Grief tweets and the compassion performance

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
February 13, 2012 /

Click here to view original /

I like my music gritty, my musicians non-models and my lyrics leaning towards the gut-wrenching. I don’t appreciate the high notes, don’t care for vocal range and I’m not at all interested in an artist’s karaoke night popularity.

I’m so not the right person to pen a tribute piece. As a cynic and pop culture junkie however, I think I probably do have the pluck to offer something.

Early 1990s, my grandfather’s funeral. Later that evening, my primary school-aged brother dobbed on me to Mum: “Lauren didn’t cry at the funeral.” Even at 12, at least one of the Rosewarne siblings appreciated the individuality of grief.

The Molly Meldrum fall, the Whitney Houston death, cue every other celebrity calamity or crash-n’-burn and Twitter gifts us a whole new way to emote.

Publicly. Without the burden of a 140-first character. Publicly. Where a handful of words achieves both personal PR and the illusion of compassion. Publicly. All in the comfort of one’s pyjamas while watching Dr Phil.

Molly took a tumble and the Twittersphere was abundant with not only expressions of shock and awe, but notably well-wishes.

“Sending healing light & love out this evening to a great Australian music industry icon & big part of my musical upbringing, Molly Meldrum X”, Tweeted Jessica from a band I thought I’d forgotten.

No, I’m not that kind of doctor, but reading text messages on one’s iPhone while in a coma sounds Lancet miraculous to me. Sainthood worthy miraculous, in fact.

Instead, Molly stays in the coma and the celebrity Twit – or, as is more likely – their assistant looks compassionate, looks connected, looks engaged.

Whitney Houston dies in a hotel room and Twitter apparently explodes with tributes from the stars. For me, a Justin Bieber “Just heard the news. so crazy” Tweet does not maketh a tribute, but of course, I need be no soothsayer to know that the 6pm news’ll dub it an “outpouring of grief” anyway.

Brevity may be the soul of wit, but 140 categories ain’t no outpourin’.

Departing this mortal coil and the what-next game is open for debate if not the inspiration of entire faith systems. But in no afterlife carrot that I’ve ever been dangled has social networking had a role.

So if Molly couldn’t read the Tweets while in his coma, if it’s unlikely that Whitney’s scrolling through her feed while pacing at the pearly-gates, who and what exactly are these Tweets for?

Lady Gaga’s offers a cluey insight: “When I wrote Born This Way I imagined Whitney singing it because I wasn’t secure enough to be a star.” A tribute couched in the fantasy of humility couched in a plug for a song.

There’s no right or wrong way to do grief, to do concern, to do love, to do angst. Nor is their any imperative to do anything at all in the wake of a tragedy. But pretending that thumbing out a rest-in-peace tweet counts as something, as action, as empathy is self-indulgent and severely deluded.

The Facebook friend who pokes you isn’t the same as the one who makes you soup when you’re sick and the celebrity who Tweets out a feeling doesn’t do so any more deeply than the one who resists.

© Lauren Rosewarne