It's Mourning In America: Twitter-Grieving Anthony Bourdain

In addition to all of the other ways Twitter has enlivened society (to put it kindly), it has also become the go-to destination for mourning people we never knew personally.

Now, not only do celebrities, newsmakers or other prominent people have to cope with being widely talked about while they are alive (for better or worse), but the chatter is incessant even after they die (although the deceased is probably not aware of it).

For example, I never knew Anthony Bourdain -- not even vaguely in the way journalists sometimes cross paths with TV personalities. I never met him or interviewed him.

Still, it was certainly sad to hear about his death first thing last Friday morning. And then when you heard the cause was suicide, it became even sadder, and also mystifying. Why would a guy like this, who seemed to have everything he could possibly want, kill himself?



We all wondered the same thing, and many of us discussed Bourdain and his suicide with a close friend, a relative or a spouse (in much the same way we may have talked about the suicide of Kate Spade just days earlier).

But for many people today, the first place they seem to think about for airing their grief, sense of loss or whatever you want to call it is Twitter and/or other social media platforms.

Like so many other things that were once private, grief has now gone public. When public figures die, social media becomes social mourning.

Many people evidently feel that they will be left out of the “national conversation” if they don't post their two cents under some newly created celebrity-death hashtag.

I first encountered the phrase “national conversation” about six or seven years ago when my then-editor encouraged me to join Twitter so I could then “join the national conversation” about TV or whatever TV-related topic I was writing about on a particular day.

I have had a Twitter account ever since. But I have never benefited (as far as I can tell) from the daily habit I formed of posting my TV columns and stories there. I don't even think that editor -- who was so adamant that I join Twitter -- ever even signed up to follow me.

Many times it seems as if this “conversation” that he imagined is not really a conversation at all. When one scrolls through the many tweets posted to mourn or remember Bourdain, for example, they don't read like a conversation is underway in which people are engaged with each other.

Instead, it often feels as if a lot of individuals are posting their thoughts and feelings not in response to each other, but more as an effort to make sure they get heard on the subject for some reason. Whether or not anyone reads or reacts to their tweets seems to be beside the point.

Thus, you came across random tweets in the aftermath of Bourdain's death in which someone would post a quote from him that he or she found online and then tweet about what an inspiration he was.

Or you get tweets with a photo of Bourdain or perhaps the restaurant he once worked in called Les Halles on Park Avenue in Manhattan. It has been closed for years, but it's still vacant with its old signs still intact, and people have left flowers and notes there in recent days “sharing” their grief.

Often these days, these outpourings of twitter-grieving also include tweets posted by celebrities in remembrance of the deceased -- although these mourning celebrities often never knew the celebrity who just died, and even admit in their tweets that they never knew the person.

This is also a curious response to someone's death -- as if celebrities believe the rest of the world needs to hear how they are feeling about this deceased person, even if they had no personal connection to the person whatsoever.

To me, much of the Twitter-grieving rings hollow. But I also don't want to be that person who criticizes people too harshly when they are sad or feeling upset. Perhaps a good deal of the Twitter-grieving is sincere and truly heartfelt.

All the same, I can't help thinking that the people who probably are the most aggrieved about Anthony Bourdain's tragic passing are those who really knew him -- family, friends, colleagues, associates and co-workers.

Grief is a very real thing -- serious and important. Social media such as Twitter, however, has a way of taking something serious like grief and making it seem trivial.

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