michael_jacksonSo apparently, a bunch of famous people died last week. We started off with the passing of Ed McMahon, then Farrah Fawcett, followed by the sudden deaths of Michael Jackson and Billy Mays. McMahon and Fawcett were not really a surprise, the former was well into his eighties and the latter had been in a well documented battle with cancer.  Jackson and Mays, though, were truly surprising and sudden.

And as I read the bemoaning of this past week of loss via people’s twitter updates and facebook statuses (a personal favorite was someone who tweeted in all earnest “Not Billy Mays too!”) the thought “Why do we care?” kept running through my mind.  I understand the devastating loss of an artist cut down in his or her prime (à la Marvin Gaye or Janis Joplin) but we saw nothing like that this week.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that when someone dies, it isn’t a horrible thing—but to their friends and family.  For a public figure that moved people with his or her work, like John Lennon or Kurt Cobain, I get a need for communal mourning, but do any of these people meet that requirement?  Seriously.  Can someone please tell me a classic Ed McMahon joke? Or tell me what besides a TV show and a poster Farrah Fawcett was known for? And has long as we’re being honest: let’s admit the Michael Jackson that we loved—the one who made Thriller and Bad—died a long time ago.  If Michael Jackson had put out an album last year, would you have bought it?  He’d become known more for the freak show that his life had turned into than his music.  And Billy Mays?!  Really?!  Even he would have been the first to admit that people shouldn’t think of him as a celebrity.

And with so much else going on in the world, why are we paying so much attention to it all?  God forbid the 24-hour news media should actually cover something that is actually newsworthy.  Why does it affect us so much?  Are people really “devastated?”  The more I pondered the idea of people truly saddened by these passings the more I realized how much fame plays a part in it all.  I’m beginning to suspect that we’ve reached a point in our society where the constant static of information has forced us to value anyone who can reach through the rushing noise, no matter the reason.  We don’t value celebrities for any worthwhile contribution anymore, we value them because well…hell, we all know who they are.  In world of so much out there, recognizing someone moderately famous is something that we all share. “Hey, you think Kate from ‘Jon and Kate Plus Eight’ is a bitch? Me too!”  Fame is no longer a reward for talent or circumstance, but a method for the rest of society to interact.  They’re no longer celebrities, they’re connecting points.  And when they die, we’re not mourning the loss of human being, but the connection that they provided us to other people.

[Pic via discodemons.blogspot.com]