The Posthumous Iconisation Of Celebs

Celebs are larger than life and live life King-size.  Ordinary people envy their lives but in reality, their lives are ‘good from far but far from good’.  Yet, however imperfect their lives may be, celebs inspire awe, passion, frenzy and a huge fan-following during their lifespan; but in death, they zoom to an iconic position, thanks to their fans and public curiosity. Radio stations, newspapers, TV networks and magazines begin to reveal facets of their sad, tainted life, resurrecting them to the status of sainthood and giving them cultural immortality thanks to our media which craves ‘breaking-news’ on a daily basis. In fact, some media-persons even pre-write obituaries of celebs so that ‘in case’ they die, they would be the first to carry the big story of the hoopla, magnificence and extravagance of a celebrity-death.

In the West, there’s also what is known as death-tourism. It’s a big industry fetching big money from frenzied fans, who pay for high-priced tickets to enable them to tour celebrity homes and cemeteries like those of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, James Dean and Bruce Lee, like a pilgrimage. On Elvis Presley’s 20th death anniversary, for example, 70,000 fans gathered at his home-town, Memphis, some of them dressed like Elvis in bell-bottom pants and sporting side-burns. Princess Diana’s funeral was watched on television in 190 countries- much more coverage was given to her funeral than her fairy-tale wedding by the media! How ironic is that!?

It adds to the frenzy if the young die-in-the-prime-of youth. Never mind if that celeb was a melancholic, tortured soul, living on pills, drugs, tranquilizers, hangers-on, booze and sex because after they die, they become youth-icons, with youngsters of that generation responding sympathetically to their icon’s frustrations and vulnerability. The very finality of death induces fans and other people to forgive and ‘absolve’ the frail, tainted celebs of all their shortcomings, failings and vices.

On the other hand, celebs like Sridevi who seemed to have it all like name, fame, money, a husband who worshipped the ground she walked on and two lovely daughters who are pitied by fans who feel that she had everything, except the gift of a long life. They become larger than life in death because death gives them the supreme gift of ‘mystique.’

It also makes us think about the futility of name, fame, money and loving relationships. Even if a person has all these, one day they have to be left behind on death since you can’t take anything with you – dust to dust and ashes to ashes as the Bible says. Guru Dutt’s song in ‘Pyaasa’ substantiates this very thought on the ephemerality of life….Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaye Toh Kya Hai… It means even if you have the whole world, what’s the use?

Unfortunately, in today’s day and age, another person’s suffering and tragedy become instant fodder for media, almost like the greatest entertainment. When larger than life legends collapse, there is perverse pleasure and delight shown by people whose own lives are dull, unexciting and filled with the mundane normalcy of daily ordinariness and zero-excitement. Even today, the world can’t stop debating whether Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Princess Diana and Jia Khan were actually victims of a murder-conspiracy or not. Posthumous iconisation is a classic example of death immortalizing it’s victims in a way that life never can; especially if they are young, talented, beautiful, rich and famous and have met a violent end. Death imparts a certain mystique. If Madhubala, Meena Kumari, John F. Kennedy, Smita Patil, Diivya Bharati, Marilyn Monroe or Elvis Presley were all alive today, they would possibly have been like any other old person and fans would have lost interest in them but by dying in their prime, they were canonised to live in the hearts of millions of people forever. They rose in death in a way that they never could in life!

Ruby Lilaowala
Ruby Lilaowala

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