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AFTER — thoughts by ollie francis
It’s not your imagination — more celebrities are dying in 2016 than previous years and it’s only going to get worse.
And it’s strange because it feels weirdly personal. In the past, celebrity deaths have mostly been either rare or, for what of a better term, ‘lesser’ celebrity (meaning generally outside of my own, very small, understanding of the world out there). But 2016 seems to be taking all those with whom I have a connection. Bowie, Rickman, Wood — it just seems wrong to have so many shining lights go out so near to each other.
And I know it’s not just me; the outstanding BBC radio show ‘More or Less’ dedicated part of an episode to exploring the sense that, for some reason, Death was getting a little over-active this year. Taking BBC obituaries as a marker, they found that, yes, there are more notable deaths so far in 2016 than in 2015 or 2014 combined — and that even in those two years, the rates were higher than average.
But the worst news is that this is only the beginning. Death, it seems, is going to be visiting the front pages much more frequently than we might otherwise wish.
And it’s all the fault of TV.
Before the boom of TV in the 1950s, celebrities were remote; They were people we occasionally read about in the newspapers, or visited once every few months at the pictures. But TV welcomed them into our homes, into our living rooms, our bedrooms, the most intimate places of our lives. Celebrity was no longer remote; it was family.
But even people on TV grow old. Right now, we seem to be at the cusp of a great exodus to the green room in the sky. Those who held our screens in the early days of TV are the ones who are now of the age when Death becomes more of a reality than it ever was in their youth. And, as we trace the increasing penetration of TV through the 60s, 70, 80s and beyond, we can see that mortality is going to take more and more of the people we grew up with in that little glowing box in the corner of our rooms.
‘AFTER’ imagines this state of increasing familiarity with Death from the perspective of one already taken. Death is both ancient and young; lover and warden. It is both personal and universal. It is bound up in the contradiction that it is both oblivion and eternal. But, for the speaker of the piece, it is also the way how she can understand her own existence and the thing which gives her identity. There is a paradox that we value things most when they are lost. When a celebrity dies, their face appears in the newspapers once again. We share examples of their best work on Facebook. We regret missing out on their last tour in our town. It is as if their absence reasserts their importance in our lives.
Death is both our tyrant and our chief mourner.
Originally published on Tumblr