A small look into the phenomenon that is grief shaming
But how many Bowie songs have you actually heard? Have you even seen Labyrinth? Name a song? Man on Mars? It’s Life on Mars you idiot. Alan Rickman was more than Snape. He was a thespian, he was on the stage, yes he was in Die Hard, but Oh-My-God, he was so much more than that.
In a week where the world lost both David Bowie and Alan Rickman two of social media’s favourite languages, oneupperish and snarkese, were being spoken louder than ever. People who definitely liked Bowie and Alan Rickman more than you decided that you really didn’t ‘get them’ like they did. Or alternatively, people who didn’t particularly care for them decided that it was their place to tell you to stop being insincere.
Feeling people don’t ‘understand’ your idols is a universal feeling (“No, mum, F.Scott Fitzgerald would not have loved the new Great Gatsby film”) but that doesn’t mean they’re not allowed to have an opinion on them. Maybe you do own all the original Bowie records on vinyl. Then Bowie’s death is sad for you. Maybe you hold a dog-eared ticket stub for Rickman’s first RSC performance. Then Alan’s death must genuinely be upsetting. But maybe you didn’t want to travel down from Newcastle to Brixton for a Bowie tribute party, maybe your mum just liked to play “Heroes” in the car when you drove to your nan’s house as a kid. Maybe you just liked the fact that Alan Rickman speaks English with a questionable German accent when he speaks to his fellow Germans in Die Hard. Well you can’t feel sad. Not even for a second.
Stop feeling sad.
The ridiculousness of the anger at people who expressed any emotion is made more evident by obvious trolling stunts like the David Zowie death (producer of “House Every Weekend”) prank. This being a fairly funny joke where one tweeter tweets “House Every Weekend was a banger, sound of my summer #RIPDavidZowie” and then others (as people on Twitter do) copy the joke or come up with the same one. It’s the people who take the time to tell someone how wrong they are (especially when they’ve been taken hook, line and sinker) who seem stupider than the one or two people who really loved “House Every Weekend” because they really felt it was a banger and that it was the sound of their summer and that its producer David Zowie was dead. Because at least their grief, as fleeting and silly as it may have been, was genuine and not based on the need to one-up someone’s sadness.
Finally, doesn’t it all just come down to one simple question: don’t people have anything better to moan about? Grieve; be sad about Alan Rickman and David Bowie; be sad about David Zowie if you really want to. Be sad online, be sad in your head, don’t be sad at all, but let others experience their experiences as they see fit.
Another side of the grief shaming coin
In contrast, it’s a part of online culture that has a sort of place when huge global tragedies occur. ‘Grief shaming’, in a more constructive form and with a different aim of course, can make a difference. If you move away from placing people in digital stocks and pelting them with cruel memes and hashtag-sarcasm and towards posing serious questions on why they’re R.I.P-ing Paris and not Nigeria or Lebanon (or in recent days Jakarta and Burkina Faso)?
Or why, when those attacks are mentioned by the news (which, despite common conceptions, they often are) social media doesn’t explode with endless updates and global grief and that people don’t consider that their responses to those snippets are the currency that can transform fifth page to front page, and one day coverage to months of it?
The endgame of this should not be other’s shame or guilt. What happened in Burkina Faso and Lebanon doesn’t make what happened in Paris less of a tragedy or people’s grief less real. The effect should be the opposite. It’s more of a tragedy because it’s another example of fuckery in the world and it’s sadder because it’s more humans to grieve for.
The aim should be to pose questions to people in a constructive manner about the way we perceive tragedies and what that says about how we view ourselves and others.
Is there really even a link?
It might seem daft to draw parallels with those mocking grieving Bowie and Rickman fans to the international grief after Paris. But the two are related as they both highlight how the internet can be used to unify people, whether that’s with your old school friends or strangers globally.
It shouldn’t be about putting your own emotions on a pedestal when the whole reason you shared them on the internet (whether it was #RIPBowie or #JeSuisParis) was to be part of something communal. You might not be sat at home showering with your clothes on and weeping but you might have, for a fleeting moment, felt sad about that guy who played a potions master in your ex-girlfriend’s favourite film franchise and decided to share that thought.
And surely that should be ok?