The Dead Can Twitter: Tragedy, Comedy, and False Celebrity Death Reports

Curator's Note

 In many ways, The Colbert Report eulogy for Jeff Goldblum is cast as a eulogy for the news media. It's a recurring theme of news stories that gather traction due to the spread of false information on twitter. Both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report--and the fictionalized news program on The Newsroom--return to this font of satire whenever twitter has seemed to be the tipping point of news-worthiness.  Inherent in these critiques is an idea that twitter is essentially frivolous: a snarky echo chamber, made even more so when the content is celebrity death.  In this particular instance, the hoax was created to thread the needle of reality and satire.  It was later revealed that the Jeff Goldblum death reports were created by an online template for celebrity news, built to spread quickly across the internet and social media.  Part of the drive toward viral spread is the ludicrous nature of the story: Jeff Goldblum--already a celebrity whose persona is constructed on the scaffold of oddness--fell off a New Zealand cliff, a means of death rarely reported among celebrity deaths. It is meant to be strange and salacious and, depending on the facts, either a terrible tragedy or brilliant comedy.

Once any element of pathos is overcome by showing Goldblum alive and well on The Colbert Report, the fake report provides myriad avenues for comedy: the ludicrous report, the unfounded spread on twitter, the seemingly lazy vetting of the report by the established media, the guillibility of the general public, the carnivalesque accoutrement of celebrity death reporting and reactions, and the ability of the celebrity machine to turn tragedy into self-promotion. While these are all options to any debunked celebrity death rumor, such as the 2010 Betty White death rumor, the Goldblum persona offers an extra level of surreal, cerebral distance that is predisposed to internet-spreadable humor. Goldblum's odd affect has earned a verbalization of his name, a tumblr built around a single visual pun on his name, and a well-documented meme of his own, among others. Goldblum's self-eulogy-turned-promotion of Law & Order: Criminal Intent is in keeping with his celebrity persona and his accumulated spreadable comedic credibility. But the multiple levels of satire on view in this clip are all the more tenable precisely because it is ground in the possibility of tragedy: Jeff Goldblum confronting his own mortality.



Charlotte et al: My students have had troubles with the interface recognizing/accepting their registration requests, so I’m posting this comment (and I may have more), on their behalf. I’m sure they’d love to hear back from you, even though they weren’t able to post themselves: Rimsha writes: I personally feel like, currently, less and less people give in to the death of celebrities if they've heard about it through twitter because of cases like Jeff Goldblum's. I have personally found out about the death of celebrities via tweet, just days ago Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death was announced through it, but care must also be taken to make sure it's verified. I did not believe it officially until I saw it tweeted by the Associated Press or a similar news outlet twitter. It's really hard to be sure, considering Justin Bieber has died around fur times according to twitter. I think the majority of people who do fall for it do so because, it seems insane that someone would tell a fake account about someone's death, considering it can obviously be proven false. once the star is seen well and alive.

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