Sunday 30 April 2017

Nothing to like about hollow online grieving

Stop mourning celebrities on social media - if they meant so much to you then pay a private tribute in real life, writes Donal Lynch

On Facebook and Twitter, a sea of mourners took the veil and keened, and even if you did quite miss our generation’s It girl, you might have found yourself nauseated by the sheer volume of saccharine sentiment (Stock picture)
On Facebook and Twitter, a sea of mourners took the veil and keened, and even if you did quite miss our generation’s It girl, you might have found yourself nauseated by the sheer volume of saccharine sentiment (Stock picture)

Donal Lynch

I have a good friend who dismisses all talk of the distant future with an airy: "Sure, I'll be dead by then anyway."

To be clear, this person suffers from no illnesses and minds herself like a Faberge egg. But she also feels that there is no way one could live for so long at five times the average speed - unmoored by marriage, kids or convention - and still make it intact into old age.

That might be how most of us vaguely considered Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, if we considered her at all. When it was announced last week she had died, the first thought that occurred was it must have had something to do with her wild life and times. It felt probable that she might die young but now it feels unseemly that it was likely a mundane old brain tumour which finally did her in.

In the days after her death, we saw that 2016 had well and truly primed the online grief pump. Like most celebrities, we didn't know Tara personally, but we saw her posing in Philip Treacy at the royal wedding and followed her drug travails. Seeing someone so effervescent suddenly gone reminds us, perhaps, that we too will one day be dust.

On Facebook and Twitter, a sea of mourners took the veil and keened, and even if you did quite miss our generation's It girl, you might have found yourself nauseated by the sheer volume of saccharine sentiment. Twitter last week confirmed that it would be more proactive about online abuse, but what will it do about the people who post Candle in the Wind after literally any celebrity dies?

At times like this, a curious chasm opens up online between the "we are in mourning" and the "pull yourself together, I don't care and I don't believe you do either" brigades. I have been on both sides of these lines and I'm sure I will be again.

To my shame, I did not act respectfully over the death of David Bowie. I might just be a heartless bastard, but I just found all the earnest one-upmanship about the levels of fandom a little much. People were acting like being into Bowie was their own private little quirk and the displays of mourning seemed OTT in the way that people throwing roses at Princess Di's coffin seemed a bit much at the time.

When Prince died I wanted the endless avalanche of faux-grief to stop (the only interesting tribute I read was the person who wrote: "I'm gonna go out and get laid - it's what Prince would have wanted.")

After Leonard Cohen died I was genuinely upset - at the amount of people who seemed to be posting lyrics just to look cool.

When George Michael died I was mainly moved to tears - of mirth - at the news that Snappy Snaps printers in North London (into which George had crashed while off his bin one time) had a note stuck in its window saying: "We're never gonna dance again, the way we danced with you."

He was an icon, of course, and I danced around my bedroom to some of his songs, but I felt the online corsage needed to get a bit of a grip.

Of course I was incensed if anyone doubted my own sincerity. For instance I was devastated by the one-two punch of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds before Christmas. And I bristled when people wrote of a grief bandwagon for the pair of actresses.

When Sue Townsend died a couple of years ago it floored me and I took it personally when one of my fellow online mourners surmised that not many of those lamenting her passing said they'd read her work outside of Adrian Mole. I resisted the urge to post pictures of my bookshelf with The Queen and I and other classic Townsend titles.

Didn't they know the rules? My grief is real, yours is a pose, probably just designed to get you more Twitter followers. Online mourning makes a fool of everyone. The lesson in all of this might be that grief is too complex an emotion for emoticons, likes and GIFs. It transforms into something a little unpalatable when aired in the online hive.

Perhaps the best thing to do might be when the next big celebrity dies to ditch social media for a day or so and deal with our grief privately.

And, to reward ourselves for this Herculean abstention from virtue signalling, we could instead have a few drinks and toast the departed superstar in real time.

Let's face it, Facebookers, that's what Tara would have wanted.

Sunday Independent

Promoted articles

Editors Choice

Also in this section