Mourning celebrity deaths in the social media age: Fuck you 2016

I was 16 when I first watched Star Wars: Episode IV. I remember when Princess Leia came on screen, dominating the scene with her intelligence, headstrong demeanour and determined attitude. I recall thinking, “Damn, she’s cool. I like her.”

Much of Leia’s personality was an accurate reflection of the actress who played her, Carrie Fisher, who died on Dec. 27.

“Carrie was one-of-a-kind … brilliant, original, funny and emotionally fearless. She lived her life bravely,” said Fisher’s Star Wars co-star Harrison Ford.

2016 saw the loss of prominent celebrities, like pop icon Prince, best-selling musician David Bowie with his diverse fashion style and distinct voice, and musician Leonard Cohen, well-known for the tear-jerking song “Hallelujah.” As well as Alan Rickman, perhaps best known for his role as Snape in the Harry Potter series; Harper Lee, author of the English course classic To Kill a Mockingbird; world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali; and Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel. And just a day after Fisher’s passing, the world mourned the loss of her mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, too.

“Why 2016? Why did you do this to us?” was a question many asked after hearing about the latest lost. 2016 stripped many admired personalities from the world, an (extremely rude) act that deeply affected fans, who turned to social media to mourn.

The New York Times website lists 357 notable people who died in 2016. It lists 301 for 2015.

According to a CNN article, the number of celebrities to die in 2016 was not particularly outstanding. CNN divided the deaths of notable people into various categories, like movies and music and examined the number of deaths in the past ten years for Oscar nominees, Grammy winners, Emmy winners and nominees, sportspersons of the years, and the stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. It came to the conclusion that 2006 (at 36 deaths) of award-winning celebrities, was slightly worse than 2016 (at 34 deaths), with most years ranging from 20 to 29 celebrity deaths.

People form close bonds with celebrity personalities and when they pass it may feel as though they’ve lost someone close to them. The characters actors portray, the works authors create and the songs artists produce influence people’s identity and development from a young age. Losing them can sometimes feel like someone has lost a part of themselves.

Throughout 2016, people turned to social media to mourn the loss of their cherished favourites. Around the world and on all social media platforms, people reblogged pictures, quotes and posted memories.

Turning toward social media to mourn was a concept studied by an associate professor at Arizona State University, Pauline Hope Cheong. Her paper, “Tweeting Prayers and Communicating Grief Over Michael Jackson Online,” found social media helps quicken the grieving process by allowing people from diverse backgrounds to connect, create and share mourning posts, and draw support from one another.

“… the ability to put one’s individual ‘stamp’ on a memorial and transmit it to others as a meaningful tribute seems to allow one to transform one’s grief into invention, an action that seemed to stimulate acceptance,” said Cheong.

In a year that’s quickly becoming notorious for its utter awfulness, collective grieving online may have brought the world a little bit closer together.

2016 featured the deaths of some extraordinarily talents and inspirational individuals, who’s influence we carry with us into 2017.

In the wise words of Carrie Fisher, “G’nite Fuck-os.”

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