Celebrity deaths: don’t blame it all on 2016


Raka Sarkar | Staff Illustrator

By Amanda Reed / Assistant News Editor

As I was scrolling through my Facebook page this week reading everyone’s condolences over the recent deaths of George Michael, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, I noticed a good number of my internet friends posting articles about a GoFundMe campaign to prevent 2016 from laying its grimy, unforgiving hands on precious national angel Betty White.

Created in jest by concerned citizen Demetrios Hrysikos from Spartanburg, South Carolina, on Dec. 27, the campaign reached its initial goal of $2,000 in the first day alone. By Dec. 31, Hrysikos and the Internet raised over $9,000 to save the “Golden Girls” actress.

The money is not actually going to “save” Betty White — according to the GoFundMe page, Hrysikos is donating the campaign proceeds to the Spartanburg Little Theatre in South Carolina to “carry [the] mantle of the legends that have left us this year.

Even though White is very much alive, almost every time a beloved public figure died or something terrible happened in 2016 — especially by the end of the year — people took to social media to say, “2016 needs to stop.” It’s this widely echoed sentiment that probably lead Hrysikos to make the joke fundraising campaign in the first place.

Yes, this year was arguably a dumpster fire — seemingly every influential person died, including cultural icons David Bowie, Prince, Alan Rickman, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and “Watership Down” author Richard Adams, and the nation endured a divisive presidential election — but we need to leave blaming every unfortunate event on the year itself in 2016.

Between the Orlando nightclub shooting on June 12, the Bastille Day terrorist attack on July 14 in Nice, France, Britain’s decision to Brexit in June and the crisis in Aleppo, it seems like last year can easily be denounced as “The Worst Year Ever in All of Eternity.” But, this “Worst Year Ever” feeling could be psychological, all thanks to something called declinism.

Declinism is the idea that a country, society or institution is in a state of significant, irreversible decline and that everything was better in the past. In 2015, BBC Radio 4 explored this idea in the first episode of a radio series called “The Human Zoo,” which examined how people perceive the world. According to Nick Chater, professor of behavioural science at Warwick University in England, people take bad news as evidence that the world is going to hell.

“Our memory is very selective, and so the elements of the past that are particularly striking… are things that we tend to remember much better,” he says in the episode.

That means we remember the 1940s and ‘50s because of major historical events like World War II or Gandhi’s assassination but we also remember them fondly because they were “simpler” times, sans life-ruiners like social media and political correctness. Thanks to nostalgia, we forget that those years were actually kind of awful — see: McCarthyism and zero to no rights for minority groups, women and those with disabilities.

But out of those terrible times came many pivotal moments in our social history, like the Civil Rights and women’s liberation movements and the deinstitutionalization of the mental health care system.

In reality, every year has its fair share of low moments, but we also have to look at the good that comes with the bad. Although 9/11 started the winless War on Terrorism, it did lead to the creation of the Transportation Security Administration in November 2001 and made air travel safer. The Great Depression defined an economic low for our nation, but a better road and railway system came out of it. And, although 2016 was bleak, it just means 2017 has room for improvement.

Instead of making GoFundMe campaigns to protect our favorite living public figures, we should spend our money, time and energy on what the dead were passionate about when they were alive. George Michael was a prominent LGBTQ+ rights campaigner and donated all of the proceeds from his 1991 duet with Elton John, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me,” to HIV and children’s charities. Carrie Fisher was an outspoken mental health activist and shared her struggles with addiction, bipolar disorder and body dysmorphia in order to normalize those conditions.

Hrysikos’ decision to give the “Save Betty White from 2016” proceeds to a theater is noble — the arts are most always in need of funding — but he could also have chosen to donate to a charity with more ties to Betty White.

Betty White is not from South Carolina, was never involved with that particular theater and has zero stage credits to her name.

She is, however, incredibly involved with animal advocacy. In a 2010 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the actress said, “Half my life is working in a profession I love, and the other half is working with animals.” Hrysikos’ donation would better honor White’s legacy if it went to organizations she’s involved with, like the Morris Animal Foundation in Colorado and the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association.

The only way we can make 2017 a better year is by actively honoring the legacy of those who passed in 2016. And that will only happen if we stop hoping and start doing.

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