During the last few weeks of 2016, some celebrities died. Every year celebrities die, of course, but for some reason the deaths of the pop singer George Michael, the actress Carrie Fisher, and Fisher’s mother, Debbie Reynolds, was a trifecta too crushing for humanity to bear. Soon, #f—k2016 was trending on Twitter as people expressed their disbelief and sadness at the death of so many beloved famous people, as well as a more general disgust for the year that had just elapsed. A panicky South Carolina man even launched a GoFundMe page to “Help Protect Betty White from 2016,” which raised $2,000 to keep the Grim Reaper from slaying the beloved Golden Girl. (On the advice of Ms. White, who remains alive and well at age 94, he donated the money to charity.)
Why has the reaction to celebrity death become more intense and more personalized in recent years? More often than not, people act as if the loss of a 1980s pop icon or an aging movie star is a personal affront and feel moved to proclaim their grief on social media in ways that previous generations would have found maudlin and embarrassing.
One reason might be the simple fact that there are too many celebrities.