Sunday, December 1, 2013

Paul Walker, Irony and the Insensitivity of the Internet

As fast as the news started to break about his death yesterday, the meme generators started working overtime.

The jokes about drifting, the I guess he went too fast this time, the people who just couldn't stop laughing about how ironic it was that he died the way he did.

Paul Walker, the star of the Fast and Furious movie series, died in a fiery car accident yesterday when a friend of his drove a Porsche into a utility pole, then a tree.


Many people called it a hoax immediately, which it wasn't. This time.

Earlier this week, there was a hoax about him, and the details were eerily similar. This time, though, it wasn't a hoax. It was real.

He was really dead.

Once people seemed to digest the fact that it was a real news report, the irony jokes started. Was it ironic? Sure. Should it be funny? No. Death is never funny.

The internet can really force you to hate humanity sometimes, and this was one of them.

Never mind that the characters he played in movies were just that - characters. He loved fast cars and was a driver, but his day job was 
acting.

Never mind that he was actually a good guy, who did good work, who gave time and money to worthy causes, who was at a charity event that he organized to raise money for typhoon relief when the accident happened.

Never mind that he left behind a daughter, and even if he had to accept a microscope looking at every detail of his life, his child didn't ask for that.

People forget that celebrities are real people. They hide behind their keyboards and spew insensitive remarks and generate memes.

If Paul had been one of their friends, their brothers, the father of their child, I can promise you they wouldn't be so quick to make a joke out of his death.

Suddenly that death might carry meaning for them.

Just last month a dear friend of mine wrapped his car around a tree. Speed was a factor. A fast car was a factor. There's no good reason his car didn't explode. He was lucky. Paul wasn't.

Sometimes fate just decides it's your time to go, I suppose, and I don't think it has a damn thing to do with what your day job is.

Then you have the people who declare that his death is insignificant because _______ children starved today or ___________ military members died today or whatever other reason they can conjure up in the world.

It's not anyone's right or place to dictate who's life or death is greater than another's.

If you are discounting the death of someone just because someone else died too, you're missing the point of grief entirely, particularly when it comes to people like him, who lived in the public eye. Even if most of the people mourning his death never knew him personally, he represented something to them. People followed his career, related to his characters. He was a stranger, yes, but he was a familiar one.

To plenty of people, he wasn't just a person on a screen. A friend of mine knew him in real life.

Besides which, a death is a death is a death. Maybe I've just lost too many people. The end of a life is something worthy of pause, regardless of who it was. It should require people to maintain a basic level of respect for human life, if not for him then for his child.

Pausing for a moment to reflect on the death of one person does not diminish the deaths of other people. Not at all. The media focuses on it, briefly, because it is newsworthy when a celebrity dies, not because his life was worth more, but just because more of us knew who he was.

The internet universe is a strange one. On one hand, there are all the people who take things too personally, who get offended, who feel it necessary to proclaim to the world every time something offends them. On the other hand, you have the trolls who live for that, who love to get under people's skin, who get off on upsetting others.

At the end of the day, we could all be better served to find some center. To understand that our emotions about anything that happens online are that - ours. If you thrive on drama and are drawn toward it, it will find you. If you can see both sides of an issue, if you can respect how other people react, if you can understand that everyone brings a different perspective to everything that happens, you'll take a lot less personally.

It's not about you, anyway. It never was.

Right now, it's about a guy who happened to be famous and died way too young. It won't stay that way for long, not in a world with an exceptionally short term memory. Let people be sad for a second. Something else will happen soon enough anyway.

Rest in peace, Paul. Thoughts and prayers to your friends and family, as well as to those mourning the man who lost his life in the accident with you.
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As a postscript to this post, I would like to clarify something. I did not name the friend he was with, though I was fully aware of his identity, intentionally in this piece. The reason for that is the reaction of people online who have vilified him already. Grief is difficult enough when done privately. His family and friends, in my opinion, deserve the right to mourn him privately, certainly without blame being laid at his feet. For that reason only, I will not name him. Paul's friends and family will never be afforded the luxury of private grief precisely because of his fame. I have my reasons, none of which have anything to do with valuing one life more than another.

53 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting this, Kelly. Just as people hide behind their keyboards to spew hate, actors "hide" behind their characters. Not on purpose, but you know what I mean - as you said, his character wasn't him. Sad, but true, news of a celebrity's death generates clicks and sells magazines. News of an ordinary person's does not. If that makes people angry, then as always, they can click away or stop reading.

