Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Death of Steve Jobs and Famous People

Steve Jobs, a man who was a brilliant innovator and a tech revolutionary, has left the building at age 56.

I have read several Facebook and Twitter updates that celebrate his death. They suggest that Jobs is something of an evil monster. Yes, I am appalled by the abysmal working conditions of Apple factories in China where a stressful working environment has provoked several employees to commit suicide. And workers are now being forced to sign a pledge promising not to commit suicide. But sweatshops are not uniquely Apple. Nor is that kind of corporate suffering. He was not an evil man - he was an inventor who made excellent and positive contributions. And if people think that poor working conditions will vanish with Jobs, they are wrong.

Steve Jobs' death caught the world's attention because he was a public figure. People felt or feel an affinity to him because they are familiar with him and his products. There is a lot of moral high-horsing in response to his death. In the aftermath of a celebrity death, people often ask: "Why do others care about the death of a famous person while there are thousands of people out there dying?" This is a flawed line of thought because it works under the assumption that paying tribute to a household name means that death and destruction  experienced by non-famous and non-wealthy people is intentionally forgotten about or thought inferior.

It is tragic that the 3,000 people slaughtered in Syria have not received the same international attention among individuals everywhere. That the hundreds and thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians are shrugged off. That the deaths of unknown and faceless people in every corner of this world, especially as a result oppression and torture, is overlooked. Stalin (I am not endorsing him) said this very well: The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic. The plain matter of the fact is that it is easier for people to feel empathetic when they are already familiar with the face and the story of one man or woman. People are not malicious nor do they necessarily have their back turned to the world when they feel sadness or want to publicly acknowledge a famous person's passing. The person who died most probably brought joy to them.

And trying to measure the international response of the oppressed and the celebrity against each other is like comparing apples and oranges. The death of a celebrity is news - it is not an issue per se. State murder on the other hand, is not only news, but a complex issue of rights, power and justice. It is not a one-time incident that is reported and subsequently over. The 'expected' response to death by oppression is not a Facebook status update saying 'RIP' - it needs an active response dedicated to hopefully, ultimately, holding those oppressors accountable and bringing about freedom and security. The dynamics are completely different. And combined with the strong propaganda campaigns in the background of, say, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, a lot of people - put bluntly - just do not have any interest in or passion about human rights and politics. 

There is always a sort of begrudging, a kind of bitterness, that surrounds the death of a famous person (particularly in the music or film industry). When Amy Winehouse died, people were fast to take the moral high ground and say that she abused drugs, therefore she 'deserved what she had coming' (I will not begin about the callousness of those comments). Her personal fame and fortune is not some kind of 'enemy' that undermines the death of the common person as some people see it. She was a singer. Most general news outlets reported her death and fans responded accordingly. Celebrities are well-known humans, but human nonetheless.

Fundamentally, whether a person mourns, rejoices or gives little thought about a person's death - the reality is that death is inevitable and all life will perish.


Michaela said...

Love that last line.
My brain is annihilated from studying atm, so I can't write a fitting response, but I just loved that last line.
Forgive my lack of literary prowess at this present moment...

Am now following.

- Michaela

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