Tuesday, September 16, 2008

On writing obituaries of people you never knew

Warning: Rant ahead
OK, I realise this is a sensitive topic but I need to get this out there and I also need to know if I'm the only one that feels this way about it. This is the second "In memoriam" post I have read on Sepia Mutiny, where they take it upon themselves to write a tribute to a desi victim of an unfortunate and tragic accident. When the person writing the post has never had anything to do with the victim in person. They cull all kinds of details about the person's life from orkut pages and what not and put together a post personalizing the tragedy in all kinds of ways. With an underlying connect of "That could've been me". You know what, "That could've been me" is a sentiment that applies quite widely. I think this kind of obit (the one written on Minal, a victim of the Virginia shooting incident was the other one that really rankled me) actually undermines the grief that people who actually knew the person and are dealing with the death feel. First of all, picking up from someone's orkut's page that they liked ear-rings is about as superficial you can get. All of a sudden adopting her to be your sister or whatever, and writing a whole dramatised post on it is just too shallow for me to take. If you never knew a person, what gives you the right to expound on them based on a picture of the person you paint without any authority whatsoever? Do you realise that you never knew this person existed until they passed away in a terrible tragedy, and all of a sudden you research the web and come up with a post like that? It almost trivializes the unfortunate incident. Its one thing to show solidarity at a time like this, a whole different story to take it upon you to write on it in such an affected manner. Grief of a loved one who has passed away is a very personal sentiment, not a free for all. There's much better ways of writing a tribute to someone without bringing on this kind of enforced connection.

It gets my goat even more when people in the comments praise these posts and talk about how much it touched them. That's when I begin to wonder if its just me.



Sakshi said...

Agree completely. The "it could have been me" sentiment is evoked only because of color. I wish they did it irrespective of that - sort of change the blog into one long obituary post, xyz died of heart attack, it could have been me. Abc of old age, heck it could have been me.
Stupid fools.

gawker said...

Bravo. Somebody needed to say this. I was gonna and now I don't have to.

blogger said...

It's just you. All the poster was trying to do is highlight that the tragedy has a human angle. They researched the deceased's background for details. You know who else does that? Journalists who write about tragedies. I should know, I am one.

Maybe you're just bitter because your writing comes off as much more affected and you're not gettign the same props. Maybe you should try working on writing something people may like instead of revealing your own bitterness and insecurity on here.

blogger said...

Not to mention, Obituaries are ALWAYS written by people who didn't know the victim. What do you think happens, the paper calls up one of the dead person's friends and asks them to write a small something?

Your blog name is pretty ironic.

Delurking soon-to-be former reader said...

If you bothered to read the comments, Minal's sister liked and appreciated Anna's post, which kind of destroys your whole, mean-spirited point about “this kind of obit...actually undermines the grief that people who actually knew the person and are dealing with the death feel.”

So maybe it *is* just you. To each their own coping mechanisms, thought processes and writing styles. If the victim’s sister didn’t mind, why do you?

sqrlnt said...

I agree with you, but not so harshly as you put it. It probably was a knee jerk post because the incident struck a chord with her as a contemporary desi. But it was the fact that it started as an obit for a desi than for Atul, that in my view made it sad. Perhaps a guest post from someone who knew him personally would have made it more appropriate and less of a 'it could have been me'.

V said...

I'd rather show respect for the dead by remaining silent for a moment in their memory. You are right, you cannot connect to the departed if you don't know them. Bunch of idiots.

Anyway, if I'm gone, don't trust any website that says I wasn't a good person.

bongopondit said...

Thanks for the rant !

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...


I'm glad i'm not the only one that feels that way.

every tragedy has a human angle. and if sepia mutiny is all about brown-spotting, so be it. And obits may be written by people who don't know the victim (Er, its not necessarily so, btw). But my grouse is how the blogger personalises the tragedy- calling the unfortunate victim her sister, expressing a whole sentiment of relatedness and connection, when there is none whatsoever (beyond skin colour).

and the authoritative source for all this is orkut pages ? (w ref to the post on minal). if your journalistic ethics commend as frivolous a source as orkut scraps to build up a character sketch of a person who passed away, and authorise you to talk about the person as if she was one of your very own, i'm sorry it doesn't hold much credibility for me.

Maybe you're just bitter because your writing comes off as much more affected and you're not gettign the same props. Maybe you should try working on writing something people may like instead of revealing your own bitterness and insecurity on here.

OK, thats just funny. first, i don't "work on writing" anything to make people happy or vie for props- this blog is just a venting board and journal of sorts for me. Second, are you implying that the SM blogger who blogged about Minal after her death wrote that post "to make people happy"? Used a tragedy to show off her superior writing skills? To get props?

I am glad to know that her sister appreciated the post. No, I didn't read through all the comments so I didn't know that.
I still don't get it, though. What exactly was Anna coping with in that post? She didn't know the victim from adam!

the harshness reflects my absolute frustration with this practice of obit-blogging and personalizing the sad death of someone just because s/he is desi. i just don't get it!

yes. i agree.

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

it has been a while coming, actually.

Anonymous said...


Could not agree with you more!!!!! Gives yellow journalism a whole new colour-'brown journalism'!!!!!!

aequo animo said...

oh they do such things! am alarmed. I should take care not to die in US.;)

Naveen Eluru said...

This is a problem that I have been having for sometime now. Be it obituaries on blogs, or orkut posts good will wishes for a person who died. I mean you never knew (or should i say cared) for the person when he was alive. Where does all the love come from now?.. Nice post!

Veena said...

What Gawker said. Someone needed to say this. Thank you.

Nirav said...

This one was still ok, as it quoted family members, but the one on Minal was plain outrageous.

I remember, that I had been itching to comment on that one, but finally let it pass. Thanks for writing this...

