Thursday, September 4, 2014
The Death of Icons
Am I a good person?
It's a question the Doctor asks Clara in the most recent episode of Doctor Who, which if you know anything about me, you know I'm a little obsessive about the man in the blue box. But I found that question returning to me as I watched the responses to Joan River's passing today.
For the most part, many responses involved the typical RIP, people reminiscing on how she touched their lives. And, of course, I saw the negative side creep out, which seems to rear its ugly head whenever it has its chance. Some people tweeted about how glad they were that she passed, that she was truly a horrible person who made a living out of criticizing others. There were people sending out links to crude sites like isjoanriversdeadyet.com or claiming how they were "crying tears of happiness."
Now, we don't have to like everyone. After all, there are people who do unspeakable things in this world. But why do we use things like social pressures, criticisms, even insults to try and correct "wrongful" behaviour exhibited by other people? When you see a man hitting a dog, you call it disgusting, tell him to stop, describe his actions as abhorred or inhumane. And why? All in the hopes of altering behaviour, if not his then others, by showing how this behaviour is unacceptable. It's the same way that governments impose sanctions on other countries when they're taking actions they, or the UN, think of as unethical. On a smaller scale, we preform social sanctions on those who, in our view, have done wrong. We osctricize them from groups, shame their behaviour, and are guarded around them, which puts pressures on them to alter their behaviour.
But what happens when they pass away? What about Joan Rivers, Robin Williams, and dozens of others who have passed away? Is Joan Rivers still a she-bitch? Did her death wipe her conscience clean? The answer to both questions is no. Because Joan Rivers is dead, no amount of social sanctions will change her behaviour-- we cannot change the past-- but in this way, by continuing to impart social sanctions on a dead person, we're becoming no different from her, who built a career around antagonizing others. Our comments, however true or untrue they may be, now only fall on her family and those close to her. Suddenly, we're stepping from an attempt to correct behaviour to antagonizing others, from defensive to seeking out vengence.
Of all of us, Joan Rivers has got the shortest end of the stick. Her life is over, she will never change another person's life or affect the world in any way. However, we still can. I'm not saying that the thing to do is sing her praises-- quite the opposite. Learn what can be learned from her life and leave all else at rest. Focus on the positives her life brought-- because no person's life is wholly negative-- and lay the negative to peace. If the thing that bothered you the most was her attitude and how she treated people, how are you any better by lowering yourself to that standard?