It’s 11:30 at night and I’m sitting up reading about the life of Joan Rivers. She died today, at the age of 81, and I’m still in shock and grief. She was an amazing woman who had more professional lives than a cat. Up until her hospitalization last week, she was still running around the country performing, interviewing, and taping her television shows. She was more of a star today than she was 30 years ago when I first heard of her. Joan’s death is not the first celebrity death this summer or this year. But, it resonates with me more than others for several reasons. First, I grew up with her. She was Johnny Carson’s “go to” woman in the 80’s. I remember my mom and my sister would stay up late watching her. Second, she was like the Jewish grandmother I never had (though I had two fabulous grandmothers). Finally, she was relatable. I saw her a couple of years ago in concert and she spoke candidly about the death of her husband, job loss and getting back on her feet. Today I realized, while reading about her death, I felt I knew Joan because of social media.
If you have Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, you may follow a celebrity. I followed Joan. I loved seeing the pictures of her and her grandson on their recent trip to Italy. I loved the pictures of her dogs and her Christmas tree. She invited me into her life and gave me a view of how very ordinary she was (except flying first class and having a penthouse apartment in NYC). She was not a God or unattainable. She loved her grandson and her daughter and her friends. That was evident on her social media pages. She had pictures of her dogs getting excited when she would come home from being on the road. Who hasn’t encountered that with their own animals? This was all brought to me and to the world by social media. Social media has allowed us, the ordinary fans of a celebrity, to see inside the lives of those we admire. And what do we see? We see people who live, love, laugh and cry like the rest of us. We get to know these people like they are one of us, like they are part of our extended family. We can even comment on their activities and picture, just like actual family members.
There are some celebrities who do not partake of social media, or if they do, they are still at arm’s length. That is their decision. Just like some “ordinary” people do not have Facebook or Twitter accounts. Nothing is wrong with those choices (I have thought about doing away with my Facebook account a number of times). But, when a celebrity shares as much of his or her life with their fans, it gives us folks a chance to know who they really are.
Now, I am not so naïve to think that everything celebrities post and even Joan’s posts were all spontaneous or their own. Many celebrities have publicists who post to social media outlets for them. I am sure that Joan had a person who very carefully posted to Twitter and Facebook and Instagram for her. But, I’m sure once in a while they actually do take to their computer and write what they are feeling, especially today.
Years ago, celebrities were so out of reach. We looked upon them as though they lived in another galaxy. We ordinary folks could only ever imagine what they did in their spare time or what family gatherings looked like. Social media has brought these stars down to earth. We are invited into their homes for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We see photos of their children (sometimes) and of their happy times and (sometimes) sad times. We have learned, through social media, that celebrities are not immortal or larger than life. In fact, they are just as mortal as you and me. Maybe, because of social media, our idolatry of these sentient beings can be brought down to earth and we can see them for who they really are; regular people, just like you and me.