Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Act of Grief in the Age of Social Media Reproduction

Death has always been with us, but in the age of the interweb, its social boundaries have shifted.

In the past, when a friend's relative died, you might have heard about it directly, through other friends, or by reading the obituaries in the newspaper. These days, the most likely place is Facebook. And it's that same friend who posts it, leaving you with the dilemma of whether to respond with a comment. Somehow, the phatic phrases that are acceptable when written on a card or said in person sound worse than empty in the house that Zuckerberg built. But not commenting seems awful, too.

When someone famous died in the past, you would hear through television, newspapers, or magazines. A person who was well-known within a niche area might not get any coverage. I remember when Audre Lorde died in 1992, I didn't hear about it for days. But when Gil Scott-Heron died last May, suddenly I found out how many people were fans as the RIP messages bled across the Twitterverse. (And let me add, those three capital letters should be laid to rest once and for all.)

This video by Scott-Heron fan Jay Smooth does a better job of talking about this than I can. Even if you know nothing about his music, it's worth watching. Smooth deals with the way that celebrities' lives feel personal, the mediation of experience, and the hipster reactions that are hard to suppress:

"If you love her so much why weren't you grieving for her when she was alive?"

O brave new world, that has such people in it.

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