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When a celebrity dies, we are often overwhelmed by the reactions and publicity surrounding the figure. Posts of reverence, celebration and mourning seem to be all that you see as you endlessly scroll through news sites and social media. Things were no different in the immediate wake of Kobe Bryant’s sudden, tragic death. As people grappled with this news, the successes of his extensive life and career were shared on just about every platform, and rightfully so: Kobe had one of the winningest careers in the NBA and has become a bona fide hero in the eyes of the mainstream media.
Amid this media storm, a few journalists, most notably Felicia Sonmez of The Washington Post, shared articles about Bryant’s 2003 rape allegation immediately after his death was confirmed. Sonmez was put on temporary leave (but has since been welcomed back), and whether you believe this action was right or wrong, it begs the question of how we ought to remember celebrities. As social media now functions in a similar way to contemporary news outlets, the average Tweeter has the power to play a hand in creating a legacy.
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When we each hold the power to change the legacy of a public figure, we must question our audience, our motive, and the unintended consequences our opinions may have. In this episode, the podcast team highlights the negative stereotypes perpetuated by Sonmez and many other Twitter users following Kobe’s death.
Sonmez’s portrayal of Kobe was not the first of its kind, and it is important to question whether Sonmez would react the same way to the death of any other celebrity, like Michael Jackson or XXXtentacion. Arts, Interrupted also makes note how past celebrity deaths show a pattern of hypercritical reactions toward black men in particular.
So, what is the correct way to remember a celebrity? How can we, as media consumers, help shape a legacy? All of this and more on season five, episode three: What is Your Legacy?
This episode was made possible by executive producer Sam Small, content creators Emily Ohl, Martha Starkel, Avin Katyal and Max Rosenzweig, audio producers Ben Schrier and William Pederson, and audio engineer Spencer Harris. Thanks for listening, we’ll see you next week.