuousness. "What did they ever do for you?" Even if fame is earned through genuine talent, like Bowie, Prince, Caroline Aherne or one of the many other leading lights who died in 2016, we are very cynical about it; it is seen as less real compared with the idea of family, a loving relationship, or a large circle of friends. But for many people, celebrities can act as all of those things and, in some cases, are a hell of a lot more reliable.

If you are lucky enough not to need celebrities in this way, you are both fortunate and, dare I say, missing out.

Advertisement

Famous people can influence our lives through their work, they can inform our opinions, be the soundtrack to our first kiss, be the crutch we need in times of trouble. Their art, or their very act of simply being, can keep us on an even keel. We can derive comfort from them which we may not find in our own loved ones. If you are lucky enough not to need celebrities in this way, you are both fortunate and, dare I say, missing out. While fandom can be hysterical, toxic and frustrating, it can also enrich you and bring you closer to people you may otherwise never have known.

The grieving and the saccharin tributes may seem distasteful to you, but it doesn't make you any more "woke" to throw a grenade onto the casket and tell the mourners what idiots they are. You are never going to change their minds and they certainly aren't going to change yours, so why try? Who are you helping?

Maybe you're looking for validation too, in the shape of others who are just as frustrated as you by it all. Works both ways, I guess, that's the beauty of it all. But rather than pile in and try to score points, why not leave the mourners to it and go about your day? Stuff on the internet is easier to ignore than you'd think – any snowflake can tell you that.

We all deal with loss in our own way and your time will come. No matter how privately or publicly you choose to express your grief when your idol passes away, let's hope there's someone who understands, whether they're right next to you or an avatar on the screen. You'll need them.


The Guyliner is a writer from London who talks about dating, relationships, LGBT issues and popular culture. He writes regular columns for Gay Times and GQ. Follow : @theguyliner


© Copyright 2017 IBTimes Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.