Online Mourning and Grief for a Celebrity’s Passing

When I first heard about the disappearance of Naya Rivera, I couldn’t react. I just parked the thought at the back of my mind and checked the news from time to time hoping to hear something from her. It didn’t feel real, not when just two days before I had been re-watching her visit to Kevin McHale and Jenna Ushkowitz’s podcast alongside Heather Morris. Not when I had been working out to my “GLEE FAVOURITES” playlist that same morning. But it was very real. Yesterday, I was out with some friends when I got a Twitter notification that a body had been found and that it had been concluded it was Naya’s. I didn’t know how to react. Was I in my right to cry or to feel the need for mourning a person I never met? Was it okay for me not only to feel saddened but devastated by the death of a person I didn’t really know personally? These kinds of questions pop up in my head every time tragedy strikes like this. Last year, 20-year-old actor Cameron Boyce passed away too. He made my childhood. I grew up watching him in “Grown Ups”, “Jessie” and even “Descendants”, because once a Disney girl, always a Disney girl. He was such a ray of sunshine, I would see his posts from time to time and I felt how much all the people around him loved him, and how deeply invested he was on changing the world. To be honest, I wasn’t a “hardcore” fan of either of them. I loved Naya from Glee, I loved her songs and her scenes brought be to stand still more than one time; I liked watching Cameron’s interviews from time to time because I loved the positive vibes he radiated. But, in the end, I was a simple admirer of their work, I was aware of their existence and watched them on social media and never really thought something would disturb this kind of dynamic. But then news break, and memories come flooding, and I feel the need to cry. And especially with Naya, I talked to friends of mine who are bisexual and lesbian, and they told me about how even though Glee definitely wasn’t flawless, Santana’s character was their awakening because it was the first time they saw an LGBTQ character struggle with her sexuality on a teen show.

I put these two as an example because they are the first to come to my mind when I think of this topic. Mourning celebrities. Sounds strange, right? We never think we would mourn someone who wasn’t even aware of our existence. But we do. This public display of grief have been increasing these past years with the growth of social media, and as a proof, we have the reaction to Naya’s former co-star, Cory Monteith, who passed 7 years ago and whose death flooded Twitter with a sadness that still comes back today.

Even though it’s a very recent subject of study, many pieces of research show this tendency of expressing emotions about people we do not know is a way of keeping death present in our day-by-day life. (Walter, Hourize, Moncur, & Pitsillidis, 2011 as cited in Klastrup, 2018)

Furthermore, finding people across the globe to share the pain and grief with is a way of creating communities (Walter et al., 2011 as cited in Klastrup, 2018) that make one feel welcome and embraced in the middle of the shock and later the mourning. Social media help people who truly idolized a celebrity who died to keep their memory alive by providing the chance of sharing thoughts, quotes, and pictures. This also means the chance to connect with other people who feel the same way and who validate those emotions that maybe are not accepted in other social contexts, like the family. Millennials grew up in a different society and mindset, they were not as invested in being a fan as we are now, because they did not have the chance. They cannot be to comprehend that currently, with the globalization of social media and streaming services, people can see a celebrity over and over again and truly appreciate them. These are the feelings that ultimately lead us to mourn the loss of that beloved person. As we transfer from being fans of someone who’s alive to being fans of someone who passed, the love, support, and validation of other people who feel the same way but who might be miles away are important.

Of course, it is worse when the death is totally unexpected. Tomorrow is not promised, but losing a 33-year-old is not the natural thing. It is sad but generally more accepted to loose celebrities who are in their 80’s or 90’s, but an apparently healthy person who still had so much to give to the world? That’s hard and shocking. Even for celebrities not that young, like Carrie Fisher, it is hard to process that they are gone when in normal circumstances they could have lived 10 or 20 years more. I will always miss our Rebel Princess, and Star Wars fandom knows she still had some aces under her sleeve to give us.

I would also like to take this chance to acknowledge an issue I have been thinking about in relation to this: worshiping is dangerous. This statement does not invalidate everything I just explained because even if you are not a hardcore fan (as it has been my case) you can still feel lost. However, we have all been able to witness certain red flags through the years, like teenagers cutting their arms when something happened Justin Bieber or when Zayn left One Direction. I saw someone on Tumblr say that they fell into a depression after (SPOILER for “Star Wars: the rise of Skywalker”) the character of Ben Solo died.

Of course, these are not exactly celebrities’ death, but I imagine that those reactions could perfectly fit into this narrative. The hardcore stan culture is dangerous and should be well studied, and I wanted to point this out as the normal mourning process for a celebrity may be altered in extreme situations, which require a different and more special healing process.

All in all, it is perfectly okay to feel divided between sadness and guilt for that sadness. It is okay not to know if it’s okay to mourn a stranger. Those feelings are valid and social media helps to find a supportive community to share those feelings and heal together. After all, so many characters shaped entire generations, and even without us knowing, they become part of ourselves. And when a part of ourselves is lost, we need to pay attention to that and let the natural process flow.


SOURCES:

Klastrup, L. (2018). Death and Communal Mass-Mourning: Vin Diesel and the Remembrance of Paul Walker. Social Media+ Society, 4(1), 2056305117751383


Beatriz Atienza

Writer

Bea is a rising Junior in the Autonomous University of Madrid, studying to be a teacher. Her dream job would be working for education institutions and promoting change in order to achieve a feminist education. She is specially focused on amplifying the historical women whose time silenced. She would also like to work on interculturality and inclusion in education, as she believes an educative system with those values will lead to social change. In her free time she enjoys watching TV Shows, movies, listening to music and dancing.

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