Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Popular impact of Celebrity Suicide (Who really wants to die?: Part II)

This is Part 2 in a series of articles by Gordon Friesen examining who really wants to die?

Part 1: Who really wants to die? (A Brief Quantitative Analysis of the Purported “Need” for Euthanasia) (Link)

By: Gordon Friesen

-- The sources of popular perception examined: a great quantitative divergence between the portrayed importance, of celebrity suicide, and the observed facts.

Because most people pass much of their lives (most thankfully) far from the realities discussed here, the first source of public opinion regarding suicidal actions, generally originates with the behavior of those celebrities, dear to our hearts, who do, suddenly, face real-life crises (including sickness and disability). First knowledge, then, comes only at second hand, and (unfortunately) even then with little benefit of pondered wisdom. For at these most difficult times, we usually see a marked tendency (in public commentary) to positively lionize those individuals who take their own lives; even to the extent of lavishly praising their “courage”!

Such were, for instance, the cases of American actor Robin Williams (1951 - 2014), and the once national diva of Quebec, Pauline Julien (1928 - 1998).

Yet on the other hand, we also have heroic survival figures such as Canadian athlete Terry Fox (1958 – 1981), Quebecois politician Gerald Godin (1938 – 1994), or American actors Christopher Reeves (1952 – 1904), and Michael J. Fox (1961 - ). And these heroic characters, also, experience the exact same popular adulation... and from the exact same people!

To be fair, it would appear that the public actually vibrates with equal passion -- and equal sympathy -- regardless of the outcome: they love their celebrities and they support them, whatever they do. Moreover, to resolve the apparent contradictions raised by this inconsistency, public opinion has also adopted the notion of a sort of unjudgable personal and existential choice: equally heroic, equally noble, and equally weighted (numerically speaking) on both horns of the suicidal dilemma.

But this last part, this crucial numerical part (and hence the validity of the whole description), is, in fact, grossly distorted: because ordinary survivors have a way of passing largely unnoticed; and thus do not show their proper numerical weight.

Nor is any of this at all remarkable: for be they ever so famous in their prime, our “stars” are normally absent from the news for years at a time as they grow older. And the inevitable report of their natural deaths comes, often, as a surprising recall that they had ever existed; while the younger generation, incapable even of recognizing their names, remain essentially ignorant of those who have passed. And whereas there are occasional life-blazing heroes, like Terry fox, who shine ardently in their moment of refusal and resistance, many more numerous are those who quietly hide their disabilities, as best they may, and then simply disappear into private life and oblivion. For each Terry, then, there are innumerable (though much less visible) people, of a similar inclination.

The suicides of famous persons, however, are singular news events of the highest interest; they are immediately reported, and profusely commented upon, throughout the world. Naturally, the result of this instant and enormous emphasis is to grossly inflate their true statistical importance. For one single suicide gains such notoriety, in this manner, that it will effectively outweigh the memory of literally thousands of other, equally famous people, who have lived and died in the more usual fashion. 

Above all, the celebrities who commit these acts of suicide are deeply held in the affections of their “fans”: who have a natural desire to “understand” them; to identify with their fate; to validate their purported reasoning; to vindicate them; and to stand in solidarity with their choice. They will, in any event, be fondly remembered. And there is a corresponding tendency in the media -- on television, in the papers and in the magazines: to use a tone and a vocabulary which serve to positively glorify the meaning of such suicides (and that, regrettably, in the spirits of those most receptive and most vulnerable).

And yet, we must insist: these acts remain entirely atypical; acts which should more naturally elicit our sadness and our disappointment, I would suggest, than a congratulatory admiration.

In any case (and however that may be) -- from a purely quantitative point of view -- while we recognize that we will always be deeply affected by such tragic events (and much more frequently than we would wish): the dearly mourned celebrities who are lost, in these iconic suicidal episodes, are much fewer than those who withdraw quietly.

And such, clearly, is the enormous numerical distortion that we must recognize in the fashions of common perception. For contrary to popular prejudice and enthusiasm: the small number of celebrity suicides provides no objective justification, whatsoever, for idealizing (and still less for normalizing) the notion of suicide as a general solution (for the physical, and mental, incursions of time and fate).

But with all of that said, it might still be imagined that the demand for death among ordinary citizens, afflicted with natural suffering and decline -- that is to say: among the ordinary mass of “the halt, the sick, and the lame” – could actually be greater than among the ultra-privileged, rich and famous.

Addressing that possible misconception, then, will be our next consideration.

To be continued ... 

Previous articles by Gordon Friesen:

1 comment:

2lovethelord4@gmail.com said...

Christopher Reeve died in 2004.