Sunday, January 27, 2008

Heath Ledger is Dead

The Australian actor Heath Ledger died a few days ago, and as usual it was heralded as a 'tragedy'. For whom? Surely for his family and close friends. Perhaps for his agent, and anyone else who stood to make money off him. But for Mr. Ledger personally?

A 28 year old man goes to sleep at the height of his career; a movie star, rich, loved by millions...surely he existed in that top 2 percent or so of people whose lifestyles can be said to be very to extremely pleasurable. And he simply doesn't wake up. No death by degree for Heath. No gradual loss of senses, of physical capacity, of mind. No being slowly and painfully eaten away by cancer, nor drowning in the liquids of his own failing lungs. No painful and debilitating bone or muscular disease. No auto accident leaving him a quadraplegic for the last 40 years of his life. No knife shoved between his ribs outside a liquor store by some junkie who liked his coat. All things considered, not a bad way to go out.

But in at least a large percentage of the public's eye, his death is a tragedy. Why? I believe it's because a young person's death, especially one's whose life we have granted greater providence through the vehicle of celebrity, presses at the barrier of illusion we've created for ourselves that life is 'ok', and somehow removed from that shape underneath the sheet. Day to day happiness requires a daily maintenance schedule consisting of self deception, and the ability to either ignore or re-interpret the ugly stuff that's going on around us all the time. Cognitive dissonance buttressed by sometimes vague, sometimes exceedingly mapped out mythology, is the favored coping mechanism employed by us higher-type primates, it seems.


Furthermore, since celebrity equals authority in this society, Heath's death is a rub in our collective faces. "If I can go out so unexpectedly," warns the god, "what's that say for the rest of you?" And, of course, not many of us will be fortunate enough to shuck this mortal coil in such a light and easy manner. There will be pain, and weeping, and fear...and none of these are even guaranteed to immediately yield the fruit of our demise, which at least promises the cessation of those precursors. Hell, the suffering can go on intermittently, or even continuously for years, or decades! And the worst part is- in the back of our minds, we are exquisitely aware of these facts. So we cope by lying, and we lie to ourselves so well that we come to believe that it's perfectly all right to bear children, and then we lie to them, telling them the same lie we've told ourselves, that somehow it will be different for them.

Then of course, there's the notion of vicarious immortality...living on after we die through our children, and our childrens' children, etc. A notion, need I remind the reader, which is one hundred percent a figment of the imagination? We no more live on through future generations than Heath Ledger lives on in his films (at this point, we might venture off into some discussions about what actually makes up the personality, of what the idea of personhood actually entails, but that's too far afield for this blog). My point is that we so dread our own deaths that we concoct these elaborate fantasies to mask the truth from ourselves, then we have children, knowing full well the horrible state we're bringing them into, and then we deal with THAT by foisting on them the same, re-cycled fantasies (that seems an awful lot like the end of the last paragraph...ah, well, it bears repeating).

Anyhow, Heath, it's too bad you don't know how lucky you were. You went out at the top of your game, painlessly, and you never even saw it coming. If it were only so for most of us, including the countless generations which will doubtlessly follow, including your baby daughter (not judging you here...I made the same mistake). I wish the best for her, and the rest of your family, and for the rest of all of us, as long as I'm making wishes which I know won't come true for a sizeable percentage of humanity.

We are the future's dirt.

5 comments:

TGGP said...

Is the knowledge of impending death rather than death itself that bad? Is that why you have not taken the sleeping-pills route?

your host said...

It's never been strictly about my personal circumstance, though certainly that's part of the psychological mix. And I'm not afraid of death; though some of the nasty stuff leading up to it certainly annoys me. However, my opinion is that life is an absurdity; a fact which might be mitigated, or even erased, if happiness were the natural state of things. However, the facts of the matter are quite different, and as everyone knows, life can and often does turn out right horribly for the individual, in spite of our wishes and our plans. And for what end? Simply death. It's an absurd arrangement, and one I would not choose to bring a life into (although, as I've already admitted elsewhere, I have, and a part of me will always regret it precisely because I love them). Hope I've answered your question.

TGGP said...

A little while back I was in a dissagreement with Lawrence Auster. He refused to believe something because that would make life and human history absurd. I pointed out that doesn't make it any less likely to be true.

Anonymous said...

Basically all of this is based on some completely incorrect assumptions about the nature of your "self" and the world.

your host said...

Care to elaborate?