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  2. Amen to that.. It bothers me to read ppls disrespectful coments too.. Ive been putting my condolences,thoughts and prayers for his family,friends and fans.. R.I.P.Paul Walker..

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  3. Talking about similarity: Why does everybody seem to forget about the guy who died with him? Nice post, though. May they rest in peace!

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    1. Because he wasn't as significant as Paul walker he didnt change many peoples lives I for one really followed walker the first movie I watched was f&f and I fell in love with cars and his character I am a car guy this day becuase of him and I'm 20 and I'm am sure a lot of people didn't know his name

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  4. Well said as usual.

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  5. Amen to this and a big thank you for you for writing it. I find it so disrespectful and down right upsetting to know that people make jokes about something so serious. So thank you writing this and for everyone affected by this sad event I'm praying for you.

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  6. There are several articles about me essentially talking about how "different" he was from the successful actors out there. Here's the best of them: http://popwatch.ew.com/2013/12/01/the-sides-of-paul-walker-you-may-have-missed/

    I admit, I liked him in Varsity Blues because he was a fictional lance - Lance Harbor. I didn't care for the Fast & Furious movies, I think I saw 3 of them, but he seemed to do a good enough job.

    I never bad mouth or makes tasteless jokes about the dead. I just had a Uncle pass away in the his mid 50s, his body ravaged by drugs and alcohol. But I miss him. My childhood memories of him were good, and I'm sticking with those.

    Thanks for writing this

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  7. Brilliant and so right on. There were so many people that just made me sick. So many pages that made me really just shake my head. Who does that? As you said, everything else aside, he was a human with a family, a child. And I thought to myself, so many times......that child must be absolutely devastated. She's not going to have her Dad to call any time she wants, to see whenever (in person). And that broke my heart.

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  8. This...just so amazing and poignant. Thank you for writing and sharing this with all of us.

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  9. Excellent post and you put into words exactly what I've been thinking today!

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  10. Exactly!!! I had to explain to someone today who got pissy about the friend in the car not being plastered all over the news and social networking sites that it wasn't because people don't care...... it was because people knew who Paul was. If Paul wasn't in the car with the guy nobody but people who knew him would even know it happened (well those around the scene would but it wouldn't mean as much to them). I work for hospice..... haven't seen any of my patient's deaths in the National media and have lost several people and a dog that I love recently. I get why celebrity deaths are publicized..... wish others would too. Regular people also don't have all their crazy antics and personal affairs blasted on the news. Aren't the ones throwing a fit about the "insensitivity" to Paul's friend being insensitive themselves???

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  11. Thanks for these words of wisdom. The tastelessness is awful!

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  12. Thank you so much for posting this... It's things like this, and the horribly insensitive reactions of others, that make me lose faith in humanity. You've just brought it back a little.

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  13. Agreed. I feel like we dehumanize celebrities to the point that nothing is off-limits. It's a cruel tactic, and one that has become so casual and common place. Thank you for writing this. It's always very sad when a "familiar stranger" passes. Especially in such a tragic and sudden way.

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  14. Thank you for your post. Very nicely worded and so very true.

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  15. Beautifully put.Death is not a joke, and for all the lives that are in shambles and the hearts that are broken, the disgrace and insensitivity is unforgivable.

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  16. Almost had a good post that made a great point!! Until you couldn't name the other man by his name.... Probably because he wasn't a celebrity, you didn't care to look that up, huh? RIP Paul Walker and the other guy....

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    1. Incorrect assumption on your part. I chose deliberately not to use his name because he has already been vilified for the accident. His friends and family are grieving too, they don't need blame being thrown around as well.

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    2. amen DeBie Hive. People need to shut up and just let these families and loved ones grieve. People are so quick to hate and judge.

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    3. Extremely well said :)

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  17. Wow...amazing post. So true. All life is sacred, all death is sad. The Internet sure does spew out negativity anytime something like this happens. Such a shame.

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  18. biggerthanbiggest@yahoo.comDecember 2, 2013 at 1:14 AM

    When I comment on the 20 000 people that starve to death every day, it's not to somehow lessen the value of a celebrity death, but to shame the media and people who support celebrity in the first place. I disagree with you: I don't think celebrity deaths are newsworthy in the first place.

