Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Emotional Quicksand

An actor recently died of apparent suicide.  I was reminded of when a famous race car driver died.  I read of a lady who spent three days crying in her room after that.  She had never met the driver.

On deployment to the Arabian Gulf in 2002, two of my crew mates were discussing Ozzie Osbourne. One held Oz in a very high esteem, the other - not so much.  At one point in the discussion, one cremate, about to fly into a combat zone with the other, threatened physical violence of the expressed poor opinion of a musical/life performer.  It was a joking expression but nonetheless caught my attention.

It made me wonder why we can create the pseudo relationships with people we've never met, people we will never meet, people who wouldn't know us if they saw us, people who won't answer our letters/emails/calls/instagrams if we sent them.  We can care about and think we "know" people who don't even know we are alive, and who's careers and livelihoods depend upon our favorable opinion of them.  How?  Why?  It's so weird it should be in a movie - "hey, this person has imaginary relationships with people they have never met!"  But we all seem to do this.

My best guess is that this is some version of orientation to power.  That is to say, we perceive that "stars" or celebrities have social power.  As tribal humans it was important to be aware of and orient to those tribal members who were powerful.  We needed to be able to behave around those with power in a way that was helpful to us, and did not accidentally get us into bad favor with the powerful.  Or, we needed to be able to oppose those with power, knowingly, cunningly, effectively.  And live to tell the tale.

For the actor, one could think many things about his death.  "He quit on life, he quit on his family.  His pain is over, thankfully, but I will use his choice as an example of how to not hurt others."  Or, "poor guy, don't want to believe he was in such pain and despair."  Some comments I've seen spoke of how open he was with his life's struggles, but I wonder if all those folks who read all those stories wouldn't be better off if they'd never read the carefully crafted story released by the PR agent designed to get attention to the actor when he needed to sell some product to someone.  As far as I an tell, just as politicians have to lie in order to be able to convince all of us they'll serve only us at someone else's expense, actors are constantly in need of image crafting.  They must say and do what is necessary, whatever is necessary, to get our favorable opinion, so another 1% or so of us will go to their product and pay for it.

So to me it seems like they need us, and they shape their public image to suit what they think, what they hope, we want.  And we find ways to either like, or dislike, these public folks - whom we neither know or will know, who will never either like or dislike or know us.

What a weird dance.  What I find is that the only way I can avoid the dance is to shut out the noise that all the actors and singers and politicians are always playing in order to get us to react towards them like humans naturally react.  I'm not savvy enough to participate in all of that noise and not get drawn into it.  The only way to stay clean is to stay away.  It's nuclear.

So this actor, were he alive today, would fulfill all of our imaginary notions about what his life means in the context of our own lives.  We wouldn't know what he was doing, who he was hurting, who he was loving or anything.  We would just hold this imaginary creation we have of who he is in a way that seems to serve us, a way that seems to help us.  I don't think that's bad per se, I just know it is bad for me.  It is a distraction.  It is a dilution of the energy I have for people I actually see and touch and love every day.  I'm not going to give that energy up that way.  I'm averting my eyes, I'm leaving the actor for his family to bury and grieve.  And I'm going to figure out a way not to hurt the people that I love, how to not be "that guy" as I face down life's never-ending choice to find despair or joy in the natural cycles of both we all seem to experience as we live and learn.

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