Sunday, December 1, 2013

Too soon

I wasn't intimately acquainted with Paul Walker's filmography. I've seen only two of the five Fast & Furious movies he's in, and a smattering of others, including Eight Below, Varsity Blues and Running Scared.

For some reason, though, I have continued to check back in all day on news related to his death -- in part because it was rumored to be a hoax. In fact, so common is the celebrity death hoax these days -- and so horribly coincidental is the way the star died, given his most famous role -- that Wikipedia didn't even have him as deceased for about an hour after I heard the news. It took them even longer to slap their standard "This article is about a person who has recently died" banner atop his page.

Aside from the indignity of having the first few hours of one's death shrouded in hoax rumors -- that's the era we live in, unfortunately -- what might be worse is that people couldn't resist going to the well about how ironic/funny/unlikely it was that he would die in a car crash. You couldn't escape it on Facebook.

These two words are supposed to excuse any apparent lapses in taste:

"Too soon?"

Believe me, I like a well-timed "too soon" joke as well as anyone. However, I really do think the first six hours after a person's death is too soon. It's much funnier to talk about an old tragedy or death -- say, the Hindenburg disaster -- and follow that up with "Too soon?" Those kind of jokes have some fun teasing our ideas of propriety and political correctness, our excess cautiousness about not offending someone by choosing to examine this death or tragedy from a humorous perspective. The Hindenburg crashed in 1937 -- oh, the humanity -- so pretending to still be worried about sensitivity issues is funny as hell.

But Paul Walker died like 12 hours ago. Let's give him some time before we say that "Paul didn't walk away from this one" or "he was going a little too fast and furious."

Because the other thing that has bothered me today was that it was too soon in another way -- too soon for Walker to die.

Celebrities of all ages die, of course -- plenty of them older than me, but some younger than me, too. Paul Walker was older than me -- though he was only 38 days older. For some reason, that makes his death hit closer to home for me.

Walker was as close as I am aware of to my celebrity "celestial twin" -- closest to me in age. There are surely others who are closer, but I haven't done the work to figure it out. Of course, I only became aware of his age at all when I saw it listed in the articles. I thought "Hey, I'm 40 too" and looked him up on Wikipedia. Yep, he was born on September 12, 1973, only 38 days before I was.

Clearly Walker's death had nothing to do with his age, but when someone so close to our own vital stats dies, it can't help but acquaint us a little better with our own mortality.

I'm ashamed to admit that my first thought of what to write on Facebook was a joke as well, about just that. I composed the following post in my head: "I'm only 38 days younger than Paul Walker was when he died today. If he could die in a car crash at age 40, it could happen to any of us."

Stupid age we live in with all its crassness and insensitivity.

I left that post unwritten, of course. Instead I wrote, despite the fact that I rarely like to write truly earnest status updates: "That's too bad about Paul Walker. He was only 38 days older than I am ... which for some reason hits home, even though his death had nothing to do with his age."

I now found myself thinking gruesome thoughts, like "Was he killed on impact? Did he get some part of the car impaled through his body? Or did he burn to death? Did his friend, the driver, have time to realize that he'd killed them both and made a helpless apology through his last gasps?"

Violent death, especially of a celebrity, has a way of making us dwell. For a long time after Phil Hartman died I was left thinking about his final moments, imagining him pleading with his wife just before she blew his head off.

Stupid minds with all their toxic powers of imagination.

Now I'm wondering how they'll handle his death in Fast 7, which was scheduled to come out next July and was apparently still filming. Will they do what News Radio did when Hartman died, and pay sorrowful tribute to him even though it goes against the show's purpose of making people laugh? How long will Fast 7 pause from explosions and high-speed car chases to honor the man who appeared in all but one of the previous films?

It's too soon to think about this, too. But it was also too soon to lose Paul Walker, a near celestial twin of mine, who I knew only in the sense that he experienced our world at the same age and pace as I did, on the other side of the continent. Sure, he was in a Pampers commercial while I was just in regular Pampers, and very little of our lives were the same after that. But Paul Walker and I turned 40 in the same year, 38 days apart, and that has to count for something.

Rest in peace. 


Nick Prigge said...

I know what you mean. I had that same weird reaction when Brittany Murphy died. We were the same age, she was two months younger than me, and she even had medication in her system at the time of death that I was taking at that time (for a health issue). Her work never meant a great deal to me - though I loved "Clueless" and I loved her in "Sin City" - but something about that tore me up. Partly, I thought, she never got a fair shake from Hollywood.

And between the circumstances of her death being dredged back up (just let her rest in peace!) and the hoax surrounding Paul Walker that wasn't, I find myself kind of disgusted about the way we as a society seem to treat death. I know it isn't always out of malice but, you know, perspective, people! It's a subject that deserves genuine reflection.

So thanks for a thoughtful take.

Vancetastic said...

And thanks for the thoughtful comment. I think part of the reason we're so borderline tasteless about celebrity death is as a defense mechanism to help us cope with our own fears. Also, we're oddly gleeful about being the messenger when it comes to people dying. I don't think this is as sardonic as it sounds. In part I think we are interested in being present when someone else learns the information we have just learned, to gauge their reaction, which helps us process our own. A complicated topic to be sure.