Tuesday, January 27, 2015
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Are Americans superficial for mourning deaths of celebrities?

The deaths this week of comedian-actor Robin Williams and actress Lauren Bacall unleashed an outpouring of grief across the country. The shocking circumstances of Williams’ death – suicide by hanging – sent his fans reeling. Even President Barack Obama released a statement Monday, calling Williams “one of a kind.”

Americans often react this way when a beloved actor or entertainer dies. But are we mourning the wrong people at the wrong time? How much is too much? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the Red-Blue America columnists, weigh in.

Joel Mathis

It’s easy to sneer at Americans’ celebrity obsessions. If People magazine, TMZ, or US Weekly disappeared from the Earth, many of us would feel no small measure of satisfaction.

But count me among the millions who posted “RIP Robin Williams” to Facebook and Twitter this week upon learning of the actor-comedian’s death. Silly? Superficial? Possibly. But here’s the thing: Robin Williams wasn’t just a celebrity – not just somebody known to us through the tabloids and gossip columns: He was an artist.

I’m particularly thinking here of a few movies from his late-’80s-early-’90s golden era. I was 16 when “Dead Poets Society” came out – and if ever there was a movie designed to be embraced by theater geeks and aspiring teen writers, this was it: “Dead Poets Society” made us feel understood in a way we thought those passionless adults never could. Robin Williams made me want to read Walt Whitman.

There’s value in that.

Not every movie he made or joke told was equally worthy, admittedly. But the problem with modern celebrity culture is not that Americans jointly express their sadness at the death of somebody like Williams – or Johnny Cash, say, or Whitney Houston – folks who either inspired us or examined the human condition in a provocative way.

No, the problem is that we celebrate too few such folks, make too much space for those artless folks whose claim to fame is . . . being famous. Kim Kardashian has neither inspired me nor made me think, yet I’m subject to entire magazine racks featuring her face (and other body parts) whenever I walk into a grocery store. We’ve bred an entire generation of reality TV stars and magnified their exploits through a 24/7 news cycle that demands to be fed empty calories.

Mock that, if you want. But don’t begrudge me my grief at Williams’ death. His movies inspired me; cynicism can be its own kind of emptiness, if it closes you off from the possibility of such inspiration.

Ben Boychuk

It’s funny how we mourn people we don’t know.

Oh, we think we know them. How could we not? Millions of people watched and laughed with Robin Williams over the years when he performed on stage and screen. The fact that he was particularly candid about his struggles with alcohol and drug abuse made us feel even closer to him – and makes his untimely death that much more difficult to take.

But we do tend to go overboard with these things.

The reaction to Williams’ suicide is nothing compared to the torrent of grief that accompanied the death of Michael Jackson, gone five years this summer. Were Jackson’s last years riven with scandal and embarrassment? People didn’t care. According to Time magazine, some 1.6 million people entered a lottery to win one of 17,500 tickets to Jackson’s public memorial at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

It’s strange. Almost unseemly. An interviewer a few years ago asked Williams about this peculiar phenomenon of Americans’ obsession with celebrities and their demise. Williams was close friends with Christopher Reeve – they were classmates at Julliard in the early ’70s. Reeve, of course, became famous as the star of the Superman films of the late 1970s and ‘80s. He was paralyzed in a horseback jumping accident in 1995 and died in 2004.

Was it hard, the reporter from the London Guardian asked Williams, to see people mourning “Superman” when this was a man Williams knew and loved personally? “It was a weird thing,” Williams said. “It’s a whole different game.”

A public figure never has complete ownership of his private life, especially not in death. Some conservative commentators went out of their way to tie Williams’ garden-variety liberalism to his depression and death. We can safely ignore those ignorant japes.

What’s missing – what’s always missing – is perspective. One celebrity death is a national tragedy. A hundred nameless, faceless suicides in the United States every day are a statistic. And thousands of Christian martyrs dying on the other side of the world are somebody else’s problem.

Ben Boychuk (bboychuk@city-journal.org) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Joel Mathis (joelmmathis@gmail.com) is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine. Visit them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/benandjoel.

Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

 
Health officials report 1st Solano flu death

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A1, 5 Comments | Gallery

 
 
 
American Legion Post schedules head-shaving fundraiser

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A6

Rush Ranch seeks docents

By Kevin W. Green | From Page: A2

 
Dramas, thrillers lead week’s box office openings

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: B6

Vacaville Toastmasters welcome guests

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A6

 
Kroc Health Fair offers free screenings

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A1

 
Chipotle fundraiser to benefit Armijo newspaper

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

Vacaville council eyes earlier start time

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page:

 
.

