Why does the Bratayley’s grief make us so uncomfortable?
Like it or loathe it, digital media has created a web of magic portals that allow us to experience the world from the comfort of our homes. It’s called the computer and thanks to reality TV, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, very ordinary people have realised the 15 minute Warhol prophecy, indulging our voyeurism by sharing the kooky and the mundane moments of their every day.
But what happens when the script of life takes a sudden unexpected turn? What happens when one of the cute funny adorable middle of the road kids dies? Does that also become part of our online consumables?
The death last Thursday of 13 year old YouTube star Caleb Bratayley has put the suburban Maryland family centre stage at a time when they are dealing with one of life’s most awful tragedies: the death of a child. This unimaginable loss, this unnavigable pain, trivialised with a URL, with this beautiful boy’s demise just a click away.
Their lives cleaved forever in two, as the time with Caleb and then the time without. The period without always shadowed by the remembering of their Peter Pan, the boy who will never be a man. Their happy life chronicled in episodes, that they can watch in their new forever changed life as the family who lost their boy.
The Bratayley’s were a YouTube sensation. With more than 1 billion views for their 250 weeks of filming, and 22 million hits for a kid stepping in a mud puddle, I guess you could say the world has developed a perverse fascination with the non-adventures of this boringly normal but exceedingly narcissistic family. Now this boringly normal family isn’t so normal anymore. Something serious has happened. Their real story, the story of their shared trauma starts now. Sobbing in foetal position, howling in the dark, these aren’t the cutesy meme’s we’ve come to know. Family’s like The Bratayley’s assured us that there were nice normal happy boring people who weren’t raping and killing and smoking meths or living in poverty. Then the kid dies and reminds us that nothing can save us from catastrophe. This shit suddenly got real.
While the cause of Caleb’s sudden death is yet to be officially determined, in an interview on Good Morning America his parents shared their suspicion that Caleb had possibly died of a family condition, ‘hypertrophic cardiomyopathy’, a genetic muscle thickening condition that can often go undetected.
Some of the images that the Bratayley’s lift that they shared on the internet (post continues)…
The family’s decision to live-stream the funeral has bought criticism and speculation that the Bratayley’s are exploiting their grief for views. It’s a perplexing question – for those who engage in the digital diarisation of their lives for public consumption, is only the trivial allowed to be shared? Does the online community who invest years in observing your daily miniature form an emotional connection that deserves to be honoured? Did those millions of viewers love the Brataleys? Were they not part of Caleb’s crew? Perhaps the subscribers also needed some closure on Caleb’s sudden death.
I am a Game of Thrones fan, and I have to say the Red Wedding left me traumatised for weeks. The brutal killing of some of the most steadfast characters seemed inexplicable. Why would you do that? There was no warning, nothing! It was shocking. I almost booked a grief counsellor. If I became attached to a bunch of actors playing out a story that only exists in the imagination of the writer then how must the people who are obsessed with The Bratayley’s feel?
The Bratayley’s have shared this tribute to their son on YouTube. Post continues below.
While the idea of making the profound intimacy of a child’s funeral public property is personally appalling, I am not that family. I can’t really judge.
Perhaps sharing their son’s death has offered some solace for the family? Perhaps feeling connected to the world wide web helped them feel connected to the life they used to share with their son. I imagine this is the last episode.
And we should also remember funerals aren’t just sombre grief filled occasions – they are also places to celebrate who a person was and what they meant, and if that person had a powerful connection with millions of strangers, isn’t strangely appropriate that the strangers were there?
In a way Caleb went out the way he lived, his final most powerful clip teaching people that ordinary people die too. Everyday. And that death, is actually as ordinary and commonplace as falling in a mud puddle.
Perhaps its time we shared that.
What do you think about the family’s decision to share Caleb’s passing?