aNewDomain — Even if you’re a news junkie, you probably never heard of Dave Goldberg or Beau Biden before they died. Yet both now are at the center of a national mournathon.
The deaths of Goldberg and Biden mark the further advancement of celebritization. Millions of Americans are told to care about people after they die – people whose existence they were completely unaware of prior to their demise – simply because they are related to someone famous.
Goldberg, 47, was the husband of Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, most known for her book “Lean In,” which advises women to be more assertive in the workplace. Just over a month ago, he fell off a treadmill at a hotel in Mexico, probably after a heart attack, and struck his head. (I write “probably” because there were a ridiculous number of conflicting reports about the cause of death.) Goldberg had been CEO of SurveyMonkey, a relatively obscure Silicon Valley startup.
Beau Biden was the son of United States Vice President Joe Biden. He was unknown outside Delaware, where he was a former state attorney general. He died of brain cancer at age 46.
Both deaths were sad. It is usually unfortunate when people leave us, especially at a young age. (Not as much when they’re, say, war criminals.) In Biden’s case, it is impossible not to feel for the vice president, who seems to be a decent man, and who has suffered more tragedy than most by losing his wife and young daughter in a car accident in 1972.
But let’s face it: 2.4 million Americans die every year. They leave behind spouses and parents and children and friends and colleagues who miss them and will never recover from their loss. Some die in terrible, tragic ways: struck by reckless drivers, murdered, maimed in industrial accidents.
But 99.9999 percent never get national attention. Most widows who post something about their deceased husband to Facebook, as Sheryl Sandberg did, do not get coverage on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, NPR, the New York Times and the Washington Post, as Sandberg’s frankly substandard essay received. It was poorly written and clunky, but that didn’t stop the media from gushing praise
“A heartbreakingly beautiful and incredibly open tribute to her late husband,” wrote the Post, “the Facebook chief operating officer is sharing what she’s learned about grief.” Not since Judith Miller have I distrusted a newspaper this much.
And when there is a funeral for one of the 99.9999 percent, the President does not attend, or deliver a eulogy (“his voice thick with emotion,” the Times said), and the event does not receive live national media attention, as Beau Biden’s did.
Which is perfectly fine. Most people don’t make such a huge impression on a national scale that their death deserves to be marked by so much pomp and circumstance.
What’s weird – and make no mistake, it really is strange – is to see the deaths of unknown people elevated to national events simply due to their relationship with the rich and famous. If Biden died, I’d expect a state funeral. Sandberg merits an eighth of a page obit. Biden’s son and Sandberg’s husband? Not so much.
Until 2014, high-profile deaths followed high-profile lives. Now, you don’t have to accomplish anything, at least anything that makes a public impact, to be grieved by the public.
Soon it won’t just be those close to the rich and famous who get posthumously recognized, but those who know those who are close to the rich and famous. On and on it’ll go, until six degrees are achieved and we are all fulfilling Andy Warhol’s prophecy, famous for 15 minutes.
But only after we die.
If you want to feel sad about the death of someone you never knew about, much less knew, that’s your business. But I’ve got a question: When a celebrity goes on and on and on about how fabulous their dead man or woman in question was, how on earth will we know if any of it is true?