Last post of the year, and I find myself wondering what to say. Posting three or more times a week year round means that I have to date already said quite a lot.
I expect that the default tone of most "Year End" retrospectives will be the same: How Many Important People have Died.
Which I consider nonsense.
Back in my practice days I used to opine that medicine was one of the few professions with a zero percent success rate. If you follow them long enough each and every patient of yours is going to die. Of course that is a bit silly, and the real measure of success is whether they lived long, productive and comfortable lives. But it is nevertheless true, a 100% death rate is the human condition.
But what about the list on Facebook of 130 Celebrities that Died in 2016?
This just means that we have in recent decades created "Celebs" at a much increased rate.
Consider an analogy. When excavating a Roman site you will find very few coins from the 1st through 3rd centuries. When you do they are generally hefty, well worn and have a substantial percentage of honest metal in them. But when you are unearthing levels from the 300's you find coins galore. The economy of the Late Empire was continually teetering on the edge of collapse and mints churned out measly little coins with no intrinsic value. It took a handful of them to buy something that in an earlier day would have been had for a single coin. When one of these devalued coins was dropped into the muddy street it was not worth picking up.
Now I don't mean that the "Celebs" that have died in the last year were all low value light weights. We all have our favorites, and I consider for instance Alan Rickman to be a solid gold aureus. And I consider a few others to be at least denarii with decent silver content. But the definition of what is a famous person has become rather arbitrary. A popular culture voracious for something shiny and trivial to talk about has minted them by the bucket load.
I suppose that in the golden age of film there were a enormous number of actors and actresses playing bit parts in famous movies. They went on to live lives either in or out of the entertainment industry, and then passed away. Perhaps their local paper might make note of their bit part in The Wizard of Oz but pre-internet, pre-Imdb nobody else would take notice.
We probably are seeing a rise in the deaths in the Musical sub category. Rock and Roll and the various genres that followed generated a big cohort of slightly famous people. They appear to be dying a bit younger than average citizens. But certain "occupational hazards" of the chemical sort probably curtail the life expectancy of modern era musicians just as booze and chain smoking made elderly Blues stars uncommon.
And as to the recent tendency for people to become famous just for being....famous? I harbor no ill will towards Kardashian Nation but if newspapers still exist when that bunch starts to pass away there are entire Sunday editions already pre-written.
I don't intend to be insensitive to those who have had a personal loss this year past. In particular a loss that is unexpected and/or of a young person is a bitter thing. But as years inevitably come to an end so too shall all of us. I lost my father this year. But his was a long life, a good life. He was one of those well worn coins with heft and inherent value, not one of the lesser and lighter strikes from a gaudy mint that runs 24/7.