A Dangerous Business

It’s getting hard to avoid the near-constant ticker of celebrity death news gushing redly from the jugular of the internet. Jackson-Fawcett day was the worst so far, but while the parade has slowed, it nevers stops. I was wondering what’s going on with this, and a couple of trends popped up in my mind.

The most obvious to me is that there are so many celebrity deaths now because we have so many celebrities – their fame is so fleeting that there are more than ever before. You can be famous for managing someone famous, for being on a reality show, for landing a jetliner in a river. You can be famous for winning or losing at politics, for being rich and skanky, or for being on TV for any period over 5 minutes. The TV networks’ endless thirst for new content to shovel at us has led to this death march of low-grade micro-celebs into the maw of our popular culture, with every giggle, tweet, comment and fart offered up as relevant and entertaining.

I’m not saying that pop culture is new, by any means. But it is a young person’s game, and I’d suggest it’s taken this long for the bloated corps of pop culture talent, first formed in the 50s and ballooned grotesquely in the 60s and beyond, to begin to age and die off. We’ve spent 40 years feting youthful product as a kind of nouveau nobility, and now the first few waves have withered, brown leaves fluttering out of the consciousness of the corporations who crowbarred them into our lives.

As a related issue, I think more and more deaths are saturating our cultural consciousness simply because these same content creators need more and more content to flog. Death sells, even if it’s the death of entities like Billy Mays or the Taco Bell chihuahua, passings that would have gone un-noted and only privately mourned twenty years ago. Nowadays a culture conscript serves from the moment he is noticed and dragged into the spotlight until the day his passing can be packaged and sold, if not beyond. God dammit, there are 500 channels to fill.

Or maybe I’m being self-centered in thinking this is some sort of universal phenomenon, this apparent acceleration of celebrity mortality. Maybe I’m just noticing more; maybe the people who are dying off are the ones I grew up with instead of strangers from my parents’ lives. Maybe I’m just more cognizant of death generally. Maybe my parents began to feel the same way around this age, once the stars of their favorite kids’s shows were all gone.

It will only accelerate. Soon a celebrity, a real one that you remember, will die every day. Then every hour. One day, which I hope to not see, a babbling mutlitude of talking heads will offer up a constant stream of potential vicarious bereavements, their regretful voices like rain on a tin roof, so constant and insistent that it becomes no sound at all.


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