Taking it all so personally…

Let me admit something upfront.  I am not invested in our culture of celebrity.  I don’t read People Magazine, frequent TMZ, or watch Entertainment Tonight.  I know plenty of people, many smarter than me, who use gossip celebrity stuff as a way to unwind.

I don’t get it, but I try not to judge it.

Michael Jackson “Mourners”

I can’t help but climb up on my soapbox, however, when I see people get all bent out of shape when celebrities die.  Last week, Donna Summer died and I happened to be online.  Immediately people started wailing and gnashing their teeth over how sad they were over her “tragic” death.  A friend of mine wisely commented, “How many times did people think about Donna Summer the day before she died?”

Also Read: More on lung cancerReliving History

I don’t understand why people take celebrity deaths so personally, but I bounce between various theories. Warning:  none of these are very kind.

1)  They want a distraction from the mundanity of their own lives.
2)  It reminds them of their own mortality.
3)  They want to avoid their own problems.
4)  They want an excuse to feel something.
5)  It reminds them of their long-dead youth.
6)  They are looking for someone to feel sorry for them.
7)  They like being miserable.
8)  They have a serious mental illness.

I don’t mean to be flippant about a death.  I am sure there were lots of people who really did have a personal relationship with Ms. Summer and are no doubt overwhelmed with grief.  To them, I offer my deep and sincere sympathy.

But much like my post about MCA, I find the story behind the story most interesting.  The family has been public about pointing out that Summer’s lung cancer was not caused by smoking.  I have read that Summer believed that she got lung cancer from 9/11 debris, so that may be the motivation behind this statement, but I think there’s something more to it.To people weeping when they hear “Last Dance”  on the oldies station tonight?  You get a different type of sympathy from me.  Just because you had your first kiss while roller skating to “Last Dance” in 1979, it doesn’t mean she was your friend.

I think that lung cancer is the most self-recriminatory version of this complex cancer disease.  People always ask, or assume, that a person with lung cancer was a smoker.  Because if s/he was a smoker, then somehow s/he deserved it.  It is undeniable that smoking causes lung cancer, but two other things are also true.  First of all, not all lung cancer is caused by smoking.  In fact, if everyone were to quit smoking today, lung cancer would NOT disappear.  Second, and often forgotten, not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer.

Another plea for you — stop accepting lung cancer as simply a risk, or a consequence, of smoking.  There’s a lot more to the story than that.  It’s a deadly set of diseases with very low survival rates.  As they say, the lungs you save might be your own.

And while we’re at it, let’s please keep our perspective on celebrity news, ok?