In the aftermath of Steve Jobs’ death in October 2011, Antony Theodore, an online poet, wrote ‘Steve Jobs’ Last Words’, a tribute to the Apple co-founder who, in death even more than in life, seemed to inspire people’s creative vigour.
Written in free verse, Theodore’s poem is a first-person recount of Jobs as he comes to terms with impending death. This is but one example of an explosion of online ‘tributes’ and obits that have taken on myriad forms, enabled entirely by the Internet. The year 2016, known as the year of celebrity deaths, catalysed what was already a popular online sub-culture on Reddit, DeviantArt, and other shadowy fan forums.
Take, for instance, Carrie Fisher’s death, which prompted an outpouring across age groups — fans who grew up with Star Wars in the 70s and 80s, as well as younger millennials. Players of the Star Wars video game, The Old Republic, had a unique tribute for their departed Leia. Their online personas would all gather at House Organa — the house of her adoptive father — on the planet Alderaan and stand in silent mourning.
Last year, in the aftermath of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington’s death, Rock-n-Mob, a large group of musicians (who call themselves an ‘army of rock’), assembled in Moscow’s Gorky Park. Ten keyboardists, 10 bassists, 19 guitarists, 24 singers, and five drummers together proceeded to cover Linkin Park’s ‘What I’ve Done’, in an extraordinary phantasmagoria of sound and emotion.
Or take the numerous street artists who thronged London after Muhammad Ali passed away in 2016. These artists, in fact, made their tributes the ultimate pop-culture crossovers with the legendary boxer often juxtaposed with Prince. Pegasus, a London-based street artist painted a mural of Ali just beside his tribute to Prince, while an artist in Camberwell had Prince and Ali adorn the same canvas.
The Internet enables us to not just be closer to our idols in life and death, but has given fandoms the freedom to assimilate and bring together sorrows and loss under a more vast, visible and accessible umbrella of hope. And attempted understanding of the great beyond.