I don’t know about you, but I spent the entirety of my holiday break in pajamas, watching Netflix, baking cookies & cakes, and eating potatoes. Having spent the past several months working four jobs, volunteering, and earning As (!) in my classes, on top of the political nightmare that continues to unfold, disappearing for a few days was much needed. And yet, there was still that lingering feeling of being unsettled. I envy those who are able to get off the grid, who can carry on with their daily lives, not a care in the world – or for what’s happening in it. Unfortunately, it’s just not who I am and never has been. But there sure are times when I wish I could run away to some hidden cabin in the woods and pretend nothing else matters.
One of the more recent things weighing heavily on my mind right now is this mass of celebrity deaths. I think everyone can agree that this has been quite a devastating year. The reality is, we don’t know these people – but we feel like we do. Celebrity deaths matter because these extraordinary people make an impact on our lives. The represent the beauty of escapism, characters we dream of being. Why do you go to a movie or listen to a song? For entertainment, yes, but often we go to get away from it all. We sit in a dark theatre or lie in bed, headphones on, and willfully surrender ourselves to another realm. Carrie Fisher’s untimely death resonated with a lot of people, I think, not just because of her trials in life, but through her characters on screen. Princess/General Leia, to generations of people – women, especially – represented strength, courage, and of course, hope. While those characteristics will live on, they’ll be tinged with a bit of sadness, as we wanted our heroine to live forever. We want the dream to live forever. Because of the fantasy provided on screen, the character became ours, the actress someone to whom we felt a connection. When we become engaged with a character, it is often because we see something of ourselves in that player, or endeavor to be like him or her. Even if it’s a cartoon, we may find ourselves thinking, “I want to embody those aspects,” or, “I do those things!,” and they provide reassurance of our own humanity. When you have stars like David Bowie or Prince, artists who owned their individuality, and who explicitly declared that it was okay -nay, GREAT- to be different, to be weird, they become our idols. They may live fantasy lives and project otherworldly images, but we watched them achieve those illusions by talent, yes, and also by challenging the “norm” and furthering the acceptance of diversity. Music, like film, transports us. Regardless of whether a song invokes a sad memory or a feeling of empowerment, there’s still that connection to the musician, that s/he is speaking directly to us, and therefore this magical, untouchable creature knows exactly what we feel. Again, the lyrics, the melody, and the message remain, but when the translator of said message ceases to exist, it can shake our very core. Celebrities often represent the things we often cannot do or say. When they die, our voices, through theirs, feel silenced. We mourn because we feel grateful. The person who watched Star Wars, knowing she would not be an actual princess saving a galaxy, became a politician, an advocate, a teacher – encouraging others to learn and find the fortitude to guide others. A voice. The person who may have been a terrible guitarist, but heard the call to create, to own that Flock of Seagulls haircut, became a designer, a store owner, an ally to others who felt like they didn’t “belong.”
So last weekend, as I watched Carol, Suffragette, Ghost World, & Cafe Society, and binged on the entire season of Hello, My Twenties, I was thankful for that escape. Inspired by the historically-based and real-life characters of Carey Mulligan and Natalie Press, identifying with Steve Buscemi’s nerdiness, and motivated to go out for black bean noodles (we’ll be dining at a local Korean restaurant tomorrow night!) , these are examples of how celebrities and their art affected me in a span of a simple few days. Nothing particularly life-changing, but they made a small impact, and they helped me find some solace when the future can seem rather bleak. This is why the arts, and the lives who contribute to them matter. They afford us the ability to disappear, even if for a mere two hours. As Princess Leia said, they brought us “hope.” And for that, I am grateful.