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Saturday, June 5, 2010


Gary Coleman died a few days ago, and you heard about it on Facebook.

Yesterday, Rue McClanahan died, and you also heard about that on Facebook.

When I log onto Facebook, which, admittedly, isn't very frequently, I get to experience approximately thirty-six status updates. Yesterday, at around six o'clock in the evening, I would say that approximately twenty-five of those status updates were devoted to Rue McClanahan's passing. I have no doubt that the vast majority of these updates a few days ago featured variations on the "Watchu talkin' bout, Willis?" theme.

Seven or eight of the status updates mentioning Rue McClanahan were accompanied by YouTube clips of her as Blanche Devereux, answering the telephone in her breezy, sunlit Florida ranch home or relating her latest sexual escapade in the vague and innocent way elderly television whores did back in the 1980s, when we were all much younger, sweeter, and kinder. There were at least five "Oh, no! Betty's the only one left!"


Today? None of updates of my "friends" on my FB homepage bear mention of Rue McClanahan's name. Some gay guy with whom I attended college changed his profile pic to Rue's, though-- which is really respectful-- but I'm sure that, before the day is out, he'll change it to something else.

You know, because who has the stamina to keep a picture of Rue McClanahan as our profile pic for any length of time? After all, there's that new shirt from that awesome vintage shop in the Village to show off.

I don't know what's wrong with me. I don't give a shit about Gary Coleman, and I don't give a shit about Rue McClanahan either, and I don't think anybody on Facebook does either. I suppose this is our way of communicating the following message, "I grew up watching these shows, and now the stars of the shows of my youth are dying, and that makes me sad because it forces me to confront my own mortality."

But, instead, we write, "OMG! Not Rue!!!" and stick up a YouTube clip. Because we're 20somethings, or 30somethings, and that's how we roll. That's, really, all we have time for.

Our attention-spans are abysmal, our lust for whatever is au courant is absolutely insatiable, and our poor taste and clouded judgment are utterly unerring. With lives that are utterly asscrammed with media assaults and bombardments, it's amazing to me that any of us are even able to process and respond to anything that happens to us, let alone what happens in the outside, shimmery world of celebrity.

"Rue's dead. :Sniff:"

Followed by several trite, inconsequential comments.

And, then, the next day-- we're back to commenting on our own vacuous lives and those of others we went to middle school with.


Maybe I'm being too judgmental. My mother is always saying that-- and she should know. It all just feels so insincere, so shallow, so... Generation Y. Is this what we've become? An endless array of status updates and comments? Where is the sincerity? The human contact? The touch? The avuncular hand on your shoulder? The hug? The sympathy letter?

Rue McClanahan left behind a husband (and five others before him), a son, and a sister. But I doubt that any of them will be getting sympathy notes from the people with whom I'm pals on Facebook.

I remember when Nixon died, that lying, paranoid shithead. It happened in April of 1994, when I was thirteen. It wasn't that terribly long ago, but it was well before status updates and the only tweets we knew of came from birds. Nixon's death moved me as a thirteen-year-old. I don't know why. When my middle school bus pulled into the circle in the morning, I noticed, looking out the window, that the American flag was flying high. As soon as I got off the bus, before putting my bookbag away or doing anything else, I walked right into the Main Office.

"Excuse me, Mrs. Pearson," I said to the secretary.

"Yes, hon?"

"The flag is not at half-staff."

She paused and cocked her head, the way my dogs do when I ask them if there is an "e" in "judgment."

"Should it be?" she asked the thirteen-year-old me.

"Yes," I stated confidently. "Nixon's dead. And I know he was a scumbag, but he was still the President of the United States of America."

She looked at me.

"Well, you're right about that. I'll call Joe right away and get it fixed."

And she picked up the enormous desk phone with enough buttons to control a satellite and pushed three buttons, summoning Joe, the janitor, who came over a few minutes later, limping slightly as always. As I stood watching, Joe undid the rope along the pole and let the flag slide down to half-staff. Before redoing the rope, he turned and checked in with me, eyebrows raised. I gave him a slight smile and nodded my head once.

There are lots of ways to acknowledge the passing of a President, or an actor, or a musician, or even a friend or relative. Some of them are small, some of them are big, some of them are public, some are private-- some seem funny fifteen years later, some are forgotten about almost in an instant. And I don't suppose any of them are wrong, really, but some just leave an acrid taste in my mouth. Maybe my problem is Facebook itself, and what it's doing to us-- ostensibly meant to bring us closer together, in reality making self-centered, attention-grabbing whores of lots of us, clinging frantically to any shred of relevance we might pretend to have in this world, at whatever the cost.


  1. (a) This makes Betty White the Highlander, right?


    (b) I heard about it on Twitter, thankyouverymuch.


    (c) You're pretty much right.

  2. You were lucky. All I got were tasteless Gary Coleman jokes...

  3. as for your mom's comment - yes.
    i think it's also all a way to say, "hey, i read the news and care about people." which.. is funny 'cause.. it doesn't.. really pass for.. reading the news.. or caring.. about people..

  4. I completely agree. I wonder less if people truly, really care about a celebrity passing, and more just want to "break the news." Or make it about themselves, and how much they LOVED the golden girls.

    It's why I'm really reversing my stance and hating FB right now.

  5. Twitter. I learned about the Death March of Celebrities of Summer of '09 on Twitter. I was on a facebook hiatus at the time. Now I'm on a Twitter hiatus. Apparently. I seriously am about thisclose to just moving to a shack in the woods. I don't even know what's going on.

    I like your theory on nostalgia and mortality though. Except I think you are giving people way too much credit.


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