Can I mourn other peoples’ idols?




To misquote Kipling, “If you can keep your head when all around you are losing theirs, do you really understand the situation?” I don’t know about anybody else but there are times when I end up feeling somewhat semi-detached from the rest of humanity.

Take the sad death of Princess Diana. You know how people will say that certain events effected them so much they remember what they were doing when it happened? Well I remember what I was doing. I’d just got up and was getting myself a drink prior to going out to milk, so it was probably about 5:30am. I switched the kettle on and then put the radio on as well. I was expecting the Radio 4 news, instead I got solemn music. In my still somewhat sleep fuddled state my first thought was ‘We’ve had a coup.” The announcement of the death of the Princess, whilst sad, was almost a relief.

And then the whole country went mad. A local radio announcer I know was sent home to collect a black tie that he had to wear to read the news that morning. It’s radio, nobody would know whether he was wearing trousers never mind a tie!

And then there were the flowers, the endless flowers. We must have been importing from all round the world at that point. In my role as ‘rent a quote’ I was phoned by the local radio asking if I had any comments to make about the huge mounds of flowers and the outpouring of grief. I was probably not the right person to ask. I pointed out that piling that much greenery in one heap and not keeping the air out merely meant that you were making silage very badly, and within a day or two it would start going butyric and would start to stink. Strangely my comment was never broadcast.

Now all this was brought to mind by the various media stories about all the celebrities who are dying in 2016. I started wondering about grief and how we express it. I ended up comparing two funerals, both of which I saw on television. Obviously on one hand we have Princess Di in 1997, on the other the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965.

Now I lived among people who mourned the death of Churchill. He was mourned by men and women who’d buried sons, by women who had lost a husband, fiancé, or lover who they could never replace; by people who’d seen their entire family destroyed by the random chance of an enemy bomb which destroyed that house and not this one. He was mourned by people who had experienced a depth of grief that most of us struggle to empathise with.

And now we’ve got a lot of celebrities dying. I had a look at the BBC website.


Pre-prepared BBC obituaries that ran on television, radio and online

  • 2013     16
  • 2014     24
  • 2015     29
  • 2016     32
  • 2017     42


The advantage of using pre-prepared obituaries is that they’re people accepted as celebrities ‘before the event.’

Interestingly 2013 saw a 50% increase over 2012 and nobody appears to have noticed. 2016 sees a 30% increase over 2015 and the media is full of it.

Way back I remember reading the memoirs of a US newspaper reporter. When he’d been younger, he and a friend working for another paper in the same city had ended up in competition to see who could find the most crime stories. Between them they created a crime wave, and there was a lot of public protest that the streets were no longer safe and ‘something must be done!

Finally the city police chief called them into his office and carpeted them, pointing out that however you measured it, crime was actually falling, and all that was increasing was the reporting and perception of crime.

Now I don’t think that we have celebrities who’re falsely reporting their deaths so that they get remembered as part of the great 2016 rush, but I think that what we may be seeing is an element of ‘redefining’ of celebrities. After all if a surfeit of dying celebrities is the story, the media will bring you dying celebrities.

Is this linked somehow to the fact that as a population we seem to like a gratuitous outpouring of emotion? I suppose if it’s over a celebrity you never met and your only connection was you bought a couple of albums when you were sixteen then it’s hardly going to be too devastating unless you want it to be?
Is it an inevitable side effect of two generations without a major war to give people a real sense of proportion? Are Syrians clinging to each other desperately weeping because of the passing of George Michael?

Or perhaps we somehow missed the point worrying about a few celebrities given that we lost 456 dead in Afghanistan? Given that each one of those comes with grieving family, and given that there are over 2,000 wounded in action, many of them very seriously indeed, perhaps we ought to pull ourselves together.

And then there are the lads and lasses who made it home with no physical scars but with PTSD, what about grieving a bit for them. I’ve a friend for whom Bonfire night is hell.

Perhaps if all we have to worry about is a few dead celebrities, we’ve got nothing to worry about?



Read about a real celebrity!

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9 thoughts on “Can I mourn other peoples’ idols?

  1. Sue Vincent December 26, 2016 at 7:53 pm Reply

    Maybe, as the celebrities of our youth begin to die…who were almost all of them older than we were…we are not only feeling a little nostalgia, but contemplating the approach of our own inevitable end.

