Arts, Column

Pondering the Social Epidemic of Posthumous Praise

Last week, for approximately 24 hours or so, the Twittersphere took a momentary hiatus from societally-perceived “important things”—incessant prattle about Kanye West and those viral white Vans belonging to some kid named Daniel, for instance—pausing, only briefly, to pay its respects to the life of award-winning author Harper Lee.

After publishing To Kill A Mockingbird in 1960, pocketing a Pulitzer Prize for it in 1961, and recently releasing her controversial sequel—a hotly disputed follow-up on the Finch family— in addition to devoting years to the research for close friend Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Lee’s respectable literary resume received recognition from Twitter users worldwide when she died. Oddly enough, a vast majority of such sentiments read less like genuine admiration and more like an obligatory outpouring of posthumous praise.

As is often the case with big-name celebrity deaths, condolences come out of the proverbial woodwork to commemorate the lives of entertainment greats, prompting most social media platforms to transform into muddled messes of mourning messages and sorrowful soliloquies laden with sad-face emoticons. Practically impossible to distinguish between genuinely disappointed fans and those whose knowledge of the deceased extends only as far as the title of their most notable masterpieces, each tear-soaked tweet or Instagram in memoriam contributes to the puzzling phenomenon that I’ve come to call “Enigmatic, Electronic Eulogizing” (EEE).

Not to be confused with the potentially fatal, mosquito-associated affliction of the same acronym, the social epidemic of EEE is incredibly interesting—that is, assuming one takes adequate time out of his or her busy day to truly analyze it. Blurring boundaries between the distinct levels of fandom—the all-out fanatic as opposed to an occasional appreciator, for example—platforms like Twitter allow anyone to pose as a proud proponent of this and a staunch supporter of that. The pressure of maintaining one’s tailored online image sometimes has a funny way of producing an onslaught of feigned affection—arguably the most telling symptom of societal EEE that I’ve encountered.

Personally, this irks me a bit.

Someone who hadn’t heard of David Bowie until his death in early January could express their deep condolences as quickly as one of his diehard fans. Kids who merely skimmed To Kill A Mockingbird in seventh grade tweet profuse praise to Harper Lee as if the two months spent laboriously analyzing her novel were by far the best days of their young lives. Maybe it’s just me, but I find this sometimes-hollow expression of emotion a little bit odd.

Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way claiming that artistic geniuses deserve less praise than they currently accumulate from the public (please, I’m not a monster). Rather, I believe such bold ventures into their respective fields should be celebrated more often. My main issue, I realize, stems from the cultural practice of social media users only oozing deserved attention and praise promptly following a death announcement.

In an age when National Donut Day—a fabricated, commercial celebration of consumerism and calories—is celebrated more readily and with much greater enthusiasm than the publication date of cultural or literary classics like Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, the social media obsessed should take a step back and examine their priorities. When a viral cat video or the ramblings of a confused (and rumored to be bankrupt?) rap star get more internet-air-time than the life of an author who highlighted the horrors of racism with one novel, something about society seems a little off.

I don’t know. I just think Lee’s legacy deserves a little more than all of this. Bowie’s iconic, celestial glow dims duller with every unenthusiastic “RIP, D.B.” tweet from guys who heard “Starman” once and liked it.

Acknowledging this rant of mixed emotions as decidedly inconclusive when it comes to the definitive way social media users should properly mourn those who’ve passed on, I also accept that there really isn’t a correct way. I mean, I sure have no authority to determine it, anyway. Just consider this tiny tirade as a little food for thought—your daily dose of societal criticism.

All I’m really saying is this: Creative geniuses deserve much more than half-hearted sentiments of pseudo-sympathy. Genuine appreciation isn’t pithy, preachy well-wishes cut and molded into the tidy confines of a 140 character limit.

Featured Image By Associated Press

February 24, 2016