In death, let’s not make Heath Ledger the new Anna Nicole/Britney/Lindsey

OK, this is a DVD blog, but sometimes you have to vent, right? And in my case I need to, regardless of timely DVD street dates.

Besides, DVD — unless it’s out of print — is forever. And in its small way, it helps actors live forever. You always can find them somewhere, out there, in a film or a role that made you love them. And that’s no less true for the late Heath Ledger.

Unfortunately, what’s in the air now for Ledger isn’t fond reminiscince but foul exploitation. Suddenly he’s the new Britney, Lindsey or Anna Nicole — a troubled young celeb over whom our most crass culture will obsess for as long as the trail will take a posse of paparazzi, gawkers and entertainment reporters to follow.

This galls me especially because I’ve spent much of my career as an entertainment reporter, for mass-media print and its web components. I’d like to think it was legitimate reporting, including an interview I once did with Ledger about his latest film (at that time, Ned Kelly), not his most private and personal life.

But for many, entertainment reporting is only what they see on TV, via tabloidish entertainment “news” shows which are anything but, or online, via gossip-geared websites which have a place in the lives of celebs, and us — but to a point.

And it’s these sources which are turning Ledger’s death into what it shouldn’t be: a Britney-ized celeb obsession of callous intrusion and self-serving sensationalism. As Entertainment Tonight’s Kevin Frazier puts it, they are “working the story.” Oh so true. A man dies tragically, and they are “working” it. 

Look, if a show wasn’t breathlessly brandishing Ledger’s love life when he was alive, why suddenly do it when he’s dead? Because shows like E.T. need cows to milk, and Ledger’s tragedy is their new Bossy. Milk her dry and they’re back to the waste-of-time tragedy that is Britney — not that she’s ever gone away. Tastelessly embedded in E.T.’s phony-solemn coverage of Ledger’s demise has been a who-cares, seedy session with her paparazzi groupie exploiter and his disturbing facial hair. Wish there was an effective “mute” button for video as well as audio. Then I could unflinchingly wait to catch Kevin when he returned, this time “working” Ledger’s death by airing a day-old clip of him appearing by remote on Larry King Live, where he announced  he knew nothing about autopsy results. That’s not news, of course, and neither is it news that Frazier was on King’s show. But that thar cow’s gotta be milked somehow. NEXT: The will! Work it, baby!!!

Online is no less guilty, which is how it should be. Instant response means instant false rumors, which later shake out before a daily show needs to air them. And so TMZ needlessly floats bubbles only to burst them (Mary-Kate Olsen was not involved!) while training its unforgiving video-eye glare on grieving Michelle Williams, Ledger’s former girlfriend, and their infant daughter as they arrive in New York. Let’s put an arrow on that image to make sure they’re spotted. Great! Now don’t forget to put the red “R.I.P” tag at the top of the entry. It’ll show we care!

“Rest in peace”? If E.T., TMZ or any of us truly wanted to let Ledger rest in peace, we’d put just two things on a justifiable to-do list: patiently await medical reports on  what happened, and say a prayer for Ledger and his loved ones. Beyond that, we shouldn’t enable or embrace a media feeding frenzy that makes a defenseless person’s past life everyone’s business. Instead, let’s give him and his sad survivors space and hope they truly can live, or rest, in peace.   

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2 Responses to “In death, let’s not make Heath Ledger the new Anna Nicole/Britney/Lindsey”

  1. cahudson Says:

    I agree. Thanks for saying it.

  2. HDad Says:

    Yes, a little respect for the departed and those they leave behind is just as due for those who work in the entertainment industry as for those who work in the real world. When all is said and done, they are people, too, just like the rest of us and deserve the same degree of civilized behavior we all desire.

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