Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Good Timing, I Guess

I think it’s fascinating that Farley Granger’s death got so much media attention. I’ll confess that I had no idea who the man was, though seeing as I was born in 1985, that shouldn’t be read as an attempt to impugn his significance in the history of film. It’s not that I find the ubiquity of reports of his death to be interesting because I don’t think they’re deserved. I’m just surprised that he wasn’t overlooked in the way that so many other deceased celebrities have been in recent years.

The reason I feel this is worth blogging about is that I think it says something remarkable about marketing and public relations. It goes to show that even in death a person’s public image is not immune to the random influence of fortuitous coincidence. Remember when David Carradine died in the summer of 2009, followed that same month by Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, who died on the same day? I’ll be you do. And the popular media was on quite a death kick for a while in response.

Remember also in 2009 not hearing about Ricardo Montalban and Henry Gibson passing on? That’s because Montalban’s death came in January when there were other things to focus on, like the Obama inauguration, and Gibson waited until autumn to leave the mortal coil, long after the media’s deathwatch ended. It’s not as though either of those men was especially iconic, at least as compared to Fawcett and Jackson. But they were both better actors than David Carradine, and they were both more visible to people born after the seventies than was Farah Fawcett. You may not even known Henry Gibson by name, but I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that his face triggers an acid flashback of filmological memories. And that being the case, I’m sure his role in the history of cinema was roughly as notable as Farley Granger.

I think Granger’s immediate legacy benefited a great deal from his death coming right on the heels of that of Elizabeth Taylor, whose passing nobody could have possibly ignored. There’s a tendency for the news to pick up on a narrative and follow it for a while, cherry-picking the news in order to mold it into that shape. The “Summer of the Shark” is a prime example that I will always remember. In this case, I think that after Taylor’s death, the media was looking for a sequel, and Granger benefitted by way of the pure luck of dying. It’s kind of unsettling to know that it can work that way, and it may be rather cynical to think of it as roughly the same as the effect of adjacent magazine advertisements on one another. But that’s the way of things, and while I’d like to see a breaking point in the media’s construction of narratives, when it comes to the marketing and public relations aspect of this story, I’m comfortable with taking it as a purely instructive tale.

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