Robin Williams is Dead. Does that Mean We Win?

 

I confess. I haven’t been all that interested in the obsessive coverage of Robin Williams’ death.

My feelings about Mr Williams before his death were generally positive but mostly disinterested. I enjoyed his movies and wished him well.

I knew, as soon as I heard that he had died, that we would be in for another of these 24/7 whatevers that the media does when someone famous dies. Sure enough, I flipped briefly to the news last night, and I saw a talking head interviewing one person after another eulogizing Mr Williams.

I don’t want to say anything bad, negative or dismissive about Robin Williams, his tragic suicide, or the hell his family and the few people who truly loved him must be going through right now. I’m also not going to say anything faux profound about depression or suicide.

What I do want to write about is one thing: Why?

Why do we go into these orgies of obsession every time someone famous dies?

It is so predictable and so bizarre that I am beginning to think that these griefathons serve some sort of purpose for us as individuals. The media is consistent about intoning gravely that we are engaging in a “national mourning” and then carpet-bombing our senses with what begins as worshipful eulogies spiced with titillating details about how the person died, and finishes with sordid details about their personal failures and picadillos.

It’s a script. The media follows it like a cooking recipe, and we eat it up like it was dessert.

What’s the purpose? I don’t mean the obvious purpose of getting ratings and a kind of prurient interest in other people’s pain, but what is the real purpose for this obsessive and downright irrational behavior?

And it is irrational. Because, my friends, you didn’t know Robin Williams. You didn’t know Michael Jackson. Or Sonny Bono. Or Princess Diana. Or Marilyn Monroe.

You didn’t know any of them.

They were two-dimensional representations of themselves on big screens and little screens and videos to you. This does not belie the fact that they were people and that other people loved them deeply and suffered the extremes of grief and emotional dislocation when they died.

But the fact is, you are not one of those people. You did not know them. You did not love them. Before their passing, you did not even think about them all that much.

But the minute they die, we focus on them and the endless blabbing about their “contribution,” “genius,” and their saintliness begins and goes on for days and weeks until we finally wear it out and turn to something else.

We stop working, stop talking to our families, stop thinking about paying the bills and taking the dog for a walk, just plain stop our lives and sit transfixed in front of the tube watching hour after hour of celebrities being interviewed by talking heads who are themselves celebrities, saying the same trite things over and over about the newly departed. We are like spotlighted deer, staring at the images of this person we didn’t know and pushing ourselves to a kind of vicarious grief over their death.

Later, as the inevitable take-down starts and the tawdry details of their lives drip through, we extend the obsession into fascination and tut-tut our way through more wasted time and energy.

What’s going on here? People give whole days and weeks of their lives over to emotion about someone they never met, and then turn around in six months or a year when another big celebrity dies and do it again.

What are they getting out of it? What beast in the subterranean oozy places of our minds is this feeding?

Maybe it stems from that thing we know but don’t really believe: Our own mortality. Does this have something to do with an affirmation that Robin Williams/Michael Jackson/Sonny Bono/Princess Diana/Marilyn Monroe are dead … but we are alive?

Is this a backdoor way of dealing with the fact that we are all going to die and that this knowledge haunts us all of our living days? Robin Williams threw away the one thing that any of us ever truly possesses: His life. He refused years of living.

I don’t want to say anything about suicide or depression. I have no deep thoughts to add to that conversation. But it is a fact that Robin Williams revoked his own lease on life. He gave up what most people would fight with everything they had to keep: Life.

I have no doubt that this titillates us.

But what makes it writ large is that he had everything that the gods of this world have taught us makes life worth living. He was a success on an international scale. He was up there as high as you can get in his very public profession; one of the handful out of the billions who walk this planet today. He had more money than we can count and the adulation of millions. He had everything we have been taught to spend our lives striving to get; every “if only” we think would make us happy and fill the holes in us that keep us awake at night.

That fascinates because if affirms in a silent sort of way that maybe all those things we’ve been taught to want and never got — the fame, success, endless money and pretty young things on our arms — don’t matter all that much after all. If the rich and famous can tumble to our feet like this, then maybe we aren’t missing all that much. Maybe we’re more ok than the same media that is now riveting us to Robin Williams’ death tells us we are.

Maybe our old jalopy and our two-bedroom house with the leaky faucet and our humdrum jobs that bore us to tears and our sadistic bosses from hell aren’t all that bad after all.

Because there’s this: He/She/They are dead. And we’re not.

Maybe the fascination lies in the fact that if the richest and most successful among us can die by their own excesses or even their own deliberate intent, then, maybe, in spite of all their glitzy success and our lackluster workaday lives, we, in fact, win.

Where are all the good people dead: In the Heart, or In the Head?

0415 AUDRIE POTT sized jpg full 600

Sheila Pott, mother of Audrie Pott, with photo of Audrie 

Here are the facts.

