People love celebrities. They talk about them on social media, follow them on television shows or in the newspapers (especially the tabloids). In worst case scenarios they actually follow them – until the restraining order kicks in.
But as much as they like live celebrities, they are fascinated by dead ones. I spent yesterday at the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. It is full of famous dead people or people famously dead. You can buy maps of the stars, just like in Hollywood and traipse around (in the rain, as it was yesterday) to gawk at their tombs. Of course, there are lots of other dead people there – nearly a million in over 70,000 tombs. Those people are not famously dead, merely dead.
Many of these other graves have flowers or other memorials on them. These dead people matter to their family or friends. But unless someone like me comes along who likes to take pictures of neat memorials, they don’t matter much to the general public. Some – gone to ruin – don’t even matter to their families anymore.
There are some famous dead people who attract little attention – war heroes, politicians, scientists, builders, even most painters and writers. For example the grave of Collette (French writer) and Baron Haussmann (who basically created the Paris you see today) have no memorials at all.
They are not important to those who really care about dead celebrities – North Americans. You can spot the “famous” among the graves. Rossini (the most romantic of composers) has bouquets of flowers around his tomb. But it is all quite restrained.
Oscar Wilde has a Plexiglas fence around his rather large monument (placed there some years after his actual burial). Yet people have clambered on neighbouring graves to press their lips to his tomb. The side is painted with the marks of lipstick. I make no presumption as to the sex of the kissers, Oscar appeals to all genders with his wit, but don’t they know that he is beyond kissing or caring by now?
Jim Morrison is tucked away behind several other larger tombs but nonetheless has to have a metal fence around him to keep the gawkers off. Instead people have tossed flowers and other memorials onto his grave (or snuck over the fence when no one was looking). Others have affixed chewing gum and notes to a nearby tree or written memorials on any surface they can find – even other people’s tombs (though those periodically get washed off.)
Yet for me, they are all just dead people – no more worthy of respect or forgetfulness than any other. Their work matters – but really do they anymore?
And that’s ten minutes. (And after three posts about death, I’ll try to be more lively tomorrow)