Monday, December 16, 2013

And then everybody died

There have been three recent deaths that will influence the posts this week, but today will focus on just one.

I wrote recently that there will always be someone who will tell you that you are doing it wrong. I was writing in the context of how to be a member of your marginalized group, but I have seen a lot lately that applies to internet use, after reading a piece on how basically posting anything at all makes you insufferable, one on the wrongness of selfies, and several reactions to the reactions (meta-reactions?) to the death of Paul Walker.

I have seen part of She's All That, but nothing else. I didn't think Walker was bad looking, but I wasn't particularly attracted to him. I did not know about his charity, his daughter, or his tendency to date 16 year old girls, or anything really, and I would not know those things if he were still alive. I was pretty indifferent, basically.

I still felt bad that he died. It didn't seem real, but it was, and you start seeing messages about it. Because I had been so indifferent before, I thought about whether it made sense to post something. Just "RIP Paul Walker" is pretty perfunctory. I have done it for others, though generally they meant more to me. Still, it meant something.

I was thinking about it more, because someone had tweeted recently about learning that Ken Ober was dead. He died in 2009. I knew it happened, and I was not indifferent on that one.

Ken Ober was the host of an MTV game show "Remote Control". I watched it in high school, and I loved it. When I was on Jeopardy, I was talking with some of the other contestants in the green room about other shows we would have wanted to do, and one of guys had attended a taping, so three of us were talking about the show, and how he had died, and it was important.

They never really announced a cause of death. Based on the symptoms and the time of year when he died (November), it sounds like flu, but he wasn't super famous, there was not a lot of press, and I think it kind of led to a lack of closure. Maybe you shouldn't need closure for a person you watched on a show over twenty years ago, but I know when I saw the one tweet, I had to reply. What I replied added nothing, and I felt kind of silly, but I had to, and if anyone else mentions Ken Ober in the future, I will have to say something, because that's how it is.

I think there is this process we go through in terms of coping with death, where we have to build this acceptance and comprehension that they are dead and we are not. With the people we know, there are memorial services, and commiserating with others, and we tell the story enough times that we believe it is true. We go over details, and are frustrated when we don't have details, and then sometimes we get details and are still frustrated because it still doesn't seem right.

We don't know celebrities, but we know of them, and so we know they are dead. Not being in their circle, we don't get to take part in the same way, but maybe we do need something.

I did not do a Facebook status update or tweet for Paul Walker, but I saw many people that wished him a peaceful rest, which I respect. This was shortly followed by complaints about the trite nature of them, though more with Lou Reed, because many people who did appreciate Lou Reed knew that others did not truly appreciate him enough. We'll now repeat the process with Peter O'Toole.

Having been through that thought process, I got what they were saying. Paul Walker was nothing to me, except a human being, whom I knew about, who died. That was enough to make me feel something, and for people who had seen his movies, or had thought about him more, well, I can't really criticize anyone for caring that someone is dead.

Later criticisms involved the lack of caring for others, like the other passenger, Roger Rodas. It does not feel the same, because we did not know him, but we could have. I saw a picture of friends trying to come to the rescue. I don't know their names, but there were emotions coming through in the picture, and I felt something there.

There is a powerful concept here, that has been tested. If you make a charity appeal focusing on a general problem, with a large number, or if you focus on one person, people respond more to the one person. If you try and combine the approaches, it can still be less effective than just focusing on the one. Therefore, the most important piece of recent journalism this week may be, because there are many children and families who need help, which is daunting, but people can focus on Dasani, and they are responding to her.

A news story Saturday night added another thought. They were playing the final recordings of the Hotshots crew who died this summer. I did not know any of them, but I read John Maclean's Fire on the Mountain last year, about a different fatal fire. Because of the similarities, I felt things there. I understood what certain things meant, and what it would lead to.

Usually when we talk about death, we focus on how you need to appreciate life now, and the people you have now, and that is valid. What I am thinking about now, though, is needing to be open to more.

One theory about the charity campaign thing is that having a large number feels overwhelming. We feel free to care about one, but maybe we are scared to care about 22000 homeless children in New York, or 3.9 million people displaced by a typhoon, or 7 billion people on Earth.

As understandable as that is, we are capable of caring a lot more than we think, if we do it incrementally. In conversations and in books and in surprising ways, we expand. So talk more, ask more questions. Read more books. Make more eye contact. Smile at strangers, maybe even greet them if you're feeling really wild. 

And don't suppress your impulse to care about something, even if you are not sure how to express it meaningfully. Caring is one of the best things about us, so it the last thing we should leave latent.


Anonymous said...

Hi Gina,
If it gives you any kind of closure, I can tell you that Ken Ober died from heart failure -- not a heart attack, but from the gradual progression of heart disease which, it seems, is primarily hereditary. His death was sudden and unexpected but clearly the disease had been at work for a long time. But, please, even if I've helped with some closure, don't let it stop you from saying things about Ken. He's worth remembering.
Ken's brother

sporktastic said...

Thank you so much, and I'm sorry for your loss.