    On the other hand, I agree with you, I’m afraid, and with my son this morning. Millions of people die every day. Their own loved ones may grieve…the rest of us never even know and would remain unmoved, except for a common human bond of empathy, even if we did. Celebrity shouldn’t invite a sudden outpouring of grief for a person we never even knew. Especially when there are so many needless, senseless deaths and the injuries seen and invisible, caused by the violence in which our species indulges daily.

  2. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt December 26, 2016 at 7:54 pm Reply

    Wish we could call the media on the carpet after the recent election fiasco.

    NOW Facebook and Google are working to remove ‘fake news’ sites – after the horse has not only left the barn, but sauntered all the way to the cliffs of Dover, fallen over, and swum to France. I’m so furious at them it will take a long time before I trust any of their stupid ‘reporting.’

    • jwebster2 December 26, 2016 at 10:11 pm Reply

      There’s an old proverb which says “Believe nowt you hear and only half of what you see.” It’s probably good advice 🙂

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt December 26, 2016 at 10:30 pm

        There is that bit in Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love (?) where his witness tells him something like, ‘they’ve painted this side of the house blue,’ meaning she won’t make a guess about the other side, which she can’t see.

  3. M T McGuire December 27, 2016 at 9:05 am Reply

    I think it’s more to do with teen identity. In those formative years, as we search for who we are, we are forged by our influences in many respects, even though we find out who we are on our own. I, for one, know that watching people like The Beatles work out who they were as people helped me to do it. I was gutted when John Lennon died because for all his flaws he was trying to make the world a better place. I have a great deal of admiration for Jonathan Lydon for the same reason.

    Also, I think there’s a lot missing in our world these days. We don’t have the same sense of community, I have stacks of friends who would be incredibly concerned if anything happened to me but they can’t do owt because most are hundreds of miles away. Nobody stays where they grow up, they go where the jobs are, follow the money. The opportunities to meet local people as you go about the average day are waning. Nobody walks anywhere anymore, we leave our insulated houses, get into our hermetically sealed metal boxes and drive to work. A few years ago we walked everywhere, which meant we met people on our street, in our community etc.

    Sometimes I think this kind of outpouring of grief us just a way of mourning for other more abstract things, the sense of community that their local area didn’t give them but being a fan of x or y person did. Disappointment over a broken relationship, a wayward child, a son or daughter in drugs or off the rails, people we love who are sick. I wonder if it’s a case of channelling the sadness about things we have to carry into a form of grief we can articulate, and getting a brief glimpse of that togetherness we crave as we all come together to mourn for that person.

    So after rather thinking it is hysteria, I now wonder if anything that brings people together is such a bad thing.



    Ps I was driving down the A1 and got solemn music on Radio 1. I, too, thought there’d been a coup!

    • jwebster2 December 27, 2016 at 10:09 am Reply

      Solemn music on Radio 1 could only be a coup.
      I suspect that you may have put a finger on why I sit semi-detached from things. I was never a ‘teenager’, I merely passed through those years and it never occurred to me to wonder about my identity, sexuality or whatever. When I wasn’t working at school I was working at home and I was just busy.
      But yes communities have broken down and we’re struggling to build up new ones, but they’re not communities of place anymore, they’re more communities of interest and people rarely meet. But the friendships can be every bit as sincere and real.
      I often wonder about the people who marry somebody they’re ‘known’ on the internet. I’d love to see figures for the survivability of the relationships. My guess is that they might well last as long as any other sort 🙂

      • M T McGuire December 27, 2016 at 1:54 pm

        Yeh, I can understand that. I found that I had trouble because it didn’t take me very long to work out that the real me is this one. I also had discovered that, while I liked their company well enough, there was a life beyond chasing boys. It was a bit of a novelty view and my class mates alternated between a kind of fascinated disgust and cosying up to me to try and find the secret to my strang ability to be quite content without rabidly pursuing anything in trousers.

        I was made to feel like a freak for being who I am and that’s where The Beatles came in with their whole idea that being yourself was OK. 🙂 so I can sort of empathise with the hysteria of the herd and your detachment.

  4. jwebster2 December 27, 2016 at 3:28 pm Reply

    Having a rural background and going to a red brick urban working class grammar school I was always going to go through the whole process feeling like an anthropologist who has been sent to study some bizarre tribe of natives who just happen to speak the same language 🙂

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