Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Dying Young

Heath Ledger, 1979-2008

2008 is not turning out to be a good year so far for male heartthrobs. Two of my childhood crushes have died within the past week. First, Brad Renfro last Tuesday (admittedly, not entirely unexpected).

But then today the devastating news that Heath Ledger was found dead in an apartment in Soho completely floored me.

Both were talented actors in their 20s (although Renfro's career kind of peaked while he was a tween, I believe Ledger's was just getting started). Both had small children. Both deaths were supposedly drug-related.

I don't think I've ever been as in shock over a celebrity death as I was when I heard the news about Heath Ledger. I went online at work, saw the headline on MSNBC, and literally felt my jaw drop. After I left work, I discovered that I had three text messages and two voicemails about the news. I'm not sure what this says about me that my obsession with celebrity gossip is so well-documented that friends and relatives felt it necessary to immediately get in touch with me with updates like this. Oh well.

I passed Ledger walking around in Union Square a couple of months ago. He looked slightly disheveled, but definitely not like a junkie on death's door or anything. It's so sad that we'll never get to see the full potential of his talent.

His death drew my mind immediately to the criticism AP writers have faced recently after admitting they've already prepared an obituary for Britney Spears. Seeing how quickly some Heath Ledger bios went up this afternoon, and assuming that editors had no prior warning about this one, I can only imagine all the multimedia packages that have been put together for Batshit Britney's inevitable end. I don't think the AP's being callous or insensitive in preparing the obit, but merely realistic. Reporters have a responsibility to do whatever they can to give themselves a jump start on what will be "breaking news." I don't think anyone's going to be shocked if she turns up dead one of these days. Ashamed for feverishly following her downfall for personal amusement, perhaps. But shocked? No.

Heath Ledger, on the other hand ... well, that's a different - and truly tragic - story.


Socialite Commentary said...

I have to contend one point in your blog: "Reporters have a responsibility to do whatever they can to give themselves a jump start on what will be "breaking news."

This implies that a reporters primary duty is to him/herself. In fact, media exists to serve the community. In recent years, we've witnessed the bastardization of "news."

Gone are the days of Radio Free Europe, where news media was used to improve quality of life. Now, news is a ratings race, and it doesn't matter who gets trampled in the stampede.

In short: having an obituary prepared for Brittney Spears isn't a problem; the fact that people care about such a story is.

D. Paul said...

"The people" are just as complicit in the fact that people care about about such a story. The media does exist to serve the community. But it's also a business, and the customer is always right, even when the customer is an idiot.

And the media outlet that doesn't give the customer what it wants -- even if what it wants is 24-hour coverage of Britney moving about without her kids or underwear -- is going to soon find itself without an audience.

It's an unfortunate reality, and perhaps it can be resolved, but I'm not holding my breath on that one. Even larger outlets like CNN and Fox News are swayed by the whims of the larger public.

A person might be smart, but people are dumb. And the masses want their salacious gossip, no matter how much actual news there is to give 'em.

Socialite Commentary said...

True, consumerism drives news. However, it's sad that with system that allaegedly appeals to niche markets, all of the news is the same. The line between Larry King and Mary Hart is virtually non-existent.

Also, the concept of relative depravation comes into play. If people don't know there's anything else to consume, they'll keep eating garbage. While it doesn't affect older generations much, today's kids will know a lot about Hollywood drug adicts, but virtually nothing about issues like the AIDS pandemic.

D. Paul said...

I don't disagree with any particular point in your argument. But with fewer news outlets being privately owned, most will hew to the company line: Give 'em what we think they want. And there's not much that's going to change the cycle.