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    1. THIS, EXACTLY. I am pissed that any celebrity death is newsworthy. Just because more people knew who you were, doesnt make you worthy of more media attention than others. A pastor of a church can pass, and get 15 seconds mention, even with hundreds knowing them, them living their lives doing a good service in their community, but if a celeb were to die the same day, they wouldnt even get the 15 seconds.
      Also, this blogger calls for respect for the feelings of others, while at the same time, belittling the feelings of people like us, who only wish that every death were a significant one in the eyes of the media, or that none of them were.

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  19. Beautiful post, you are right on so many counts, thank you for posting...

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  20. Very well said. I agree. God bless u.

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  21. may the family feel the arms GOD around them through there loss , and may Paul R.I.P

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  22. On the day Paul died, roughly 100 other Americans also lost their lives in traffic violence directly. X12 more were seriously injured (requiring hospital stays of 3+ days). Not to put too fine a point on it, but we've all become conditioned to traffic violence as the cost of doing business in America. The thing is, it wasn't always this way. We used to design places for people, but now we design our places for the swift movement of motor vehicles. Last year traffic violence took 33,561 American lives and transformed the lives of many times more.

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  23. Celebrity or not, someone's death should never be joked about. We all have family and they should be respected. It is a sad thing when someone is lost so young.

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  24. Beautifully stated.

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  25. I get what you are saying, it's sad he died very young and had a long career and life ahead of him to come. IMO, it seems like some people just post stuff concerning this, or similar events, to either show that they knew about it first or to feel like they are part of something that they are not really. A lot of people made fun of those fast and furious movies for being "cheesy" but I bet they were all posting stuff like RIP for Paul Walker, and probably a few of the in bad taste jokes you mentioned too. One of the biggest problems with the internet is you can't truly read emotion and intent from a post, something can always be interpreted wrongly.

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  26. Although I can appreciate the subject matter in this article, the real irony is that you are still only acknowledging Walker's death. The irony is you claim "It's not anyone's right or place to dictate who's life or death is greater than another's." however you actually did, rather passively, in this writing. So did every other media outlet that wrote about it.

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  27. Had you read the prior comments, you would have seen the explanation for why I specifically didn't include his name. He's already been vilified by many, and his family and friends deserve a chance to grieve privately without blame being heaped upon him. I assure you the exclusion was solely for that purpose and intentional.

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  28. Well said. Some of this comes down to my little rule about only saying stuff online that you'd say to someone's face. I doubt most of the trolls out there would ever have the guts to make these jokes in front of his friends and family.

    And incidentally, interesting that almost all of the critical comments about this post are anonymous. Hmmm....

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  29. You expressed what I have been thinking for the last few days.. Sometimes I yearn for the simpler life when it comes to social media & this is one of those times.. His Family is not allowed to Grieve the way the rest of us do when losing someone. The media showed us that all to well with Tyrese yesterday & Interviewing Pauls Father today. I just feel its disrespectful in so many ways. Yes he was a Celebrity but he was also a Human Being with a family, daughter & friends that should be left alone.. Prayers to them all & i hope Paul is standing on a Beach somewhere in Paradise looking over all of them. Seems like we lost one of the good guys in that entertainment industry & from a Fans perspective I will miss him immensely

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  30. never mind the fact that one person dies and you write a long article about the morality of the internet- the lack of consideration that soo many people have to his death, well hello people are desensitized.... But thats not the point, Why don't you ponder something that really matters, Like the protests in Ukraine, with fierce backlash from the governement, or something that really matters, stop being sheep......

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  31. Great piece! Paul Walker always seemed like the kind of guy you could kick up your feet with, sit around a fire pit, drink a beer and tell stories with. Not to mention absolutely beautiful!

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  32. Made me go cold reading this, it's all so true. Everybody deserves to be mourned no matter who they are and their families deserve to be left with their memories unsullied by others.

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  33. Death is always sad and complicated. And, the brutal thing about it is that it pays no mind to who you are or how you lived or the circumstances leading to the end result. It's one of the two only true unifying pieces of our shared humanity. We are born. We die. It's never funny. It's something we share in the deep pieces of our souls. Thank you for writing about this so eloquently.

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  34. Nope, sorry, not going to feel guilty for appreciating life's little ironies.

