By Rosemary Overell, University of Otago
Yesterday morning I woke up, rolled over and, as I always do, scrolled through my Twitter feed. Owen Jones – a British socialist – tweeted his shock that Peaches Geldolf, 25, had died. I immediately checked for a hashtag and went about trying to find out more.
Predictably, Twitter was in overdrive with a constantly refreshing feed of #RIPpeaches and other hashtags. There is something awfully banal about this kind of memorialisation. The deaths of celebrities have always been mediated, but the ascent of social media has produced a kind of hyper-experience of mortality, which I engage in, but also find unsettling.
Twitter rolls from one highly-charged affective state to another. Many have already written that the default mode for trending tweets is one of outrage. I would also say that public grieving is just as prolific. Just recently I wrote about the death of Dave Brockie – lead singer from metal band GWAR. As with Peaches’ passing, Twitter was the forum where ordinary fans and celebrities articulated their grief.
There is something touching in the seemingly infinite number of tweets – platitudinous, awkward and often full of cute emoticons – generated by ordinary people in the face of the tragedy of a distant celebrity. In turn, mainstream media run obituary stories peppered with tweets from celebrity mourners as a means for fleshing out the story.
Then it’s all over. We roll to the next outrage and next tragedy punctuating our thoughts with hyperbolic language until the feed refreshes and something new captures our affect.
What struck me most yesterday morning, however, was that Peaches – daughter of Live Aid founder Bob Geldof and the late Paula Yates – will now most likely be most famous for her death. In the last decade there was a buzz around celebrities famous for “doing nothing” – Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, the Kardashians.
In the mid 2000s, Peaches was one of the “brat pack” partying in London and featuring in gossip magazines. She was never as prolific – or criticised as much – as Paris in the “doing nothing” stakes, and she had some hipster clout in her status as Bob and Paula Yates’s daughter. Then she dropped off the radar – marrying and having two children.
Her death is now her distinguishing identity. And even then, it seems to be skewed through a rehashing of Yates’s apparently similar demise. Tweets such as “with mum now” and much-covered fact that Peaches’ last Instagram post was a snap of her and Paula reinforce a kind of fatalism that not only was her death inevitable, but that this is what will define her.
This sort of post-mortem celebrity is in part fuelled by Twitter, which produces willing twitterlebrities but is also able to elevate less tweet-savvy stars to trending status in death. “Peaches_g” had far fewer followers than Gaga but the tweets of mostly ordinary people in the last few hours have memorialised her in the twittersphere, and elevated her to a celebrity status beyond her “famous for doing nothing” image ten years ago.