When I woke up on Monday morning, made my coffee and checked my Facebook feed, the last piece of news I expected to read was that David Bowie had passed away after an 18-month secret battle with cancer. I wasn’t just a fan of Bowie’s music – for many teenage misfits and rebels of my generation (and the one before it) – he made us feel like it was ok to be who we were. The Bowie kids found each other. When he died, we found each other again, online.
We have seen the power of the collective on Facebook to raise money for ALS research, show support for the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality and talk about issues of race raised by the Black Lives Matter Movement. We have also talked about other famous people who died like Robin Williams or Leonard Nimoy, sharing their favorite films or quotes. But I don’t think we have collectively mourned an artist in the way we did (and are still doing) with David Bowie.
Image source: Masayoshi Sukita/David Bowie Archive
It’s partly the enormity of who he was – Bowie was one of the surviving Rock Gods from an era where people bought and listened to entire albums (The Beatles, The Stones, Zeppelin). He was a shape shifting chameleon who defined fashion and paved the way for artists like Madonna and Lady Gaga who would also continuously reinvent themselves. I think he was the first person of this stature to leave us in the age of social media.
Thinking about how we mourn artists we’ve never met. We don’t cry because we knew them, we cry because they helped us know ourselves.
— Juliette (@ElusiveJ) January 11, 2016
While some people were able to go to physical places to pay tribute to David Bowie, the rest of us did it online. A friend posted that she would love it if her Facebook feed could continue to be David Bowie all the time. The endless stream of clips, images, gifs, articles, and art along with people’s personal, heartfelt tributes to the “man who fell to earth” just kept flowing in many of our social feeds over the past few days.
Before social, we would have read the news or watched it on TV and maybe called a friend, but there was no virtual world to really share and connect and feel with the masses. What’s different is the ability to mourn someone collectively on the level we have been doing with Bowie – to share stories and memories with friends and strangers, to discover friends you didn’t know were also fans. This is when social media is at its best – bringing people together, making individuals feel a part of something bigger, demonstrating how an artist and their art can truly touch people on a global scale. #RIPDavidBowie