The Band Perry captures an American phenomenon with a hauntingly truthful line in its hit “If I Die Young”, crooning “A penny for my thoughts, oh no- I’ll sell them for a dollar. They’re worth so much more after I’m a goner.”
My young self did not flinch as I sang along with the line, but in the past few months after some highly publicized deaths of members of the entertainment industry, I have been thinking a lot about the truth behind that line. Why do we find ourselves caring so much more after people have been taken away from us?
I am not talking about deaths on a personal level when you lose someone close to you. Rather, I am thinking of some of the biggest deaths of celebrities in 2018: Jahseh Onfroy (XXXTentacion), Tim Bergling (Avicii), Kate Spade, Aretha Franklin and Malcolm McCormick (Mac Miller). Most prominently, I am thinking of the people who were not good people.
Bergling, Franklin and Spade each made great strides in each of their industries. Each was a groundbreaker in one way or another and was worthy of the praise and public mourning that took place upon the announcement of their passing. Even with their deaths, though, I have to wonder at the desire for everyone to prove that they cared about the person dying, as if that somehow adds dimension to the self.
I am merely wondering about, and perhaps mildly criticizing, our tendency to think “I liked them and I want everyone to know that I am sad!” Why do we post pictures of the artist on our Instagram stories? Why do we Snapchat our friends pictures of us listening to them, with a crying emoji or ‘RIP’ caption? Why do we glorify the dead, and why do we need people to know that we are glorifying the dead?
Perhaps the cases I am fixating on the most are the cases of Jahseh Onfroy (XXXTentacion) and Mac Miller. Starting with Onfroy, I will state a few facts: Onfroy was accused of beating his pregnant girlfriend within inches of her life. Onfroy was charged with witness tampering after threatening his girlfriend. Onfroy (allegedly) threatened to kill her and his unborn child, and subsequently imprisoned her in a bedroom for days.
I had never heard his name until he died. Why was it that when he died, his fame skyrocketed? His murder made him famous, not infamous (as he should have been). My feeds were flooded (yet again) with mournful words and Instagram stories were besieged by screenshots of songs from Spotify. His songs were rising in popularity and I was suddenly being exposed to an artist I had never even heard of before. While all this was happening, I could not help but wonder why.
Everyone wanted their followers to know that they loved Onfroy, they had found them first and would miss his talent the most.
Mac Miller had a much shorter rap sheet and was generally known as a well-liked individual. Unlike Onfroy, it is not his actions while alive that I want to focus on, but rather the way his fans handled his death. In typical fashion, many people were very public in their mourning of the lost talent. There were more stories, more posts and more of everything.
Much more troubling than all of that is the turn of many on his ex-girlfriend and pop star Ariana Grande. They blamed her for his death, making his loss infinitely worse for her than it already was. When famous singer Demi Lovato overdosed, it was her fault, because she is a grown woman who makes her own choices. When Mac Miller overdosed, it was Ariana Grande’s fault, because she broke his heart. People felt the need to attack someone they did not know personally for the death of another person they did not know personally. Why?
The loss of any human life is tragic and deserves to be mourned. In the golden age of social media, however, we now feel the need to ensure that people know we are mourning. Our connection to each other through this infinite web of media platforms has allowed a morbid phenomenon to creep into our lives and corrupt our grief. A time that used to be for privacy and introspection has become a time for strangers to leech off the loss of a human soul, publicizing their anguish for the sake of likes.
By doing this, one is giving the victim nothing. One is giving their families nothing. All we are doing is reminding our followers, “Don’t forget about me today!”