UNPOPULAR OPINION: Mourning Celebrity Deaths on Social Media Can Do More Harm Than Good

If my single RIP post upsets just one person, triggered them into anxiety at all, it's just not worth it.
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Stephanie Watson
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If my single RIP post upsets just one person, triggered them into anxiety at all, it's just not worth it.

I honestly can't imagine how painful it would be to have your most admired celebrity suddenly pass from this life to the next. I mean, I was sad when Robin Williams died. Sure, he seemed like such a nice guy and it was such a miserable way to go, but if I'm really honest with myself, I can't say that he was a hero of mine.

This — coupled with the fact that I'd be gutted if any of my heroes did die — makes me understand the process of mourning someone you don't know personally. Empathy isn't something you can turn on and off simply because you've never met that person, or people, after all.

The blog posts, articles, and status updates that flow rapidly after a celebrity dies are totally natural, and it's also natural to want to praise the efforts of mourning fans as a final send off. That being said, lately, I've been so wary of doing this myself. I didn't post an RIP when David Bowie, Lemmy, Chyna, or Prince died. 2016 inadvertently became my "No RIP" year.

Whenever I see these posts my cursor hovers over the share button only to stop, because at the back of my mind a nitpicky thought hits me. "What if I'm saying a fond farewell to someone who has done something really, really messed up?"

An obvious example of someone I really avoided RIP-ing, even when I used to write mournful post blog posts like that, was Margaret Thatcher. To a lot of people this made sense because she single handily destroyed the lives of countless UK residents. No one really mourned her death in social media circles, actually, they celebrated it. While I don't agree with celebrating a death, at all, I can understand people's desire for justice for the pain she caused. So I suspect no one would really judge me for not posting a sad emoji over her.

When it came to the celeb deaths of 2016, my anti-RIP stance was not out of distaste for the deceased, just the sneaking suspicion that my image of the latest dead celebrity was flawed. I first started to notice this new found trend of mine when David Bowie died. It was a shock to the system to wake up and see that headline. I knew that millions of people would weep onto their guitars and record players that day. I barely knew anything about him and I never really listened much to his music, but I could feel the world's hearts grow heavy. Yet, unfortunately, one of the things I did know was the fact that back in the 70s he had been accused of statutory rape, and this soured my plan to hit that share button.

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The girl that he supposedly had sex with, Lori Mattix, was only fourteen years old at the time. As Mattix told the press, the sex was not forced on her, but I fail to see why this makes a difference. A man that age should not be sexually or romantically interested in someone barely out of their preteen stage, no if's, and's, or but's.

Similarly, as fresh as the wound is, Prince was also no stranger to sensitive allegations about dating an under-age girl in the 80s. The girl in question was 17-year-old Anna Garcia, known as Anna Fantastic. Many people have gone on to defend the clash of age with "she's only a year away from being legal," yet how can you see this "waiting out" concept as anything other than predatory?

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So I'm so torn when I see memorial posts, because on one hand I want to support those who are saddened by the event, but on the other hand I don't want to trigger someone who went through something dark that said celebrity endorsed or took part in. I'm not saying that this is proof that we need to damn a possibly shady celebrity for all time, but it's not completely okay to put them on pedestals. If I don't know for sure, I'm not going to post about how great or awful someone is just because they've passed on. And let's not even mention that people are generally more complicated than good versus evil.

I guess my justification for this boycott really came from the fact that the world could live without my single RIP post but if it upset just one person, triggered them into anxiety at all, then it just wasn't worth it. This isn't my way of saying we need to stop mourning dead celebrities or that we can't acknowledge their achievements. Heck, we still mourn our problematic family members and friends, why should celebrities be any different? But I like to keep in mind that when you say you miss someone who may have attacked, raped, or done anything malicious to another human being, don't be surprised if someone gets upset about it. 

Whether it's a rape survivor, or someone who has experienced a celebrity's racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, or transphobia, there will always be people don't want that bigotry to be forgotten.