Annabel Begeng, Junior Copywriter at 50 Crates
If a stranger was to approach you on the street and tell you that their aunt Mildred had just died in a tragic speed boat accident, what would you feel? Awkward? Definitely. Empathetic? Sure. Sad? Probably not. The news that someone has passed away is never met with laughter and exaltation, but unless you knew them personally, the emotional response tends to fall short of devastated sobs.
Yet when the news broke of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death alongside his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna and seven others, millions across the globe began a collective mourning. I watched friends who had never seen a single NBA game, post tributes to the basketball icon on their social media accounts. People who had never uttered his name (myself included) before were now using it as their conversation starter.
The public mourning of celebrity deaths is completely illogical. But then again, so are we. So, why is it that I, who has never played a game a basketball and probably couldn’t have pointed Kobe out of a line up, became one of his mourners?
The events of the Cold War era brought us space exploration, atheism, nuclear weapons and the terrifying realisation of our own insignificance in a universe that is far too large and complex for us to even comprehend. More than ever, we grapple with the question that has defined human history; does any of this even matter? Icons like Kobe make us feel like maybe it does.
Achievement at the highest level in sport, entertainment, business or art comes with formal recognitions of ‘worth’, often tangible. Olympic medals, award statues, platinum records, a place on Time Magazine’s list of influential people. Our idols fill their homes with these recognitions of value while most of us struggle with the constant niggling feeling that whatever we do will never be enough.
We watch their stars rise and bask in their glow. We are quick to forget their wrongdoings and even quicker to adopt them as our idols, even our gods. More than a million people in six countries have dedicated themselves to the Church of Diego Maradona.
When these icons die, that ever-present question rears its ugly head. We are once again forced to face the fact that no matter what we achieve or how much wealth we amass, we are still just as fragile as anyone else. Beneath the wealth and accolades we are all flesh and blood, mortal and flawed.
For the 99%, our deaths will not be met with televised memorials and crowds of mourners. Most of us will go out with a whisper, not a bang. We will live on in the memories of two or three generations of loved ones, not in halls of fame.
In no way do I mean to understate the tragic loss of life that occurred, nor to undermine the influence of Kobe on his fans and the enduring legacy he will undoubtedly leave. The empathy we feel for his loved ones is sincere, but the empathy we feel for ourselves is far greater.