The 2016 Death List

It’s over.  Liberals can, at last, breathe out a sigh of relief.  2016 can’t kill any more of their decadent dreams, debauched celebrity heroes, and media trustworthiness.  Everywhere, they disowned 2016—crying out in a voice dissimilar only in accent to their ugly English-reject comedian’s haughtiness, “it’s the current year, b-but, the current year sucks!  I mean, come on!”  2016 took with it their trust in the media pundits, their faith in a system that had been slanted in their favor for years, their ideologically purity of candidate Bernie Sanders and, later, the historical certainty, the fairness, of candidate Hillary Clinton.  It robbed them of the satisfaction that the last eight years of direct cultural warfare under President Obama had tried to tell them they deserved.  It laughed at their attempts to secure moral high grounds and shocked them when they realized that ironic anonymous internet trolls had better senses of humor than they did—or, even, that these trolls had senses of humor at all!  And of course, in its passing, 2016 took a long list of celebrities that many of the more shallow among us modeled our public opinions after.

Let’s look briefly at a few of those celebrities who passed away this year.

Gene Wilder (83)
Florence Henderson (82)
Edward Albee (88)
Harper Lee (89)
Gary Marshall (81)
Doris Roberts (90)
Kenny Baker (81)
Alan Rickman (69)
Anton Yelchin (27)
Zsa Zsa Gabor (99)
Carrie Fisher (60)
Debbie Reynolds (84)
Attrell Cordes; Prince (46)
David Bowie (69)
Leonard Cohen (82)
Merle Haggard (79)
Glenn Frey (67)
Keith Emmerson (71)
Greg Lake (69)
John Glenn (95)
Muhammad Ali (74)
Fidel Castro (90)
Nancy Reagan (94)
Antonin Scalia (79)
Shimon Peres (93)
Phyllis Schlafly (92)

And many others, including sports announcers, old coaches and players, some other actors and a few journalists, to be sure.  I didn’t put everyone on here because making an exhaustive list isn’t the point—there’s the rest of the internet for that.

Look how old these people are.  Only two of them are under 60.  Everyone else was old—and not just “help grandma across the street,” old, either.  If you’ve made it past 90, you’re doing pretty well; the average age of this list is about 74.

This isn’t a dig on the elderly.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  I’d argue that most of the people on this list have lived full, complete lives—or, at the very least, they had ample opportunity to do so.  Eighty or ninety years is nothing to sneeze at.  So what’s the tragedy?  What’s there to lament?  I could understand the sorrow over Yelchin’s death given that he hadn’t even seen his thirtieth birthday, wasn’t married, never experienced the joys of raising children or establishing a family, and whose only legacy to leave behind seems to be a marginal and barely-noticeable impact upon a largely apathetic socialite actor’s community.  Even in spite of the darkly humorous circumstances of his death, that sort of quiet shuffle off the stage is a little depressing.  Prince, though a bit older than Yelchin, seems to have been in the same boat.

But what’s the deal with these millennial basket cases spewing out their salty tears all over social media about this crap?  It’s not even their 50-something parents—the people who might actually remember the lives of these celebrities—who are all bent out of shape.  No, it’s the twenty-two-year-old youtuber who’s uploaded a tearful video about remembering Carrie Fisher, the girl with the fake-blonde hair in your Sophomore literature class who was sad the day Rickman’s death was announced, and the friend of yours on Facebook that reposts those weird feminist sayings who was asking for a moment of silence over the passing of Cuba’s tyrannical murderous dictator.  This hype ended up being more about the people complaining about feeling sad than it was about the lives of the people who were actually lost.

Don’t get me wrong.  I still enjoy David Bowie’s music, as well as Greg Lake’s and Keith Emmerson’s contributions to rock.  And I have always enjoyed Alan Rickman’s performances, have read To Kill a Mockingbird at least twice by now, and can appreciate most of Prince’s music now and then.  And that’s to say nothing of my enduring respect for Schalfly’s crusading work against progressive feminism, Scalia’s staunchly conservative defenses against the stubborn judicial encroachment upon American life, and Nancy Reagan’s contributions to public awareness of things like Alzheimer’s.  But that isn’t the point.

The media frenzies up a gullible portion of socialites with this celebrity death-worship.  A few headlines get dropped here or there announcing the news, the cause of death, the times, etcetera, and then, before you know it, retrospectives have popped up, in memorandums appear, and a post from that anorexic friend of yours filters up your social media feed: omg guys I seriously can’t believe this is happening that actor I like is DEAD oh FUCK 2016 ok.  Third-rate news sites spring to the same social platforms with headlines like Leonard Cohen Just Died!  Here’s What YOU Need to Know In Order To Feel Important!  Even in an irony-laden generation of outward-directed apathy, clickbait still works.

These people take this stuff too seriously.  They aren’t shedding tears over the actor’s passing, they’re shedding tears over nostalgia.  Many of these virtue-signaling drama queens remain only dimly aware of the celebrity’s existence as an actual human being.  Alan Rickman wasn’t impressive because of his lifelong dedication to acting or anything else he did as a man, but rather because he played an ugly lovable wizard villain in a popular series of children’s movies.  David Bowie isn’t remembered by his insights into a life of debauchery, drugs, and sin, from which he escaped by the skin of his teeth and had to put up with a grueling lack of respect throughout the 90s, but because he recorded a few hit singles that millennials listen to now out of an ironic appreciation for the culture of the 80s—it’s a nostalgia for a fantastic time that predates their existence and blends into the realm of mythology and legend.

And I think that’s what this is about.  The prevailing attitude of today’s Me-centric entertainment and self-promotion platforms (dubiously called social media) embodies a materialistic Self-aggrandizement at the expense of any form of Other.  Greater bonds are hallucinated into being with actors wearing funny costumes quipping out frat-house one-liners than are formed with colleagues and peers in the flesh.  Friendship is considered a matter of convenience rather than a stake in a relationship.  And love is a silly bedtime story that doesn’t make any sense in today’s hookup-dominated, polyamorous, demisexual landscape of fluid cultural norms, whatever that means.

These celebrities form a link to an age that pre-dates the millennial.  Maybe he grew up with Bowie’s music and with Princess Leia and with Gene Wilder and Alan Rickman on TV.  Maybe he read about Castro and Ali and John Glenn.  Maybe he didn’t, it doesn’t matter much.  The mere existence of these celebrities entrenches the legend-like status of the past, particularly for generations of people who have no myths or legends, who have no stories told to them of oral histories, and have no concept of the great binding chain of tradition that relates to them their forefathers, their culture, and eventually their children.  The innate thirst for that institution, if not filled by the wellspring of a rich folklore and honored by the respect one pays his family, will be filled instead by the self-deprecating and soulless monstrosity called Hollywood.  It will feed your children stories, it will give your children values, and it will teach them what to think.  Let the customs of the past slip away, out of memory.  Modernity has no place for the past.

So we begin 2017 with a solemn recognition of the things 2016 made self-evident: the hero-worship of Modernity’s gods that communicate to us through our computer screens, and more importantly, their mortality.

Rest in peace.

I look forward to a good year.

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