On Collective Grief

Context: Extravagant mourning for celebrity musicians is a way to confront our own mortality

No individual human being’s life (or death) is ultimately more important than any other’s. All life is precious; of necessity, those closer to us whom we actually know and love are inevitably more subjectively important to us. Celebrity death appears to allow many people to contextualise death, to understand it in a shared way, in a way that grounds the meaning of our lives in this shared narrative of culture and collective experience. We take our cues on grief and norms of behaviour from the collective narrative of culture. This is a function that the remembrance of the death (and celebration of the life) of a Saint or other religious figure may once have fulfilled for a larger demographic than it currently does in a largely secular global media and information culture. We lose a little of ourselves whenever someone we know dies. Whenever a celebrity dies, we all lose a little of our collective narrative and meaning-making cultural self-identity. Life remains altogether far too short; our shared mythologies allow us some modicum of comfort in the stark light of the existential emptiness we all must face alone.

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