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Why do many feel the loss of Matthew Perry as if he were a close friend?


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The Conversation

Mónica Pachón

School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra

In June 2009, Michael Jackson' s death shocked the world. His funeral, held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, attracted thousands of people, and the live broadcast of the event was watched by millions around the world. In 1997, thousands gathered to pay tribute to Princess Diana at her funeral and along her funeral procession.

This same phenomenon has been repeated with figures such as John Lennon, Nelson Mandela, Elvis Presley and many other celebrities. By performing a brief exercise at report, it is likely that we can recall an occasion in which the death of a famous person has had an impact on us.

Why do we feel close to celebrities?

We may have wondered why we feel so deeply connected to someone we do not know in person. From a psychological perspective, we can put forward several hypotheses to understand this question.

A first explanation is found in social connection and parasociality. Parasociality refers to the one-sided relationship a person can establish with a celebrity through the media. In recent decades, the barriers that once separated us from knowing more about the lives of our favorite celebrities have diminished.

The use of social networks and the possibility of accessing "first hand" information through their personal internet accounts makes us feel closer to these public figures. Even when we see a bad photo taken by a paparazzi in a private moment or learn about their family problems or divorces, we experience a greater sense of closeness. This leads us to ground the idea that these celebrities are human beings just like us.

Moreover, when many people share this sense of closeness, the death of a celebrity can trigger an "emotional contagion effect," in which other people's emotions and emotional states influence our own.

This emotional connection validates the importance this celebrity had in our lives and brings us closer to those who are also experiencing loss. Additionally, this connection is also based on shared cultural connections.

Celebrities often represent values, moments or achievements that are culturally significant. Their influence transcends staff and becomes part of the collective culture. The loss of a culturally significant figure confronts us with a shared sense of loss and a reminder of mortality in a larger cultural context.

Identification and projection

Not only do we feel a superficial closeness based on first-hand information about these celebrities, but these public figures often become role models, as psychologist Albert Bandura would point out.

This perspective suggests that people often identify with these personalities, projecting their own desires, aspirations and emotions onto them. When a celebrity dies, this identification and projection can provoke a grief that resembles that which we would feel at the loss of an acquaintance, generating a genuine feeling of sadness.

In addition, as we evoke our own personal memories, we realize that these celebrities have left a mark on our lives. Our own timeline is intertwined with the moments we shared with these public figures, whether through the series they starred in, the concerts we wished for attend or the personal events we have associated with them.

Their life becomes a mirror of our own growth, our experiences, the joys and difficulties we have faced. The death of someone we consider close and a model to follow confronts us with our own mortality and makes us reflect on the fragility of life.

In this process, cultural and shared connections play an important role. These celebrities are not only individual icons, but also represent a cultural fabric that unites people from different backgrounds and experiences. Their works and achievements become part of a shared cultural bequest that unites people around the world.

And why don't I connect the same with other tragedies?

Why do I feel deep sadness for the loss of this celebrity, but fail to connect in the same way with other tragedies?

It is undeniable that the death of a famous figure can have a significant impact on the culture and society at large. However, we are often faced with the dilemma of feeling saddened by the loss of a single famous figure while seemingly unable to experience the same level of connection to the many people who die every day due to conflicts and tragedies around the world.

This does not necessarily imply that we do not care about these other events or that we are incapable of discerning their importance and relevance in social and historical terms.

The core topic is that the death of a celebrity to whom we feel close in some way transcends the barriers of distance. This closeness may be because we share cultural connections and shared experiences with that person, which reinforces our identification and empathy for them. When a famous icon passes away, that sense of loss can be experienced in an intense and heartfelt way.

In contrast, larger-scale painful events, such as international conflicts and humanitarian tragedies, can seem overwhelming. Emotional avoidance is a natural response to such tragedies, a way of protecting ourselves from the overwhelming distress we would experience if we were to immerse ourselves completely in them.

The constant exhibition through the media to tragic news globally can lead to emotional fatigue and desensitization, making it difficult to connect emotionally with all these heartbreaking situations.

Still, it is essential to highlight those people who find constructive ways to channel their emotions through activism or by supporting charities working in areas affected by tragedy.

This gives them the opportunity to take concrete action and feel that they are contributing in some way to addressing these problems, which can help alleviate the sense of helplessness we often experience in the face of these overwhelming realities.

Feeling of impotence

Helplessness is a common feeling when faced with massive tragedies, that frustration and hopelessness that the solution is not in our hands. We feel unable to make a significant difference, which can lead to an emotional disconnect as a coping mechanism.

However, this feeling also stems from our shared cultural connection, where we see ourselves reflected in the limitations of humanity in general.

Thus, although we are aware of these stark realities, we tend to approach grief from a approach staff and depth. Lacking the means to deal with these complexities on a large scale, we tend to focus on more intimate and meaningful aspects of our lives.

An example of this may be the departure of Matthew Perry, an actor who for many years played Chandler Bing, one of the main characters of the popular series Friends. This character, with whom we share laughs and from whom we learn valuable lessons about love and friendship, reminds us these days of the proximity of our own mortality.