  • Fifteen year old girl attends a party in one of the elite zip codes in this country.
  • She drinks. Maybe she drinks too much. Maybe her drink was doctored.
  • What is certain is that she was raped by boys she thought were her friends.
  • The boys put graphic photos of the rape on the internet.
  • The girl hanged herself.

I have had to deal twice with situations like this in my job as a representative. One was a girl who killed herself after a gang rape by five men who took photos and showed them around, including to the police. When the police told the girl there were photos, she went home, got in the bathtub and killed herself with a shotgun blast to the face.

The other girl tried to kill herself. After four days in critical care, she survived. 

I’m going to post an excerpt of an article about the little girl who hung herself. I want to talk about the attitudes that show through this article. I have no grievance with the person who wrote it. They’ve just fallen into our societal trap of cleaning up what should be faced and excusing that for which there is no excuse.

The article begins by saying that 15-year-old Audrie got drunk at a party and when she woke up, concluded that she had been “sexually abused.” Let’s get our terminology straight. She concluded, probably due to some grisly physical evidence, that she’d been raped. 

Remember that word: Rape. It’s ugly and people don’t like it. But the word isn’t the real ugliness. The ugliness is living in a society where 15-year-old girls can be treated like this and then suffer the further indignity of having reporters try to clean the horror up for the perps with the use of “soft” expressions like “sexual abuse” to describe what happened. 

These upstanding young men posted “graphic” photos of their rape of their friend on Facebook. After Audrie saw the photos on the internet, and endured the mockery of emails and texts circulating about what had been done to her, eight days after she was raped, she hung herself.

According to our reporter, “the case underscored the seeming callousness with which some young people use technology.”

Is that what’s this “case” is about? “Sexual abuse” and “callous” use of technology? 

If we accept this kind of bland obfuscation of the brutal rape and murder by suicide of this young girl as a problem with technology and “cyber-bullying,” we need to burn our Member of the Human Race Card and go sit in the corner with the trolls and monsters of our deepest darkness.

To paraphrase a line from the movie Grosse Point Blank, where are all the good people dead:  In the heart, or in the head? 

Let’s get one thing clear: I don’t talk about misunderstood mass murderers and rapists who are otherwise such good people on this blog. You won’t see sweet-face lists of these young men’s accomplishments and wonderment about “how could such fine boys do this?” You’ll not read a word of sympathy and grief if they get sent to the prison where they belong, no matter how much they cry for themselves when they are sentenced. 

They were without pity for Audrie. I don’t care if they bawl their eyes out for themselves. I hope they spend the rest of their lives in jail. I don’t think they should ever breathe another free breath again. 

If you do something like this, then I put you in the monster column. The only way to get off that column is to manifest extreme remorse and humble grief for what you have done, coupled with a willingness to admit that you have in fact done it and that you are willing to do anything it takes to make up for it and to change. Even then, I want the proof of a changed life, and I mean a really changed life. 

Nice people do not rape their friends. They do not — ever — treat other people like things. They do not take photos of their raping and then post them on the internet, along with sending emails and texts to taunt, degrade and destroy their “friend” socially. What these men did to this girl, the rape, was physical torture. What they did later was emotional torture. What this young girl faced was social death.

People who treat other people like this are monsters. They will remain monsters so long as they continue to excuse, defend and deny the utter depravity and sub-human cruelty of what they have allowed themselves to become.  

From The Washington Post: 

SARATOGA, Calif. — Fifteen-year-old Audrie Pott passed out drunk at a friend’s house, woke up and concluded she had been sexually abused.

In the days that followed, she was shocked to see an explicit photo of herself circulating among her classmates along with emails and text messages about the episode. And she was horrified to discover that her attackers were three of her friends, her family’s lawyer says.

Eight days after the party, she hanged herself.

“She pieced together with emails and texts who had done this to her. They were her friends. Her friends!” said family attorney Robert Allard. “That was the worst”

On Thursday, sheriff’s officials arrested three 16-year-old boys on suspicion of sexual battery against Audrie, who committed suicide in September.

The arrests and the details that came spilling out shocked many in this prosperous Silicon Valley suburb of 30,000. And together with two other episodes recently in the news — a suicide in Canada and a rape in Steubenville, Ohio — the case underscored the seeming callousness with which some young people use technology.

“The problem with digital technologies is they can expand the harm that people suffer greatly,” said Nancy Willard, an Oregon-based cyberbullying expert and creator of a prevention program for schools.

Santa Clara County sheriff’s officials would not give any details on the circumstances around Audrie’s suicide. But Allard said Audrie had been drinking at a sleepover at a friend’s house, passed out and “woke up to the worst nightmare imaginable.” She knew she had been assaulted, he said.

She soon found an abundance of material online about that night, including a picture. (Read the rest here.) 

 


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