    This guy lived a charmed life. Millions of people would happily have traded heir lives for his, even if that meant dying at 40.

    Sure, he gave money to charity, and that's noble, but he had plenty of resources to spare. There are people who die every day that gave a larger percentage of their personal effort to charity or public service, and no-one mourns about them all day on the internet. The guy was an actor, not a saint.

    And attempting to dismiss an obvious argument, like he fact that millions of unsung heroes die everyday, does not invalidate said argument. I am in fact going to mourn a fire-fighter who died trying to save a child from a burning building MUCH more than an actor. Sorry, that's just the way it is.

    And people are allowed to find humor in death. In fact, a great deal of humor is specifically about laughing in the face of death.

    For instance, in the cult classic "Monty Python and the Holy Grail", a small white rabbit decapitates a number of medieval knights in a comic manner. Am I supposed to not laugh because death is depicted?

    Is it a tragedy when someone dies? Yes. And this was a tragedy too.

    Do I feel bad for his child? Yes, I most certainly do, though I feel my concern lessened by the knowledge that she will be well cared for. Much better cared for, in fact, than the children of those soldiers you mentioned.

    But the way it happened was ironic, and that makes it funny. That's just a fact. Sure it's dark humor, but it's still humor.

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  35. Replies
    1. I can't believe how egocentric you seem to be DeBie...really? What gives you the right to take it upon yourself and judge people for how they react to a public matter, what? People in the entertainment industry know, and though most of them can't accept it, that fame and fortune have a high price they must pay day in and day out. There will always be situations in life that we cannot control, and yet, we must keep in mind that we can always be in control of the way we react to those situation, and nobody should have the right to say your reaction is good or bad, it's your own, it might be different from yours, but nevertheless, it ain't nothing like your freedom...It's my believe that opinions are like a-holes, we all got one, and it usually stinks.

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  36. Thank you. I wrote a post about this on my FB page because I was simply tired of my fellow service members (former and current) about the insensitivity and misplaced hate for people that died who aren't in the military. My post went something like this:

    "Two men tragically died yesterday and those two men were someone's father and they were someone's son. Rather than paying respects, some people decide to mock the person's death without hesitation. Some of them even cried foul because the general public are grieving only because they were famous while service members die every day overseas and no one is batting an eye. I get it, I served in the military too. The pain of losing a brother/sister is always tragic and I honor them when I hear about it. Those people that have gone before us didn't sign up for the glory of being honored after they die. They signed up because they truly believed in something greater than them. We volunteered to risk our lives and we don't expect to be glorified and be put up on pedestal. If you expected to be worshiped, then you signed up for the wrong reasons. At the risk of losing respect from some of my fellow service members, I will say this: you're not special at all. The generations before us didn't think they were special either and they've had it harder than we ever did. Having been deployed and been in a combat zone doesn't excuse you to become an desensitized asshat. Most of us have managed to still feel some kind of sympathy towards a loss of life, regardless if they served in the military or not. I am not pointing fingers at anyone in particular, but if you feel that this post offended you, then you're most likely the asshat to whom I speak off"

    The man didn't serve in the military. However, he was a hero for a lot of people. He was a role model for those who admired him and he was a hero to the people in impoverished countries that he helped raise funds and personally traveled into in order to help them. There are many great deeds that Paul Walker have done but he rarely ever advertises it. He didn't do it to earn praises, he did it because he felt that he was in a great position to use his fame and fortune in order to help out those who were desperate.Yet the false bravado of the internet people choose to mock him because they know nothing of what he's done and my colleagues mocked and showed no respect because Paul Walker never put on a uniform and served. I think its ridiculous to equate serving in the military makes you exceptional. It's a volunteer service and I've done it myself and never once I thought I was above anyone else. I volunteered out of debt to this country's opportunity that was given to me and my family. Lastly, I learned to respect human life, whether they were important to me or not. I just wish those who don't would realize this.

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    1. Thank you, sincerely for your service, and for your perspective.

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  37. I think too often harshness is confused with being witty. People are applauded for vilifying the latest fallen celebrity or politician. Mean is mean. And there's just way too much of it. Great post.

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  38. DeBie... Just an FYI.... Both Paul and the driver (left nameless on purpose) actually were professional drivers and drove for the AE team ....

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    1. I have edited accordingly. Thank you.

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