(UPDATE: So hopefully Philip Seymour Hoffman was acknowledged as talented enough that people won’t start the usual scoffing but just in case, I thought I’d republish this. Maybe one person about to say something snide will read it and decide to just keep it to themselves. I wrote it last year after another celebrity death that, sadly, is all too similar to this one.)
So Cory Monteith of Glee died this week of a drug overdose in Vancouver. Immediately there followed the inevitable media blitz that accompanies the death of any celebrity. Right after that came the newer but now also predictable response of memes decrying this media interest.
Now I get what these posts are saying. It is a strange world we live in where deaths of soldiers are forgotten. I was shocked this year when several air force pilot deaths got such small notice that I only heard about them as part of the flying community, not from news sources. I would say that, while disappointing and unfortunate, this is is not really a surprising phenomenon. With a long war a certain fatigue sets in and people don’t want to hear every week about more and more deaths in combat. Much of our modern media covers only what people want to hear about not necessatily what they should. I’m not saying it’s right, but there you go. In my opinion though that’s a completely separate question to whether people are allowed to care when celebrities die. I was no great Glee fan. I find the plotlines heavy handed in beating us over the head with Issues. I prefer a bit more subtlety in my social engineering. Still, I enjoyed skipping all the drama and catching up on the musical numbers once a week. Cory Monteith is also a Canadian who Made It in Hollywood, and we always love a hometown success story. Vancouver is indeed my hometown. I was saddened by his passing as I have been at the deaths of various other celebrities over the years and here are a few reasons I think that’s not just ok but good.
First I think it’s unfair that artists somehow get the “just an actor” or “just a singer” label thrown at them upon their deaths. A few years ago our local gas station convenience store clerk died suddenly of a stroke. We had never spoken more than a couple of words to him beyond the usual cash register exchanges but when Mike found out he was saddened. Had anybody said “well he’s just a convenience store clerk” it would have seemed appalling, and rightly so. Here was a man who did us a service of some kind and we were touched at his passing. Now artists don’t cure cancer or solve world hunger but they use their talents to entertain us and we enjoy that service in our own homes on a daily basis. They can cheer us up when we’re blue, make us think about something new, and give voice to some of our own struggles and triumphs. That’s their gift to us. Besides that gift, Cory Monteith supported various charities to help the homeless and drug addicts so he wasn’t “just” anything. Whitney Houston also comes to mind. I never was a fan of hers but I recall that when she died many people got on their high horses about the outpouring of grief. Yet for some she provided the soundtrack of a period of their lives. For others she was the performer of their favourite version of the national anthem. They were grateful. That is good.
Noticing the passing of a cultural figure is also natural because they represent the unity of the human family. I listen to the same music on my radio as people I will never meet on the other side of the country. I watch the same tv shows. We are connected in some small way by our enjoyment of these things and our love of the actors or singers. When one dies we grieve together and it reminds us that we are all part of a larger whole. We are also reminded that we will all follow that person to wherever he has gone. These are reminders of our humanity. That is good.
Finally, in the cases of Cory Monteith, Whitney Houston, or many others who died tragically from drug overdose, we are reminded of the dangers of this terrible problem. Here was a clean cut, handsome, successful young man. He had friends, family, a career, a supportive girlfriend, the desire to change and he couldn’t escape his addiction. Drug addiction can strike at any level of society, in any family. It destroys lives and tears apart homes. It’s a tragedy that has probably, to some degree, struck somebody you know right now. You may not be aware because it carries a stigma, but alcoholism and drug addiction are probably affecting somebody close to you, either personally or because of the struggles of someone they love. A recent study found that 71% of high schoolers knew a regular marijuana smoker and heavy use of the drug is up by 80% among teens.( http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/05/02/national-study-heavy-marijuana-use-80-percent-among-teens) Frankly, having grown up in BC, that 71% seems low. Marijuana certainly isn’t heroin and is widely seen as harmless in our society but I’ve seen it utterly destroy the potential of teens and also some adults. Heroin, the drug that killed Cory Monteith, has seen an 80 percent rise in use amid TWELVE TO SEVENTEEN YEAR OLDS!!! ( http://www.drugfree.org/join-together/community-related/heroin-use-on-the-rise-in-southern-california )Here’s an Issue we need to be aware of for the sake of our children. If media coverage of this tragic death can stop one young person from heading down this road, then that is good.
Should we care about the deaths of those who serve our nation in the armed forces or law enforcement? Absolutely! It’s a crying shame we shrug them off. But it isn’t Cory Monteith’s fault, and the death of any human being is a time to pause, take stock, and send up a prayer.
No man is an island
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
As well as if a promontory were,
As well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were.
Any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind.
Therefore send not to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
Here is a link to a wonderful community helping young people escape addiction. http://www.comunitacenacolo.org/