2016 will probably go down as the single biggest lump of deaths of celebrities that mean something to Generation-X, although I it may very well be the upswing of a bell-curve that will continue to accelerate.
Celebrities function like one-way relationships in the sense that we get to know them through their performances, but we don’t usually get to communicate back to them, surely not in the context of their imaginary worlds, and typically not in reality either. This is the reason why appearances at conventions and signings have such appeal. For a brief moment you CAN get to have the briefest amount of eye-contact or interaction with the person.
Sometimes these experiences don’t live up to our imaginations.
I used to go to Star Trek conventions back in the day and I got to listen to and/or meet Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, James Doohan, Leonard Nimoy, Majel Barrett, Adam West, Jonathan Harris, and Yvonne Craig. I met William Shatner at a car show but I’ll refrain from telling that story as it’s rather sad. I also met Michelle Yeoh circa her bond-girl days at a convention in the West Coast, which I’m mentioning because she was just chosen as one of the leads in the new Star Trek Show.
If you see a pattern here you’ll notice that these are predominately Star Trek celebrities. I never went out of my way to go to Star Wars conventions. I was into Star Wars too but I never kept up with hardcore fandom the way I did Star Trek. Whatever convention circuit existed for the franchise seemed to be smaller than Star Trek, despite its greater overall popularity. The convention circuit exploded after I stopped going to them in the late 80s.
In retrospect I guess you could say I missed out there, insofar as you can see how many celebrities on my list are no longer with us, and Star Wars just lost one of its own with Carrie Fisher.
I have to admit I have never read any of her confessional tell-all books, but what little I’ve seen of her talking about Star Wars on Youtube, she seems to want to take the proverbial piss out of it. I’m really not sure how many Star Wars veterans ever became true-believers, so to speak. Mark Hamill, based on what I’ve seen, is a great raconteur, and as funny as his anecdotes are, he comes across as much more reverent of the work that went into Star Wars than Fisher was. But I think anyone who works behind the cameras is going to have a more cynical viewpoint than fans.
The most shocking aspect of Carrie Fisher is how completely lacking in decorum she was. Nothing was ever sacred to her. She gave new meaning to the term “worldly”. The most shocking revelation wasn’t that she had a fling with Harrison Ford back in the day, but that she actually allowed fans to experience the ultimate form of “interaction” with her. To not only do that but to feel that it is socially acceptable to make that prurient information public is beyond my comprehension, but it’s this aspect of Fisher’s no-holds-barred attitude that epitomized her public persona in recent years. Leia as a character was always more cynical and worldly than the average person, but Fisher herself took that to a whole new level that I doubt anyone ever will exceed. I doubt if she were to read this dedication she’d bat an eyelash over the scandalous bits that I’m choosing to highlight on her death.
However, rather than focus solely on Fisher’s death I wanted to place 2016 into the larger frame of what I call the Generation-X Dreamscape. (Maybe it’s just me and my own quirks, but I’d like to think there’s a generational aspect as it helps me stop thinking of myself as a freak.)
What smartphones and tablets are to today’s kids, film and TV was to Generation-X (at least up until videogames became huge in the early 80s). As far as singular world-shattering changes, what 9-11 did to Milennials, Star Wars opening in theaters did for Generation-X. There’s even a movie about it. But even if that hadn’t happened, Generation-X was in large part raised by media. Media was our augmented-reality and actors, our extended family.
Actors like Fisher are special because they act as a bridge between the flesh and blood world that we know and the world of make-believe.
I’m sure Fisher would roll her eyes over treating the profession in such a sanctimonious way, and we all know Shatner wants us to just “get a life”, but I think these impulses to ignore, deny, downplay, or shame our penchant to suspend disbelief is wrong-headed.
Brent Spiner has an anecdote where fans asked him what he was thinking when he was figuring out how to play Data and he said “nothing”. Every actor has their own method, and not having a method is, in fact, a method. Spiner would then say “I would just go..”
…and the audience would erupt in applause. The perception of art is largely in the eye of the beholder. In Star Wars, Fisher was often keen to point out how lost she was in the role by virtue of how little direction she was given. While Hamill put a playful spin on the same theme, with Fisher it was more of a rant. These were the factors that, for instance, led to her starting off with a faux British accent that quickly faded off even within the same film. And yet it’s the rough edges like these that give Gen-X touchstones like Star Wars a sort of handcrafted charm.
And let’s leave actors behind for a moment and think of musicians. The role of the rock or pop star is not that different from an actor, which is why so many cross over into acting, such as David Bowie did in Man who Fell to Earth
Prince with Purple Rain.
Prince has such a large vault of unreleased music that his estate will probably still be releasing new music from him just as long if not longer than Jimi Hendrix.
I have to admit that I have often had dreams where I was either a literal particpant in these imaginary worlds or helping to produce them, or that I’m a walk-on extra musician for an artist like Bowie.
I don’t know if it’s true anymore, but at one time at least, Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp was once the most recognized symbol in the world.
Dead celebrities in particular have achieved immortality via the iconic status of their image which keeps circulating and churning.
Witness how eerie it is that just as a young CGI Leia is in theaters at present, this ad from last year now seems strangely prescient in how it seems to freeze both Robert Reed and the recently departed Florence Henderson in time, gone and yet somehow still with us whether we like it or not via digital magic:
Whether it’s Peter Cushing (or now Fisher as Leia) in Rogue One, or even Bruce Lee, rather than simply remembering them in spirit, or having a toy or poster of them in-character, it’s possible to reanimate them:
What will the weight of a multi-bilion-dollar franchise like Star Wars mean to Carrie Fisher going forward? Will they merely write her out of Episode IX, recast her, or employ a similar form of CGI trickery as was employed in Rogue One?