The passing of Christina Grimmie was very traumatic in the pop culture world, and I wanted to write about it sooner, but given the devastating Pulse Nightclub massacre that happened in the very same town the very same weekend, I didn’t want to diminish all of the lives lost by focusing on only one tragic event that took place in Orlando last week. I feel now hopefully is an appropriate time to speak on this issue, and I wish all of the victims to rest in peace, as well as their friends and families to eventually find comfort.
Christina was a contestant on the hit talent show “The Voice” and even before that, she had a great degree of YouTube fame from her inspiring words, her humor, and more importantly, her amazing singing voice. She loved meeting her fans, as shown in this moving memorial video one of her fans made, and she was gunned down after a concert when she was meeting fans. Her final tweet to the world encouraged people to come see her show with another band called Before You Exit (related note: eerie coincidence that this is their band name and we are speaking about words said before our demise) and meet her afterwards, which has again brought about the topic of social media’s role in celebrity safety.
Photo credit: @therealgrimmie Twitter account
“Creators really do have a more significant connection with their communities than in other media,” Hank Green, who co-founded VidCon, a convention for the YouTube community, said of Christina’s murder. “That closeness can be an asset in that fans are more likely to understand the humanity of a creator, or it can be a liability if a fan begins to have delusions of a more significant relationship than exists.”
“The contract that celebrities have created with their fans online – that they can have limited access to their private lives – doesn’t translate well to reality, where the admiring public doesn’t seem to understand that the rules are different,” Elisabeth Sherman of the RollingStone writes, which resonated with me. It’s true, as she said, that “even celebrities need space.” It has been discussed that Christina’s shooter Kevin Loibl was an obsessed fan and that his perception that Christina was “ignoring him” led him to his actions.
This topic of public figures being gunned down for their views or what they do, which creates lovers and haters passionate enough to take them down, has been a long-standing topic in pop culture for decades. Eminem even rapped about it in his hit song “Kill You”, singing to the public “I’ma be another rapper dead for popping off at the mouth with [expletive] I shouldn’t have said.”
Not to get political, but I feel there is sadly no concrete answer to how we can stop shootings, be it of public figures or mass incidents with many people. People have been murdering each other for centuries with whatever weapon is at their disposable. You can hire security and check people’s bags, but a person can still be overpowered. You can try to lawfully take away a person’s guns, but there will still be people who can purchase them on the black market and hide them. You can promote to your children the idea of tolerating others and then blame pop culture sources like music or video games for teaching violence, but people will make their own decisions.
I am a huge advocate of fandoms being respected, as well as respectful. My life has changed because I’ve been able to go to these conventions, concerts and similar public events to not only meet public figures, but other fans. I also realize highly public events like this aren’t just attended by fans – my video of the Westboro Baptist Church protesting San Diego Comic Con in 2010 is pretty popular and the incident is a topic of conversation, to this day.
I am going to San Diego Comic Con again this year and with so many messed up things happening at these large events that can be targeted by terror groups, am I scared to go? Yes. With any big event, I am very aware of my surroundings because as much as I want to have fun, I also want to be safe. But I’m still going to be there among the thousands of fellow fans who look to this event year after year as a secular salvation from their daily lives. To be with like-minded people and maybe meet some of our idols.
All we can do with this life we are given is to not avoid it and be scared to be in a public place we equate with enjoyment and community- we are best to just respect others, be vigilant, and try to learn from our history. Be kind to someone you know is struggling, and if you know something is not right with a person, say something. You may just save lives.
Here are some examples of other public figures who have been taken away from us due to gun violence:
Selena – AKA Selena Quintanilla-Perez, was shot by Yolanda Saldivar in 1995. Yolanda was a fan of a genre of music called Tejano (popular music from Mexican-American artists from regions of Texas), so she tried once to be the President of a fan club branch for a different Tejano artist before giving up and pursuing Selena’s fan club. She eventually finagled her way into Selena’s inner circle to have more responsibilities with her brand, but when it was discovered she was embezzling money, they fired her. When Selena finally was able to get Yolanda to agree to hand over financial records she was pursuing and met her in a fairly public place to get them, she was instead presented with a death via gun shot wounds from Yolanda. Selena was 23.
Tupac – While not shot by a fan, that we can gather since the shooter or shooters have never been found, the famous rapper was in a convoy of other vehicles on the Las Vegas strip after attending a boxing match. Despite no presence of social media and no cell phones at this time period, the celebrity had enough of a status that he was easily found and pursued by the killer(s) in a very public setting. He once said of the controversy his works created – “I just wanted to rap about things that affected young black males. When I said that, I didn’t know that I was gonna tie myself down to…be the media’s kicking post for young black males. I just figured since I lived that life I could do that, I could rap about that.” He died in 1996 at the age of 25.
Political Idols – President John F. Kennedy AKA JFK, while not a pop star, was a beloved public figure. As is a common phenomena, the adoring public would love to come to see the President arrive in their town when they were coming to some sort of public function. It was in November of 1963, on a trip to Dallas Texas for political purposes, that JFK was assassinated by a gunshot while riding in a very open and very heavily attended motorcade, waving to the public. Lee Harvey Oswald was accepted to be the killer, but was gunned down himself before he was officially convicted. In a similarly tragic story, JFK’s brother Robert F. Kennedy, AKA Bobby Kennedy, ran for President in 1968 and had a very successful campaign. It was at an event after winning the California Primary, while he was shaking hands of supporters at the Ambassador Hotel, that he was gunned down in the hotel’s kitchen by Sirhan Bishara Sirhan. Martin Luther King Jr., a very famous figure in politics through his activism and the struggle of racism, was also killed by gunshot at the Loraine Motel in Memphis Tennessee. It was widely known that MLK frequented this establishment a lot, which may have lead to his demise. It is fitting to MLK’s legacy that this motel is now a civil rights museum.
John Lennon – Perhaps one of the most well-known instances of a fan killing their idol, John Lennon’s life was taken in 1980 at the very steps of where he lived. Many knew that John Lennon, formerly of The Beatles, lived in a luxury NYC residence called The Dakota. Fans would gather there and often be rewarded with Lennon autographs. Mark David Chapman had waited outside The Dakota since the morning, got an autograph and photo with the artist in the late afternoon, waited even longer for him to return from the recording studio that night, then shot him around the same spot he happily met the artist earlier. The infamous quote about John’s generous attitude toward his fans is haunting to this day – “People come and ask for autographs, or say ‘Hi’, but they don’t bug you.”