Social Grief

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It’s been a busy week for social-media grieving: one day my Facebook feed was full of David Bowie videos and quotes, a few days later it was dedicated to actor Alan Rickman. I was surprised by Bowie’s death, but it was Rickman’s death that hit me with deep, genuine sadness. Why? It wasn’t as if I knew him, or had seen all his movies. If you’d asked me who my favorite actors were, I doubt his name would have topped the list. (Top 10, maybe.)

I thought about this as I scrolled through the Facebook and Twitter tributes to both Rickman and Bowie. Like so much of what’s supposed to be “social,” many of the posts were in fact self-centered: here’s what this man meant to me, here are my memories. Like people were trying to insert themselves into the center of attention, making themselves part of the story.

And yet I found myself clicking the link to Rickman’s obituary in The Guardian. Scrolling through a slideshow of his film roles. Reading the tweets and reminiscences from fellow actors. I remembered movies he’d been in that I loved and wanted to re-watch (first up: Sense and Sensibility). It was the same process Bowie fans went through as they watched old videos of his concerts or listened to albums that spoke to them when they were teenagers, even if they’d barely listened to those songs in the decades since. Yes, this grief is selfish: we mourn these artists because their work intersected in some way with our lives. Maybe we’re mourning the loss of our younger selves, too.

I found Rickman charismatic. (C’mon: that voice!) He grabbed my attention in whatever movie he appeared. I don’t think I can genuinely grieve for someone I didn’t know, but when I added pictures of Rickman to my Twitter and Facebook feed, it wasn’t because I was jumping on some bandwagon, or trying to grab credit as his greatest fan. It was a gesture of respect. I’m sorry Rickman won’t be making any more movies, but like Bowie–like all artists–he isn’t really gone. They’ve left us their work, which makes them immortal.

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