Why Are So Many Celebrities Dying?

Celebrities are dying left and right. It’s only going to accelerate. But, as with much about the world it has got a lot more to do with how we look at things than anything concrete that is actually happening. More celebrities seem to be dying because we care more about more celebrities than we ever have before.

The genesis of this one is kind of interesting. With the majority of my videos I’m drawing on a ton of sources. The video produced is usually a synthesis of a number of things that I can tell myself is very much my own. That’s not so much the case here. There’s some of my own thought involved, but the most interesting thing about the video, the explanation for the acceleration in celebrity deaths, is completely drawn from one article. And I can’t find that article. It’s frustrating. There are few things more annoying than taking credit for other people’s ideas. Though I’m sure I unwittingly do it all the time, this time I know I am doing it. If any of you are familiar with the source that I got this stuff from, please let me know.

I’m not really a big celebrity guy. In early 2005 I threw a “Dead Celebrity Party” memorialized in the thumbnail for this video. It’s still one of the best parties I’ve ever thrown. The cult of celebrity holds few charms for me. Though I must admit, if I’m in a supermarket checkout lane I’ll guiltily read the tabloid headlines with some interest. But, I do think our celebrity obsession is bad for us. The worship of celebrity strikes me as a throw-back to an earlier and worse era, as I alluded to here….

We live in a more democratic age, but reading news about Kim and Kanye is part of an old-time desire to know more about our “betters”. We don’t have much of a hereditary aristocracy anymore, so celebrities fill the breach. If you doubt this interpretation, look at the treatment of the few real aristocrats that are left. The travails of the British Royal Family are reported on with exactly the same fervor and worship that is devoted to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. I don’t like celebrity culture because I refuse to concede that we have “betters”. The struggles of the aesthetically or monetarily gifted are no more interesting than our own.

So why do a video about celebrities? Views obviously. But beyond that, I feel like it’s a big enough part of our culture that I have to address it occasionally. One must deal with the facts on the ground. Also it would be a bit hypocritical to avoid the subject. Paradoxically, if I avoid talking about celebrities on democratic principles I am actually acting in an anti-democratic fashion. The people want to talk about celebrities. Who am I to deny them that? Plus I got to talk about Bob Ross and his happy little trees, which makes me happy.

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Video Transcript after the jump…

So here’s an interesting question. Why do celebrities keep dying? And is it ever going to stop? The answer to the second question I think is no, in fact I think these deaths are going to accelerate but the reason why is kind of interesting.

Over the past week we’ve seen Carrie Fisher, George Michael and Debbie Reynolds die. I’m not sure who Debbie Reynolds was, but she means a lot to my camera man apparently. When these things happen, it’s disturbing and one of the reasons that we’re all so much more aware of it is social media. It gets thrown in our face very quickly. But it’s not just that. It’s not just the fact that this news is served up to us as quickly as possible by a news cycle that is desperate for red meat.

More of these folks really are dying. That’s because we actually care about more people. There are more celebrities for us to worry about, and there are more celebrities to die. If you’re my age, some of the most significant people to die this year were popular music artists like George Michael, Prince, and David Bowie. These folks got famous, or got more famous through MTV. Music Television, a channel that used to play music videos.

This gets to the broader reason why we have so many more celebrities today. The main reason, I think, is cable television. 30-35 years ago there were only three broadcast networks in the United States. So that meant that everybody watched like three television channels. That’s where we got all our famous people.

There were just that many famous people. You had TV, you had some movies, people used to know a lot more about politicians and world figures back then. There just weren’t that many celebrities. There weren’t that many people t care about. So starting in the 1980s we got this incredible ballooning of cable television. We know pop music artists a lot better. We’ve got figures like Bob Ross. Do you remember the guy who used to paint the little trees? That’s definitely one of the celebrity deaths that has effected me the most.

And that’s a cable television star. This all happened about 30 years ago. And the people that became famous through that have now started to die. This process is only going to speed up. And this incredible explosion in celebrities, in people to pay attention to and care about, didn’t stop with cable TV. The internet has actually made that weird galaxy of stuff grow exponentially.

So if you find your day derailed by news like this, if you find yourself getting depressed about the deaths of celebrities… people that might have had some impact on your life in some way… It’s about to get much much worse. Five or ten years from now, we might have a somewhat significant celebrity death every day of the week. There’s just a lot more celebrities.

I think this means that we all need to get a lot tougher. I think it’s not just celebrities. I think that the current news cycle really loves serving up disaster. And if we take it personally every time they serve up a disaster like this we’re just going to run out of emotions. Or we’re all going to go insane. Neither of those sound like a good thing.

So the next time a celebrity dies, why don’t you take it as an opportunity to step back and be grateful? Be grateful for the contributions of this person. Be grateful that we live in a world that has so many different avenues for entertainment. Be grateful that we live in a world that gives more and more people the opportunity to have their 15 minutes of fame. But don’t let it get to you. Don’t let it dwell in your mind. Don’t let it ruin your day, because coming up pretty soon, if you let it ruin your day, every single one of your days will be ruined.

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