Before you roll your eyes at all the Prince tributes
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: social media is just plain toxic.
Prince Rogers Nelson, the musician behind such hits as Little Red Corvette, When Doves Cry, Purple Rain, and 1999, died yesterday at the age of 57. The news came as a shock to me. What didn’t surprise me was the social media progression that followed the news of his passing.
There was the initial volley of tweets and posts expressing shock, sadness, and tributes to Prince’s music. Then, this morning, I started to see the no less expected, passive aggressive, counter posts, pushing back and snidely mocking others for making a big deal out of the death of a celebrity.
Look, I get it; good people die all the time and go unnoticed by the masses. News outlets don’t devote specials to the caring but largely unknown mother who dies of cancer, far too young. Radio stations don’t preempt their normal programming to run 24-hour tributes to the first responders who risk – and often lose – their lives every day in service of the greater good.
But here’s the thing. The impact a person has on the lives of the people they touched isn’t diminished by the people they didn’t. The passing of a parent is no less important to their children because the parent wasn’t famous. Likewise, the effect that one person can have upon another is no less profound just because the person was famous.
Indulge me for a moment, as we take a brief trip down memory lane.
The year was 1985, and a 12 year old boy had just started middle school in a new town, having just moved there over the summer. The boy, who was significantly shorter than anybody else in the school, was hoping against hope that this school would be different. That the students would be different. That his new peers might take the time to get to know him, rather than instantly dismissing him based on his outward appearance.
The boy was quickly disappointed. The new school was no more welcoming than his last school. If anything, it was worse. The bullying started almost immediately. He was no stranger to verbal and physical abuse at the hands of other students, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. It got so bad that the boy found any excuse he could to avoid going to school.
Outside of school, the boy had few friends. His single mother worked second shift, leaving before the boy got home and returning after he went to bed. Having no one to confide in about his struggles, the boy internalized everything. He developed a stress-induced stomach ulcer, among other ailments. For the first time in his young life, the boy started to entertain the thought that a life of rejection and isolation might not be worth living.
Fortunately for the boy, he had music. He had recently acquired Prince’s Purple Rain album. From the very first words of the very first track, the boy found something to identify with:
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life…
The song gave the boy hope.
If the elevator tries to bring you down, go crazy! Punch a higher floor!
The boy found a Rolling Stone article about Prince, and learned that the artist was shy, reclusive, and stood a mere 5 feet 2 inches tall.
Inspired, the boy began using creativity as an outlet. He kept a journal, often incorporating the lyrics of his favorite songs into his writing. He started writing short stories and poetry. His first poem was selected for inclusion into the school’s compilation of top creative writing. As the boy matured, he continued using writing as an outlet, exorcising his demons through creativity.
If you were to ask the boy, today, who his greatest influences were, he would list his grandmother, grandfather, and wife without hesitation. Prince would go unmentioned, as would a number of other musicians, authors, and creative types who helped get the boy through some rough times. They would go unmentioned, but definitely not unappreciated.
My point is this: you may not like someone or feel any particular connection to them, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t affected someone you do have a connection to. Before you judge your friend on social media for posting a tribute to a celebrity, take a moment to consider the possibility that without that celebrity, your friend might not be here today.