February 11th, 2011
Which is to say, I cried when the following people who I never met in my life died. I’ve been thinking about this for about a week and this is my list:
It’s a shorter list than I would have thought. I can’t remember specifically crying when any politicians died. For some reason I vividly remember Anwar Sadat‘s assassination, possibly because I watched it live on television (old-fashioned 3-network television). I also remember the killing of Benigno Aquino, because of my keen interest in the dissolution of the Marcos dictatorship, which we lived under for a few years. I was 13 years old and interested in politics, and the brazenness of the killing shocked me.
I may have cried when I heard about Challenger exploding. I was 16, and I think I was at work at Citizen’s Western Bank, after school when I found out. But I’m not sure how that is possible as it happened in the early morning on a Tuesday in January. Could Uni High have been out of school that day for me?
I don’t remember crying about the incidents of September 11th, 2001. I remember feeling profound and intense nausea and unease, but that’s not the same thing. In contrast, when I watch the film United 93, I always cry. I don’t think that film is much of a melodrama–designed to provoke an emotional response–but the events are so harrowing, and the way it puts you into that context is intense, and so, crying.
I’ve been stunned, dumbfounded by the deaths of real people I found out about after the fact. My life post-dates the assassinations of the 1960s. I’ve cried at movies about the deaths of people, but that’s at a remove. I cry during the film Gandhi fairly reliably. I cried during the recent film Another Year, there’s a funeral sequence there that evokes the deaths of my grandfather Joe and my mother Phyllis and suddenly I’m crying. But that’s sort of a proxy, I’m projecting my own experience into the fiction onscreen. I can mourn JFK, RFK, and MLK, despite the fact that I was born after the 1960s. In fiction, I do tend to cry when huge-scale disasters, particularly nuclear war happen.
I’m an American male, and perhaps I’m wrong to use crying as a measure of emotional impact. There is a cultural taboo against excessive crying, I think. The past few months are an anomaly, the death of my Mom has clearly evoked more crying than I remember, ever. My father says that he does not remember me or my sister crying much. My mother told the story of my grandfather, her father, being worried about me as an infant because I didn’t cry much. My grandpa was in a position to observe me quite a bit because my mother and I lived with my maternal grandparents for some time when I was first born, as my father was serving as a corpsman in Vietnam.
So why Kubrick and Warhol? Why did their deaths impact me so much that I cried? I vividly remember driving through Marina del Rey and hearing about Kubrick and instantly crying. I think it was because of the impact of 2001: A Space Odyssey , really. Kubrick operated at a level that I aspired to. It was the same with Warhol–I felt like I understood his character–peculiar, quixotic, but a kind of genius. And I suppose I was crying because their aesthetic choices, their iconoclasm, moved me and drove me. The snuffing out of the universe of possibilities they represented was a great loss.
As I’ve learned more concretely about loss and grief, I’m moved to consider what the deaths of strangers can mean. The death of hopes for the future is a huge component. I wanted to see what Warhol would do next. He was delightfully unpredictable. Kubrick too, was incredible at defying expectations and creating works that surprised. I suppose it’s selfish in a way that my crying was not primarily about the loss of the person himself, the incredible impact of a death on their family and friends–it was for myself, and not being able to view the world through their future works of art.