On May 17, we lost Chris Cornell, the lead singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave. A few days later, director Zack Snyder announced that he'd be stepping back from the reins of the Justice League movie in order to properly cope with the death of his daughter. And a few days after that, Roger Moore, best known for his role as James Bond in films like The Man With The Golden Gun and The Spy Who Loved Me, passed away at 89.
And the internet handled this ... mostly well.
There was an outpouring of condolences for the families of Cornell and Moore, and for Snyder himself. Many of the posts I've seen are remarkably touching. Admittedly, it's hard to know how to feel when a celebrity, or someone close to a celebrity, loses their life. You spend years watching them do interviews or create art, but despite how many Entertainment Tonight segments you absorb, you never really get a grasp on who they are when the cameras are off. So, in lieu of any personal connection, the go-to route is to treat them like people. You show sympathy for them, because you understand how it feels to experience loss.
You don't, however, use this as a platform to include a quick pop culture review in your eulogy.
You've probably seen it on whatever social media page you browse the most. Someone shares a news story about the person's passing and above it, they write a few sentences about how terrible they feel. BUT FIRST they state, in no uncertain terms, that they are NOT a huge fan of that person. Or even if they are a fan, they're not that big of a fan. Because obviously you can't be sincere about a tragic pop culture-related subject without injecting a bit of your inner Ebert. You can't attend a funeral without making it clear that the deceased was just a fucking moron at their job. Because that would be lying, right? As we all know, a person's mortal existence is only valid if they produce the Blu-rays we're willing to buy.
Look, I get it. You probably assumed that the family of Roger Moore was desperate to know, while in the throes of the deepest misery of their lives, how Moore ranked on your list of Top 5 Best Actors To Play James Bond. That's what's truly important. Not the fact that Moore touched people's lives with his charismatic, cucumber-cool performances or amiable offscreen personality, but that, while he was a James Bond, there were definitely superior James Bonds. It's what you'd want for your death, right? A celebration of your career, but also a little tidbit in the beginning about how a few of your peers were undoubtedly better. It's never too late for constructive criticism.
Here lies Jeff. Tim was cooler.
As someone who writes about pop culture, I understand injecting my opinions of it where they don't belong. I'll light a few candles, put on some smooth music, and just as I embrace my wife, I'll catch myself whispering "Jurassic Park III was underrated ..." into her ear. I recently brought soup to a sick friend and then, as is custom, I did an impromptu monologue about how overrated U2 is. I once saw a woman crying on the subway, and I held her hand, all the while explaining why the Twin Peaks revival was destined to fail. I just can't help it.
However, to put it bluntly, if you're opening your tender message to Zack Snyder with a review of Zack Snyder's filmography, you're doing it wrong. Sneering at someone's work doesn't make you seem like a good person, just because you've deigned to express sympathy for them after taking a big dump on their career. You're not bridging the gap with someone by once again shitting on Batman V Superman in a tweet about how sorry you are for Snyder's loss. You don't need caveats. This is a situation where you should have shown kindness and nothing else, but for some reason, you imagined that you needed to make it clear that you in no way approved of Man Of Steel. Yes, it is a terrible burden having to keep your opinions to yourself for a couple minutes, but be a hero and try.
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, unless those others have made comic book movies you didn't like." -- The Bible
I know that we exist in a world where everyone is their own little social media team. Everyone is desperate to keep up their brand, whether that brand is "trying to latch onto the weird humor thing that everyone seems to be into, and failing miserably at it" or "telling it like it is, all the time, because that's just who you are, #MAGA." It's important to you. Mine is important to me. My Facebook cover photo is production art from the '60s Batman series because I gotta let these motherfuckers know what I'm about.
And I'm not smart enough to make grand statements about the mentality of a wave of people who thought an actual death would be a proper time to reveal their Two Thumbs Down rating of Octopussy. Too often, pieces come out that state things like "SHE TRIED TO GET A RETWEET FOR A SUBTWEET? NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER IN MILLENNIALS SOMETHING SOMETHING PHONES." And it always reeks of some website's Lifestyle editor being forced to quickly obtain an online degree in Psychology while still keeping up with their designated "Write five posts this morning" schedule. Nothing good comes out of it.
"I have to write about why everyone born after 1992 is doomed. Luckily, I brought along my handy Broadcast Journalism minor."
But this is a rant I wanted to write, because I can't ignore the dickishness of "Sorry for your loss, but ... " Look, I'm sure I've been this kind of dick before, and I'm sure you're grasping at sincerity. I'm sure you probably actually feel that pang of understanding when someone you don't know is hurting. But I'm also sure that you're being a dick when you feel the need to preface a message to a grieving person with a negative overview of their life's work. So maybe don't try it.
Maybe just feel bad for people. That sounds doable.
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Most rich kids just want to be pop stars.
How did these hyper-specific tropes spread so quickly?
The Hollywood rumor mill has been playing games with celebrity deaths for at least a century.