US / World

Facebook suffers outage affecting users worldwide

By The Associated Press | From Page:

 
Private wells in California farm area show high uranium

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Ex-Army prosecutor found guilty of rape at court-martial

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

California may dam 3 Delta channels, if drought persists

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Law enforcement wants popular police-tracking app disabled

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Gov’t to overhaul Medicare payments to doctors, hospitals

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Cuban youth build secret computer network despite Wi-Fi ban

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Seekers of the Hollywood Sign disrupt nearby neighborhood

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

 
2 small planes crash-land off Hawaii; all aboard survive

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Report: State worker sent alarming notes before gun arrest

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Panic attack, bad back: Theater shooting brings jury excuses

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Lawyer: Boy Scout files depict ‘sordid’ history of abuse

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Dwindling group of survivors to mark Auschwitz 70 years on

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

New Jersey’s Christie launches political action committee

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
US drone strikes resume in Yemen despite turmoil

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Monster snowstorm swirls into densely populated Northeast US

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Kurds celebrate ousting Islamic State fighters from Kobani

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Man takes responsibility for drone over White House

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
.

Opinion

2 sides to state highways rehab backlog

By Dan Walters | From Page: A11, 1 Comment

 
.

Living

Community Calendar: Jan. 27, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
.

Entertainment

Petty earns writing credit for Sam Smith’s ‘Stay With Me’

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
National Cowboy Poetry Gathering begins in northeast Nevada

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Trainor and Styles write a duet about heartbreak

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
Emma Watson to star in live-action ‘Beauty and the Beast’

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
SAG Awards win sends ‘Birdman’ Oscar hopes soaring

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

Cumberbatch says sorry for calling black actors ‘colored’

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
A murder at the edge of the world takes ‘Fortitude’ to crack

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3 | Gallery

Lawyers: Melissa Rivers files lawsuit in mother Joan’s death

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3 | Gallery

 
Sundance Watch: ‘Cobain’ premieres, women talk Hollywood

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

TVGrid Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B7

 
.

Sports

Manfred knows he’ll get hit as commish _ his name is on ball

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
NASCAR to leave championship format unchanged in 2015

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Kobe Bryant to have shoulder surgery, likely out for season

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Tim Brown hopes 6th time is charm in Hall of Fame vote

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Raiders sign Charles Woodson for 2015 season

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Rams notify St. Louis they’ll go year-to-year on dome lease

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Gamecocks still No. 1; Chattanooga joins women’s hoops poll

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Scott Dixon shines in masterful final drive in Rolex win

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
LeBron, Cavs climb in standings, back in title conversation

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Capitals among East contenders; West race too tight to call

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Playoff not interested in moving semis of New Year’s Eve

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Fireworks help celebrate Venus Williams’ Australian Open run

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
US women to host New Zealand, Ireland, Mexico, South Korea

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

NBA D-League All-Star events set for Feb. 15 in Brooklyn

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
AP Source: Los Angeles Kings release Mike Richards

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Hope Solo could be left off US World Cup roster

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
.

Business

Employers: Agreement made on key issue in port labor dispute

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
Lyft cars doing away with pink furry mustache

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
Hard Rock (again) dips toe into Atlantic City casino market

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

US stock market finishes with small gains

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
IBM disputes report that big layoffs coming

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

Union says California Kaiser nurses reach contract agreement

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
Boeing, SpaceX will beat Russia on price for astronaut rides

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4 | Gallery

CBO: Deficit to shrink to lowest level of Obama presidency

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
Eurozone looks for dialogue after stunning Greece elections

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

S&P downgrades Russia credit rating to junk

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4

 
.

Obituaries

Donald Wesley Johnson

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A4

 
.

Comics

Rose is Rose Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Beetle Bailey Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Get Fuzzy Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
B.C. Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Cryptoquote Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
For Better or Worse Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Dilbert Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Bridge Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Garfield Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Crossword Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Baby Blues Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Pickles Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Sally Forth Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Baldo Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Wizard of Id Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Word Sleuth Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

Sudoku Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B5

 
Frank and Ernest Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Blondie Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

 
Zits Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4

Peanuts Jan 27

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B4