Obsession with celebrities and their deaths has gone too far

Jason O'Day, Columnist

Before I start, I don’t want to cast aspersions at specific individuals as I do not know what motivates them. However, a lot of the melodramatic social-media posts and myriad tribute columns mourning NBA star Kobe Bryant’s death seem like empty virtue signals.

It’s so self-righteous. It’s as if they’re telling themselves and others, perhaps subconsciously, “Look at me! I’m a good person because I was among the first to make a profound statement about this celebrity death on Twitter.” And that’s gross.

Some of these social-media users make me wonder if they’ve ever experienced a negative emotion without groveling for attention about it on social media.

The BBC was justifiably flooded with complaints for engaging in too much coverage of Bryant’s death. The endless parade of discussion panels on ESPN were excessive at best, and exploitative at worst.

I watched the beginning of the first Lakers’ game after the tragedy. It featured a round of pre-game festivities to commemorate him. Players wore jerseys with the two numbers Bryant played under, current top Laker LeBron James delivered an emotional speech, and Usher sang a weird rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Call me cynical, but I thought it was over the top.

Technology has enabled Western culture to gradually increase in its idolatry. I find it rather odd that someone can be completely devastated by the passing of an individual they’ve never met. I doubt trends such as #MambaMentality have done anything to comfort Bryant’s grieving family members, who also have not been afforded the proper time and space to cope with their loss.

The endless parade of discussion panels on ESPN were excessive at best, and exploitative at worst.

The fact that some people insist on pretending that Bryant was a flawless person is also a bit strange. He was credibly accused of rape by a 19-year-old woman in 2003, settled a civil lawsuit with her, and issued an apology. Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez was briefly suspended from her job after tweeting the link to a Daily Beast story detailing the allegations.

Bryant was a phenomenal athlete who inspired millions of fans to strive for greatness both on and off the court, and my intention is not to detract from that. I was shocked and saddened when I found out about the passing of Bryant, his young daughter, and seven other lives on that helicopter.

Yet, he was only human. No death justifies an entire week of breathless media attention.

The compulsive, posthumous veneration of Bryant is not an anomaly. Deaths of pop stars such as Prince and politicians such as George H.W. Bush were treated in a similarly creepy fashion.

The #RIP brigade of perpetual public mourners don’t seem to fully comprehend that life is fleeting, and death is a natural part of the cycle. No one can escape it, not even celebrities.

America would be a better place if more of its people expressed deeper appreciation for the family, friends, and neighbors who directly improve their lives than superstars on their pedestal who don’t even know them.