It would be fair to say that, so far, 2016 hasn’t been great. In the past few weeks, the world has suffered the losses of David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey (founding member of the Eagles), Lemmy Kilmeister, Natalie Cole and Daniel Dion.
Reactions to their deaths have varied. In some cases, the media has responded with compassion and sympathy for those left behind, the family and friends who have lost someone close to them. For others, the deaths have been used as an opportunity to further causes; to argue about issues they were involved in throughout their life; and to criticise those who are mourning.
Personally, it seems counterproductive for most of us to react with too much despondency. We know these people largely in the context of their work. They are icons: people we do not know, but rather know of. From this perspective, we should celebrate their lives, not mourn their loss as if we personally were close to them.
Take, for example, David Bowie. His career stretched back to the 60s and was filled with an astonishing variety of wonderful songs and performances that will remain as his legacy for years to come. He lived till the age of 69, an impressive feat considering his Thin White Duke era, a time when he lived on a diet of cocaine, peppers and milk. Rather than mourning his death, we should be celebrating the amazing feats that this incredible human being accomplished in his lifetime, and feel privileged to have been alive at the same time as him. His death is not a tragedy. Whilst he was alive, he always made the most of it, in spite of a plethora of personal issues. Sickeningly, people have insisted on bringing some of these up now that he is no longer around to defend himself. Bowie lived life to the full; that is the most any of us can hope to achieve.
The idea that people think it is clever and original to capitalise on the death of a famous person is in extremely bad taste. Accusing Bowie of doing some morally dubious things in the 70s is now essentially pointless. He is not here to answer to them – and in any case, there is no substantial evidence of any wrongdoing.
Emma Watson has recently received a great deal of criticism for quoting Alan Rickman on feminism and has been accused of using him to further her own cause, something else I find to be pointless. Why condemn a personal friend of the deceased when she is only quoting his own words, with no room for contextual inaccuracies, when Rickman was himself a declared feminist? This is an opinion Rickman personally expressed, and I’m sure he would be happy for a cause he supported to be furthered, however slightly, in the sad event of his passing away.
Rickman, Lemmy, Bowie: these are all people whose work we rejoiced in whilst they were alive, and there is no reason we cannot continue to celebrate them now that they are gone. Some of us may feel a sense of loss at their passing; I know many people found comfort in Bowie’s constantly changing identity, especially with regards to gender and sexuality, and in Rickman’s complex portrayal of conflicted characters. Sometimes they did indeed help us with our own issues, but this does not mean that we knew them as people. We should maintain our love for their work, but not mourn them as our own. We can feel sad that we will see no more of them, whilst remembering to cherish the fact that they were here, producing incredible work for us to respond to, and that their creations will live on now they are gone.