Thursday, July 09, 2009

Rumors of their demise

Well, it's been a bad couple of weeks for celeb-u-deaths, hasn't it?

Farrah Fawcett. Ed McMahon. Steve McNair. St. Michael of Jackson. Karl Malden. Billy Mays. Gale Storm. (My Little Margie? Oh, no.) And, just yesterday, Oscar Mayer, the third OM to run the eponymous hot dog and cold cut company. (Although I really don't know whether, beyond his marvelous name, Oscar M. is a celebrity. Which is why I didn't mention Robert McNamara in this round up either. Famous/infamous? Surely. Celebrity? Not really much of one since those fab everybody-into-the-pool parties at Bobby K's in 1961.)

Anyway, it's hard just keeping up with who's alive and who's dead - which, fortunately, you can do at Dead or Alive.

Would that we'd had this sort of source a number of years back, when I thought that I heard on the radio, as I was passing a store, that Ted Williams had died. When I got home, I called a friend who was a major Teddy Ballgame fan and broke the news. As it turned out, Ted still had many years ahead with his head still firmly attached to his body.

But the burden of keeping up with the Who's Who of celebs who've passed on to the great re-run in the sky is made more onerous by those who engage in celebrity "death pranks", bearing false witness that Madonna and Brad Pitt have died. (As far as I know, they haven't. But you could look it up.)

Once a faux death is announced, social media does what it does worst: set off the viral spiral of misinformation that becomes true because someone sees it online. (I tell ya, that Obama wasn't born in the US of A, not to mention that he's a Muslin anti-Christ. Just the thought of a Muslin in the White House....)

In the midst of the Michael Jackson frenzy, CNN had a report on death pranking. There I learned that:

Despite what you may have read, Jeff Goldblum, Natalie Portman, George Clooney, Britney Spears, Harrison Ford and Rick Astley are alive.

Rick Astley. Phew. Am I relieved to hear that he's still alive. I hate when a celebrity dies before I even know that he or she exists.

Internet-savvy readers can tell the difference between fake news and real information that has been verified by a trusted blogger or mainstream news reporter, said Gabriel Snyder, managing editor at Gawker, a celebrity news and gossip blog not associated with the rumors.

"It's easier than ever to publish stuff, and the human condition is a complicated thing. Some people just like to be responsible for starting something," he said, noting that the trend is not especially new.

Perhaps Mr. Gawker, errrr, Mr. Snyder was referring to my having started that rumor about Ted Williams which, fortunately, was nipped in the bud when my friend called me back to tell me that I was crazy. But, truly, I wasn't trying to fake Number 9's death. Unlike some people I don't know.

The man who claims indirect responsibility for several of the recent fake celebrity deaths is Rich Hoover, whose site,, allows users to input celebrity names into five false news templates with outlandish stories about their deaths.

Fakeawish - a clever but somewhat unfortunate play on the Make a Wish Foundation, which does really nice things for really sick kids - lets you put in a name, and then generates a fake headline for you. It doesn't seem to matter whose name you put in, the same handful of not particularly original headlines come up.  You can then link to a "supporting" news story about the yacht-plain-car-crash, or falling off the cliff in New Zealand.

Whoever's name you put in, by the way, is an actor or actress, depending on which icon you click. Even Dick Cheney. Who has not died in St. Tropez, whatever you may have heard to the contrary.

Anyway, fake stories get Twittered and Facebooked, and the rest is history.

"I'm absolutely flabbergasted by the success of this and the impact these social networks have on communication -- and the communication of misinformation," [Fakeawish's Hoover] said.

Well, I'm not flabbergasted.

As we've seen with the 24/7 homage to Michael Jackson, we do so love a good celebrity death story. And if it turns out to be not so true....sure, we're out all the ghoulish, prurient payback, all those rich and wondrous details - the golden casket, the sequinned gloves, and ooohhhhhh-ahhhhhhh doesn't little Blanket look just like his daddy.  But until we get the pale of water thrown over us, and learn that our dead celebrity really isn't, we do have that little frisson of expectation of spectacle.

For those celebrities who do get death pranked, well, they just have to dash off a tweet that they're still alive.

Of course, it's just a matter of time before someone hacks the "real" Twitter account of a celebrity, and takes advantage of those 140 characters to announce that they're dead.

I just read it with my very own eyes on Britney's Twitter feed that she's dead. Why would she tell us something like this if it isn't true? It's so incredibly sad. Oh, the humanity...But I guess everything will work out, as long as Kevin Federline doesn't fall off a cliff in New Zealand, or out of a yacht in St. Tropez. And, by the way, what's K-Fed doing in St. Tropez with Dick Cheney to begin with?

Oh, the humanity...

1 comment:

Rick said...

When the web was first getting started in the early-mid 1990s there was a popular site called the "Dead People Server" which covered who had died, and who hadn't yet. I checked and it is still around, and still has a low tech 1990s look:

Which reminds me of a word I've always liked, referring to people who died from doing something really stupid--that person is said to have died through "misadventure."