If you go by pop culture and one of its more visible facets, Facebook, 2016 was a bad year. There is wonderment about the non-participation of Keith Richards (among others), and a wistful hope about the Kardashians (among others) joining the party. Even in the small pond of Catholic liturgical music, a tear or two has been shed.
But was 2016 so bad? Are we getting more famous people to mourn? Did boomer angst overshadow? An interesting analysis here. Barring global nuclear armageddon or a supervolcano blowing somewhere, can we expect 2017 to be worse? Check the link.
A few weeks ago a Facebook friend listed the names of a handful of American service personnel killed in the line of duty and how the media pays more attention to celebrities than people who have made a different kind of sacrifice. The media does do this. But I think the policy goes back before 2016. I believe the government chooses to minimize publicity on military deaths, fearing backlash like the late 60’s. Forever war is easier to swallow when its victims, domestic and abroad are nameless, faceless, and unmentioned.
My friend commented on my making political a post she hadn’t intended to set in that direction. But a lot of modern culture is politics. And not everything that gets hung on the media is totally deserved.
That said, most print and electronic media outlets still run obituaries. Many of them contain nuggets of stories of admirable lives lived. People make a difference all around us. Then they die. How do we honor that? I see lots of ways: taking time to attend a funeral, visits to cemeteries, preparing food for grieving friends, setting a date for a coffee or a beer. I see easy things: altering one’s social media gravatar or theme, linking an obit on a facebook page, or using an emoticon.
In the Christian tradition, our celebrities are saints. I think about the ways people are devoted to saints: they observe their feast days (usually the day of death), they read their writings, they might have a holy card or some remembrance, or they might model their life after the saint. That last bit could involve an association with a religious order, or a certain aspect of their lives. That takes commitment and imagination.
In the secular culture, do we see much of that? When an athlete dies, do his or her followers rededicate themselves in some way to their sport? When an actor, does a person volunteer for their community theatre? When a musician, to a musical group, be it a rock band, rap group, a community chorus, or something like that? That would be a lot tougher, wouldn’t it?
Otherwise, maybe I don’t mind that people are sad when a certain celebrity dies. I might not like the lifestyle, politics, sport, music, or media of a certain celebrity. But that doesn’t give me license to go Fred Phelps on someone else’s rainy day.
But I do offer a single question: When a famous, admired person dies, are we to pick up that legacy and advance it for the benefit of others, as we were once served? Or do we let it lie dropped on the ground, something to be lamented and not picked up for the next person to be inspired?