Image via Jonathan Mark
I just wrote 500 words on the death of Steve Jobs. Then I deleted them.
God, they sucked, they just sucked. I don't know where I wanted to take it. I suppose it was a eulogy of sorts. But I didn't know Steve Jobs. Me writing a eulogy for Steve Jobs would be about as illustrative as Steve Jobs writing a eulogy for me.
"Well, his name was Alec Bojalad. Those are some two pretty weird names. I bet people mispronounced them all the time. I'm sure Alec was quite disappointed on those occasions...and ummm...hmm, what else? There is a lot of seemingly homophobic content on his Facebook page. I think he's just joking with his friends but you never know. It's just as likely that he was actually gay I suppose and just had to overcompensate for his feelings with offensive jokes and comments. So...in conclusion: let's all honor Alec Bojalad, a gay youth with a funny name!"
- Steve Jobs writing for The Wall Street Journal
So instead of a eulogy, let's take this opportunity to talk about death, itself.
Wait...where are you all going?
There is a surefire way to tell exactly how important and influential someone is after they die. Measure how long it takes on your social networks and the comment sections you frequent for what I like to call the "what about Africa?" comments to start rolling in. The "what about Africa" comments are pretty much what they sound like. Example (that I made up but you will still probably encounter verbatim sooner or later):
I am getting reall sik (sic) of everybody talking about this (INSERT CELEBRITY/PUBLIC FIGURE HERE) dood. ITS JUST 1 PERSON!!! Dont u kno that there are people dieing in Africa?
At some point this sentiment will constitute 35% of all online interactions regarding Steve Jobs' death. We will measure just how valued Steve Jobs was to planet Earth based on how long it takes to get to that 35%. In Jobs' case, I imagine it's going to be quite a while.
I feel confident in this assessment, but I am still trying to reconcile how I feel about the "what about Africa?" crowd. I have always reacted to celebrity deaths. I don't want to say reacted "strongly" because I don't really react strongly to anything (seriously, ask my poor girlfriend). But the deaths of pretty, successful famous strangers have always stuck in my mind much longer and more prominently than the deaths of millions upon millions of non-famous anonymous individuals.
I am not entirely sure why this is the case. The best I can figure is that it's because I am so plugged into pop culture and become so attached to the characters and personas they portray. And any good artist should be able to become a mirror for his or her audience. In the case of non-actors or artists, it can be sobering to have one significant case of a talented and capable individual still succumbing to the inevitable. So essentially when I see that Heath Ledger died I think "William in A Knight's Tale was just like me and now he's dead. Oh God, I'm next." And when I see that Steve Jobs died I think "He was way, way, way, way better and more important than I'll ever be and he still died. Christ, there's no escaping it, is there?"
It is a quite narcissistic worldview and I do feel some measure of guilt when I come up against the "what about Africa?" folks. I don't know what the demographic of this group is but I would guess that they've spent a lot less time watching TV than I have. I also suspect, however, that they are not that different from me.
Everyone fears their own demise (except for Jedi, of course, Jedi fear nothing). And everyone obsesses over this fear first and foremost through the deaths of others. We all obsess and despair over the deaths of others we know...but after that we split into those two camps: those who first and foremost mourn the loss of the well known people they've never met and those who mourn the loss of little known people they've never met.
So when the "what about Africa?" folks feel that enough time has passed to start drawing people's attention away from Steve Jobs to the rest of the suffering world, let them, "celebrity death" folks. And be patient with the "celebrity death" people for now, "what about Africa?" homies - they are just trying to come to grips with their own eventual demise...just like you will be soon enough. There is no sense in fighting each other over what amounts to the only common fear you both share.
After all, a wise man once said that "remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose."
Who was that? Oh, right.
One last note.
You've probably seen this image by now.
In my opinion, it is one of the lulziest moments in the history of the internet but it also represents the moment where we finally just have to break up with the Westboro Baptist Church. I know we've all had fun being outraged by these people but this might be their biggest stretch yet. At this point they're going to picket Fred Phelps funeral after he dies (that has to be coming up soon, right?)
So can we all agree to just ignore them? Finally? Please? Pretty pretty please? And ignore is not even a strong enough word. Megan Phelps and company would probably enjoy being ignored. What we all need to do is agree, as a global society that they just don't exist.
Nobody talk to the Phelps, nobody talk about the Phelps. They do not register in our visual or auditory spectrums anymore. Even if they exist, in theory, it is only some sort of alternate dimension that no known human sense has access to.
If they are at your own mother's funeral, three inches in your face - screaming about the status of her soul- you do not hear that. If the spit from their mouths fly into your eyes, do not wipe them out, even if it stings. There is no spit in your eye because the Westboro Baptist Church doesn't exist.
If you are at a food court in a Kansas mall and Fred Phelps, himself, stands over you and rests his penis on your shoulder, do not call the cops. Do not react. Do not do anything but continue to eat your high-sodium food. Fred Phelps doesn't exist.
The media will not cover the Westboro Baptist Church, the federal government will shred their birth certificates. The Westboro Baptist Church will not exist. And then...maybe then we can have a god damn funeral in peace.