In Praise of Social Media Mourning


Illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo by Michael Kelly/Flickr CC

Excerpt from this article:

By now you know the social media celebrity-death protocol. As the news spreads there’s a rolling wave of “oh no”s and “RIP”s—many of them omitting the name of the deceased, to mark the advent of a topic so urgent that everyone can be assumed to be participating. Then come the tributes: personal memories, 140-character career summations, expressions of sadness.

And then come the complaints. These tributes, we are told, are “performative.” To post a response to the death of a famous stranger is to “make it about you.”

These thoughts don’t add up to an obituary, but there were plenty of obituaries. Social media filled in the space around the obituaries. These posts map the millions of points at which Prince and his music intersected with the lives of the people who heard it…

The bereaved, of course, can make their own decisions about what to say or not say. The rest of us are paying our respects and assembling the material from which artistic legacies are formed. We do that by talking about the work, and about the feelings it produced in us over all these decades, and about times when we danced, and about how finite life is and how much pleasure there still is in it, despite everything.