Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Facebook Tribute Page to Television Character

Either fans or producers of the TV show House MD have developed a Facebook page as a memorial to the character Lawrence Kutner

I don't watch House, but apparently, Kutner killed himself on last week's episode of the show. The Facebook page includes photos of the character and hand-written notes from his "friends," i.e., other show characters, with their reactions to his death.

It's easy to dismiss this as people going too far for a television character. But, if they're upset about the character's death, I think it's great that they have a place to come together and publicly "grieve" about it. And I've certainly had my share of becoming emotionally invested in characters from television and literature. 

That said, I do wish the language was restructured a bit ... just to make it more clear that everyone involved is really making the distinction in their minds that this is a television character. And that, while they may be sad to lose his narrative, they do realize it's not a real-life death. 

For example, the page's description reads, "Dr. Kutner was a hard working young doctor with a kind, unassuming, gentle manner. He will be missed by all of us." They couldn't have called him a character? I don't think it would have diminished the page to be honest about what it was. 

People become emotionally invested in television characters. There's no shame in that. There's no shame in feeling a little sad when a character dies. And publicly grieving for that character with other fans might be healthy. But let's not get together in a virtual group to pretend that character was a real person who we really knew just because we have new technology that allows for it. That's where this page goes too far, to my mind. 

And thanks Christian Sinclair for the tip. 


Gail Rae said...

I used to watch House. It made me madder about the medical-industrial complex than I already was so I stopped. However, when I heard about the reaction to this character's death I thought about how I've been used to reacting to the deaths of characters in shows and movies: I decide whether the death was necessary or gratuitous to the story and then forget about it. So, I, too, was astonished by what I read about the reaction to this character's death. As I understand it, the reaction began in advance of the airing of the show because TV critics who pre-viewed the show for their critiques "spoiled" the event and published it before general viewing. I read someplace that within hours of the publication of the first pre-viewing critique, FOX received an extraordinary number of emails begging the producers of the show to scrap the episode and keep the character. As it turns out, the actor left the show for a government post, I believe, so that was pretty much out of the question.
Contrast this with the fairly usual way of acknowledging the unexpected death of an actor who played a character in a currently running show or a movie: A simple acknowledgment and dedication, usually white on black, at the end of the episode or movie.
However, as I think about it more, Jessica, what is it about the kind of reaction you describe that makes you uneasy? I have to admit, it makes me uneasy, too, the memorial business, other characters from the show posting notes, etc...but I'm having trouble putting my finger on why this makes me uneasy. Any analysis or suggestions?

Jessica Knapp said...

I'm with you on this one, Gail. I totally understand being upset at the death of a television character. But there is something vaguely upsetting about the reaction to this death, and I can't quite articulate it.

I do think, at least with the Facebook page, the language bothers me. There is too little recognition of him being a character and not an actual person. I don't like the fans taking part in the fantasy of the TV show. Let's be sad the character died, but let's not pretend an actual person has passed. That's all I can come up with so far. But I'm still thinking on it.

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