We get attached to pop culture and to the creators and faces of that culture. Whether you're into music, film, books or the culinary arts, the death of a celebrity associated with the things we love understandably shakes us. But with everything, the underbelly of the internet skitters out like cockroaches to ruin the things we hold good, pure and worthy of respect.
Of course, being a jerk on the internet is nothing new.
But there's something about a person who can't defend themselves any longer combined with an emotionally charged audience that's a recipe for total scumbags.
If you're a fan of video games, chances are you've heard of a reviewer and streamer named John Bain, aka Totalbiscuit. Totalbiscuit passed away after a long battle with cancer. Within an hour of the announcement of his death, former BioWare developer David Crooks began a Twitter rant declaring the world a better place without him. Why? Because Totalbiscuit gave games Crooks worked on bad reviews.
Don't dismiss that as traditional toxic gaming culture. The fashion world was rocked when icon Kate Spade committed suicide. For most, Kate Spade was a genius who built her company (and purses) from nothing, then walked away from her empire to dedicate herself to motherhood. That's all the makings of a tragedy, unless you're a writer for website The Urban Twist. In an article called "Kate Spade Hung Herself and You Care for What?" author Melony Hill writes the following:
"It's so acceptable to be depressed when you're not Black. The idea that My Black friends were showing so much compassion for this rich, white woman who they would have never mattered to, while ignoring the everyday plight of their so-called friends, enraged me."
She then goes on to plug her website, where she advertises herself as a life coach and advocate for mental-illness awareness. While counseling and support for minority groups is vitally important, especially in the wake of social unrest surrounding movements like Black Lives Matter, this is a disgusting way to go about raising awareness.
After actor Robin Williams' suicide, his daughter Zelda was driven off social media by people who sent her altered and disturbing pictures of her father.
The internet is filled with this garbage. Find me a celebrity death that strikes a cord in people, and I'll find you some hateful vitriol directed at said celebrity and the people who are affected by their passing. This trend is so ever present at the saddest times in our collective culture that I imagine on the passing of J.K. Rowling (God forbid, I know) people will complain that people are dumb to be saddened by the loss of someone who just wrote a few children's books.
We are a hateful culture. We are a bullying, spiteful, jealous group of internet dwellers so lost in our own pleasures at the downfall and pain of others that schadenfreude seems too pretty a word for it.
The fact is, the struggles of those we put on a pedestal can be a unifying experience for all of us. They are catalysts for conversation, for sharing, for listening. One of the things that makes depression so deadly is the way it lies to us. It convinces us we are alone in our pain, a freak, defective.
When we see those who appear to have it all struggling with the same issues, it can be a signal for hope. It can be the thing that makes people look at their friends, co-workers and relatives in a different light. It should be the thing that reminds us to ask each other if we're okay. Instead, it's the thing that makes us tear each other apart.
So what should you be looking for in the people around you?
Insomnia (one of the leading causes of insomnia is mental illness)
Mood swings, mood changes
The sad and underwhelming way mental health is treated in our culture has taken it from a tragedy to a full-blown public-health crisis. If you see the pain of others as an opening for inflicting pain to amuse yourself, you're a part of the problem. If you don't see the harm in harming others, you need to examine your own humanity. And if you think that someone else's grief is a playground for your own judgement, get professional help.
And take yourself off the internet while you do.