Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Mourn our star obsession, too

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Tributes flowed for Robin Williams. Photo / AP
Tributes flowed for Robin Williams. Photo / AP

It gets harder and harder to tell what's real and what isn't in our daily lives. We spend more hours of every day connected to the unreality of events on TV and the internet. This is hardly news, having first been predicted more than half a century ago by the philosopher Marshall McLuhan.

And that's why we think we have a relationship with celebrities. No one is immune. Even the most pragmatic of us has had the experience of seeing a celebrity in real life and started to say "Hello" before we realise we don't actually know that person.

Millions of people, mostly under 30 but not all, spend their days in quasi-relationships with people they admire but don't know on Twitter and Facebook. When the object of their admiration posts something about themselves they respond with comments that will never be seen by the celebrity.

So when someone such as Robin Williams dies, especially in shocking circumstances, we take it personally. It's only normal to regret such an occurrence.

After all, the world needs more funny and intelligent people, not fewer. However, we need to keep our perspective and realise that we are not personally bereaved.

Robin Williams was not part of our life. We did not know him. We knew only an image of him. The celebrity reality is famously different from the celebrity image.


If we lived in a real world we would
have a better perspective ... We
would grieve over the untimely
deaths that go on around us.

A few people who did know him hurried to post photographs of themselves with Williams, or offered to "share" memories of him. Were they mourning or grasping the chance to proclaim their one degree of separation from greatness? In the unreal world, such a tragedy becomes an item to be consumed, dished up by media who'll do whatever they can to stretch it out for as long as possible. That is why we saw items like Most Shocking Celebrity Deaths and 26 Odd Facts about Robin Williams and Best Reader Tributes. Why "best"? Was there a prize?

If we lived in a real world we would have a better perspective, albeit one that might be harder to live with.

We would grieve over the untimely deaths that go on around us - the teenager who kills himself after coming out to his family and being rejected; the father in South Auckland who ends his life because he can no longer feed his family; all the preventable tragedies that take place every day. Acknowledging those might mean we did something to end the conditions that cause them.

John Key has dismissed the revelations in Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics as the work of a "screaming left-wing conspiracy theorist". I've never met or spoken to Hager so I've no idea if he's a screamer. He may have some sort of speech impediment that prevents him speaking at normal volume.

As far as the rest of the assessment goes, Key has to dismiss them in that fashion because he can't refute them. The troublesome thing is that this book is unlikely to change anyone's mind. Those who support the Government support them in all things. The sort of deviousness laid out by Hager is glossed over: "Oh well, it's all part of the way things are done these days. Both sides are as bad as each other. Politics has always been a dirty business."

But as far as the allegation of a left-wing conspiracy goes, that's clearly untrue. "Conspiracy" implies some degree of organisation, and if there's one thing the left wing in this country demonstrably isn't, it's organised.

- Herald on Sunday

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