Social media is even changing death, writes Rosemary Overell.
This morning I woke up, rolled over and, as I always do,
scrolled through my twitter feed.
Owen Jones - a British socialist - tweeted his shock that
Peaches Geldof (25) had died. I immediately checked for a
hashtag and went about trying to find out more.
Predictably, Twitter was in overdrive with a constantly
refreshing feed of #RIPpeaches and other hashtags.
There is something awfully banal about this kind of
memorialisation. The deaths of celebrities have always been
mediated, but the ascent of social media has produced a kind
of hyper-experience of mortality, which I engage in, but also
Twitter rolls from one highly charged affective state to
another. Many have already written that the default mode for
trending tweets is one of outrage. I would also say that
public grieving is just as prolific.
Just recently I wrote about the death of Dave Brockie, lead
singer from metal band GWAR. As with Peaches' passing,
Twitter was the forum where ordinary fans and celebrities
articulated their grief.
There is something touching in the seemingly infinite number
of tweets - platitudinous, awkward and often full of cute
emoticons - generated by ordinary people in the face of the
tragedy of a distant celebrity.
In turn, mainstream media run obituary stories peppered with
tweets from celebrity mourners as a means for fleshing out
Then it's all over. We roll to the next outrage and next
tragedy punctuating our thoughts with hyperbolic language
until the feed refreshes and something new captures our
What struck me most this morning, however, was that Peaches -
daughter of Live Aid founder Bob Geldof and the late Paula
Yates - is now most likely to be most famous for her death.
In the past decade there was a buzz around celebrities famous
for ''doing nothing'': Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, the
In the mid-2000s, Peaches was one of the ''brat pack''
partying in London and featuring in gossip magazines.
She was never as prolific - or criticised as much - as Paris
in the ''doing nothing'' stakes, and she had some hipster
clout in her status as Bob and Paula Yates' daughter. Then
she dropped off the radar, marrying and having two children.
Her death is now her distinguishing identity. And even then,
it seems to be skewed through a rehashing of Yates'
apparently similar demise.
Tweets such as ''with mum now'' and much-covered fact that
Peaches' last Instagram post was a snap of her and Paula
reinforce a kind of fatalism that not only was her death
inevitable, but that this is what will define her.
This sort of postmortem celebrity is in part fuelled by
twitter, which produces willing twitterlebrities but is also
able to elevate less tweet-savvy stars to trending status in
''Peaches-g'' had far fewer followers than Gaga but the
tweets of mostly ordinary people in the last few hours have
memorialised her in the twittersphere, and elevated her to a
celebrity status beyond her ''famous for doing nothing''
image 10 years ago.
There is obviously a moral dynamic to this postmortem
As a very much alive, messy, rowdy teenager, Peaches was
criticised as a bad daughter, pitched against a virtuous Bob
Geldolf who had selflessly taken on another man's children.
Peaches' mother, Paula Yates, famously left Geldof for the
Australian rock musician Michael Hutchence, with whom she had
a daughter, Tiger Lily, in 1996. Hutchence died in 1997 and
when Yates died in 2000, Geldof assumed care of their child.
Key to criticisms of Peaches' partying behaviour was a
moralising concern that Peaches had not ''learned'' from her
mother's death from a heroin overdose.
In death, Peaches accrues moral standing, however. In part,
this is because the strain in tweets and subsequent media
write-ups rehearses a narrative of helpless inevitability.
Emphasised in these stories - alongside the ''mother's
daughter'' line - is Peaches' redemption, in her marriage,
child-rearing and rediscovery of her Jewish heritage.
Peaches, then, died with some moral standing, at least in
terms of her representation in the press.
In terms of ''postmortem celebrity'', perhaps it is important
that the star memorialised is also moralised.
The banality of recent articles on Peaches - about home
renovations, and watching Lord of the Rings - is
matched in the tweets of her ordinary fans who appear to
relate to her not as ''famous for doing nothing'' but as
''real'' because of her status as a mum: ''RIP peaches
geldof, two little boys left without a mum. Proper
heartbreaking'', tweeted @nata1ie-sk.
I had reservations about writing this article. Was it too
soon? Was it in bad taste? I don't wish to moralise on
Peaches' worth myself. Rather, I am interested in how the
media - and the mediated public - constitute celebrity, even
Rosemary Overell is a lecturer in cultural studies at
the University of Otago.