(I started writing this post Friday, August 12, 2011, so the “yesterday” reference may be misleading)
Another celebrity died yesterday. I know it's inevitable that soon, maybe already, posts will be flying on Facebook and emails will be chain forwarded. Not about the celebrity, but about how tragic it is that the media all pay attention and give time to this singer's death and overlook the (fill in a number and branch of military) servicemen who died this week. The messages will most likely contain names and ranks of these brave men who gave their lives in our defense. The posts will express outrage and wonder. “Why does the media plaster photos and stories of (dead celebrity) and ignore the deaths of these courageous warriors? Let's all post/forward this and maybe eventually it will get to the right people and convince them to change their ways.”
First, let's be realistic about something. If you get any kind of statistic, political or scientific “fact” or really off the wall bit of trivia in an email forward, there's about a 99% chance that it's bullshit. Please, research this stuff for yourself before you forward it to your friends. Especially if I'm your friend. So, a lot of times when these reactions to celebrity deaths mention specific military units, or especially names of individuals, it's either completely fabricated or hopelessly outdated. Casualty counts are the same. Also, no matter how many times your message gets reposted or your email gets forwarded, it's not going to get to “the right people”. Even if it does, it won't change anything. The people in charge of the various media know their jobs and generally do them well. It's why they get paid so well.
These men and women knew the risks they were taking. I'm not being disrespectful; I took the same enlistment oath, and I accepted the same risk. They were doing a dangerous job, but it was a job they chose. Although I commend and respect them for it, the hard, cold fact is that pretty much anyone with their training could have done their job.
On the other hand, celebrities don't assume risk in the line of their work, for the most part. They perform whatever their given talent or skill is, provide us with entertainment, and get paid. Again, a cold hard fact: most entertainers are successful because they are indeed unique. When they're gone, they take with them the source of what they entertained us with.
The real reason the news media covers the deaths of pop stars and actors is that almost all of the viewing audience knows who they are. Private Doe and Lance Corporal Smith and Seaman Jones, while they are to be mourned, simply aren't known by the public-at-large. The viewing public doesn't feel any connection – these soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen are faceless names to most people. It's sad but it's true. The general public cares more about the death of Amy Winehouse or Elvis Presley or Tupac Shakur based on name recognition alone.
If this upsets you, don't blame the media. By giving the audience what the audience wants, the media is doing its job. If you want to cast blame, blame the celebrity worshiping culture in which we live.