Over the past week we have seen many TV and Movie Stars and even Rock Gods pass! and take their final bows as the curtain falls for the last time on their careers and lives. David Bowie, Dan Haggerty (Grizzly Adams), Alan Rickman (Severus Snape) to name a few.
Why do we react so strongly to the passing of these people? We don’t know them, we are not related to them, and in most cases we know next to nothing about their lives.
The truth is we are not mourning the actors, so much as the characters they played. Yes when a truly talented actor like Alan Rickman dies, the world loses a great performer, but many of those who pass have long since retired and no longer contribute to the industry. Yet we continue to mourn their passing far more then the passing of an individual, or even a distant relative we never knew.
The answer is how we grew up. My generation and the Baby boomers before me had a unique upbringing, one never before seen, but now the norm in most cultures. We grew up with a babysitter that occupied our time, and taught us about the world, as well as how to cope with situations and most importantly to us, entertained. That square glowing box that presented its wonderful images and sounds in our basements and living rooms, The Television.
While our parents tried to instill values and manners and good behaviour, it was the TV that actually showed us how to use those values. Our parents told us the importance of manners, but the TV showed us those manners in operation, and the demise of those who didn’t employ them. The shows we watched were the preparation we received for the world we would inherit, and as was famously said ” The medium is the message ”
The Television we watched coloured our views of how the world should be, and when it was our turn to emerge on the world stage, it was what we had watched that formed our character, and provided us the tools to try and bend the world to that flat screen vision we had been shown.
Didn’t we all pretend we were Grizzly Adams, Daniel Boone, GiJoe, or Transformers? Younger blog readers would have been Ponies, Voltron or Wizards in the school yard.
As we matured we no longer pretended to be giant robots, soldiers or mountain men, but we kept the values we had been taught by those shows. We ached to still be those fantasy characters we admired, but settled for being their human equivalent in a modern world, where only the lessons they taught were applicable.
The point is, we grew up with an electronic parent who displayed recognizable faces to us and we loved those fictional characters in our homes as we loved the siblings and parents we shared our home with, and now as we age, those timeless characters are passing. Their image is the same in our memories and reruns, but the actors who played them age as all men age and fall victim to the ravages of time. So when Dan Haggerty dies, it is not him we see, it is Grizzly Adams walking beside a lumbering bear across a mountain meadow that we envision, a childhood friend and mentor we have not seen in a long time.
It is not the actor we mourn so much as the characters that were our friends and companions during our formative years. They were our family.
And when each of these photon parent passes away we feel the weight of time. Our childhood stripped from us, never to return. We mourn the loss of that childhood character, because no matter how unreasonable, we all, in our darkest moments, yearn to return to that simpler time of youth, and those familiar faces that comforted us with their performance, while we were bathed in the glow from our television screens, and somehow feel that with the passing of the actor, that impossible return becomes even less possible.
Goodbye my childhood friends, I will never forget you, and as you fade to black I have one last thing to say…Thank You.
Daniel O’Neail- Jan 2016