Why do individuals become obsessed with the news of celebrities passing? Why is such an event glamorised more than a marriage, birth or public holiday? Perhaps the anonymity afforded online can bring out dark impulses that might otherwise be suppressed.
After the shock news of Robin Williams’ death on 11th August 2014, questions are being raised as to how society and the media react both on and offline to these tragic events. The use of headlines in The Sun, The Mirror and the Metro have caused huge uproar amongst mental health charities and the Press Complaints Commission, after graphic details of the comedians suicide were published.
A sensationalised version of events soon spread through social media, with all UK trending topics on Twitter relating to Robin Williams shortly after the news broke. Whilst the majority of messages meant well, some took a nasty turn. Zelda Williams (Robin Williams’ daughter) decided to delete her Twitter account after grisly doctored images of her deceased father were sent to her.
The effect of media intrusion
ABC news had a live stream of Robin Williams’ home after the announcement of his death. The news channel posted a banner on its site advertising the stream. Intrigued audiences were enticed to view events unfold as if part of a reality television show, before ABC took the stream down and apologised for its intrusion, especially as the family had asked to be left alone as they grieved. Is this media intrusion, or simply a case of the press trying to meet public demand for celebrity news?
It would be wrong to solely point the finger at the media for overexposing the death of the rich and famous – recently a member of the public (18 year-old Jameson Witty) was caught on video stealing a section of roof from the Porsche that actor Paul Walker died in after a tragic traffic accident.
Amy Winehouse’s house was also burgled shortly after her sudden death, with her family reporting that personal lyrics and notebooks were stolen. These exploitations of celebrity deaths are not due to the media, but individuals seeking a perverse famous “trophy” for personal gain.