Sunday, 3 April 2016

Is it just me, or are there a lot of dead celebrities at the moment?

If nothing else, 2016 is shaping up as a bumper year for dead celebrities. At the moment, it feels like you can't listen to the radio or turn on the television without hearing of the death of some luminary. It probably started with Bowie. Unexpected both because of his relatively slight age (69) as well as his then-recent album release. But since then a litany of famous figures have popped their clogs. Earlier this week, we had a double whammy, with Ronnie Corbett and Zaha Hadid joining the choir invisible on the same day.

So, is this a real thing? Or is it just my perception and bad memory that make it feel like there are a lot more famous dead people right about now? And leaving aside this first order question by assuming the affirmative, what could explain the seeming upswing in reported mortality of musicians, artists, comedians, architects, and so on?

There is obviously a sensible, analytical route to the answer based on careful study of media reporting of expired stars in previous years. But I'm too lazy for that, so am going to stick to baseless speculation and armchair argument. To wit, I'm assuming that I'm right about the numbers - and why wouldn't I do that? - and focusing instead on what's behind it all. Or what could be behind it all if I'm honest.

The simplest explanation is that, as time passes, we should expect to hear of more celebrity deaths simply because the human population of Earth - and, presumably, that of human celebrities (we don't know any alien ones yet) - is still very much on the up.

A more conspiratorial explanation is that the contrasting costs of proper journalism and lazy, echo chamber journalism, mean that when filling a news schedule, the temptation is focus on easily-assembled items on dead famous people. Go to the clips archive, ring a few of their upset friends, job done. However, I'm going to discount this one since - being a BBC fanboy - I'm pretty sure that this can't cover all the bases (although I'm still suspicious of how the media picks topics to cover).

A further explanation - and my favourite - is that the dominant factor is that we now have many more celebrities per head of population than we did in the past, and that we should expect this to occur. Essentially, with the advents of mass publishing, radio, cinema, television and now the internet, there are now far more routes by which everyday people can be elevated to the realms of celebrity. That is, to have some sort of following beyond that of the people they know and interact with (let's not get sniffy about "celebrity"). And then, ipso facto, the population of people in the public consciousness - and that of their obituaries - will inevitably rise.

In essence, this is a corollary of Andy Warhol's famous / infamous statement concerning "15 minutes of fame".

Of course, all of this is wholly based on idle speculation on my part, and I certainly won't be following it up to work out how wrong I am - and why would I do that? But I am still interesting in knowing if this really is "a thing", or if it really is "just me".

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