Anonymous said...

Very true.. and its not like that one person has been murdered or killed on purpose.. there were few other folks who lost their lives too..
Sad he died, but that didnt deserve a whole tragic post!

mekhala said...

So totally agree.

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

brown journalism! good one. :)

a a,

oh, don't even get me started on how people go and inundate orkut pages etc. i never get it.

yeah i had stewing on it since the post on Minal.

you are right, this one is okay. to be honest, it was the one on Minal that spurred this rant..the second obit was just the post that pushed it for me. I also restrained myself from writing on it way back then, just because i didn't want to deflect focus from the tragedy, which i don't want to do now either.

ms T,
its not even so much whether the incident of a brown person dying deserved the post, but about why would one go pick browns out of every incident, familiarize themselves just like that and write about it.

yeah. i guess its relatively common sentiment then.

Space Bar said...

Yay and double-yay!

Confused said...

This post proves that with my encouragement even you can write half-decent posts.

blogger said...

You know, the New York Times has also taken to referring to people's facebook pages and the like for information on them after they pass away. Maybe you should write about them and complain too.

IMO the author of the post was just touched by the tragedy and attempted to create a space where people who knew the person (or didn't) could express condolences.

I understand why being a FOB you don't understand why South Asians in the US feel a sense of community. Maybe you shouldn't waste your time on a site that is devoted to that idea if you disagree with it so wholeheartedly.

And if you just have a problem with the blogger (which seems apparent), maybe you should just say that instead of standing behind some half-assed media critique, of a blog, not a newspaper of record or anything else.

Anonymous said...

You also didn't address the point above: if Minal's sister thought it was appropriate, who are you to say it isn't?

Why don't you just admit there is somethign else behind this post...magazines, newspapers and blogs publish obits everyday. People create rememberances to the victims of tragedies they don't know all the time. Why does this rankle you so? because it cited Orkut? or because you have a problem with Sepia, which is just a blog, like yours, and therefore if you have a problem with it, why don't you just not read it?

Oh wait, because then you guys would have nothing to bitch about.

perplexed said...

i agree, it's like having someone's life out in the public just because now they are dead and cannot possibly object to it....they are making reality tv in a whole new way!

frissko said...

A random person's death affecting you is happenable. But making a personalized post out of it border's on being somebody's grief's parasite. Just looking at orkut and stuff of someone who's gone away could be curiosity or sympathy, but digging it up for the purpose of a post is cold research, at least for me, and i find it insensitive. It is just selling out...

Reporters do it yes, but i guess if the report is worth something it should be kept impersonal. If it starts with a 'Dear choti behan' that's plain phony...

And why is a brilliant boy's death sadder than a dull boy's? A dull boy can find a place too, only if he is a poor son of a struggling farmer...Bah!...

"I also need to know if I'm the only one that feels this way about it."

In a roundabout way i am trying to say there are others who feel that way too...

Ashutosh said...

I do agree with you; on the other hand I think the post was just one more reaction by someone who felt bad about the incident. The first one was probably ok, but you are right that it becomes a little tedious when it becomes more like a blog category. And yes, suddenly making that person your adopted brother or sister just because he is Indian is surely lame.

Jingoismrules_ILOVEINDIA said...

I'm awesome. I went to journalism school where I was taught research. I'm awesome. How dare you say social networking sites don't make credible references? I actually scoped them out there. Do you even know how hard that is? I'm awesome. The New York Times does it and NYT is the greatest newspaper EVER. I'm awesome. I was born here unlike you, you FOB engineer desi you. Look at me with my soy latte and members of my community. You don't even know that other communities are so passe. My blog is awesome. If you don't like it, don't read it. Your blog is terrible, but I will let you know. Because I am awesome and can contradict myself.

PS: But,inside, I am an extremely sensitive person who is shattered, every time an Indian is wronged. No, seriously, "How can she slap?"

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

Space bar.

hope you can see my eyes rolling.

blogger, anony,
i have NOTHING against the blogger (Anna), but i'm not going to waste my time with you since you seem pretty convinced with your little conspiracy theory.


nicely summed up my thoughts, actually. thanks.

yeah, like i said, its one thing to express solidarity..but ..sigh

lol. :)
indeed, how can she slap, SIR?

noneviltwin_of_jingoismrules_: said...

He spent a whole 5 minutes on that. Please wax more eloquent/give him more love. thank you.

BLT said...

Here's waiting for Anna / SM Intern / all of the SM commenting community to land up here and start defending Anna vociferously.

Chhoti behen indeed. *rolls eyes*

Then again, does anyone else remember the time when Anna adopted Kaavya Viswanathan, called herself "Anna akka" (or something similar), and wrote a long post to Kaavya telling her to keep her chin up? That cracked me up!

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

your twin gets best comment for this post award, but first i will have to see ivy league diploma, gpa and sat scores please thankyou.

Jesus H Christ- I never read that..but honestly don't want to turn this into an Anna-bashing platform, that was not the idea.

Amrita said...

I thought people grew out of this in their teens. Apparently I was wrong? I don't know if you watch Friday Night Lights but there's a scene in Season 1 where some random girl is weeping in the cafeteria about the terrible accident the quarterback suffered and how dreadfully she feels about it, and one of his friends leans across and yells at her to shut up. It was so satisfying coz I've been there before. Thankfully, not of late though.

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

No, haven't seen Friday Night Lights..and honestly, I didn't think people ever indulged in this sort of thing- teens or ever. I just-don't-get-it.

ah well.

Kripal Pais said...

Its not just you. There are times when you deeply wonder on what journalism is all about. When I was in college (NITK / KREC) one of my best friends passed away in a bike accident. The news reports were anything but true. Some changed the year he was in. Some changed his specialization.

Add to this there were lecturers talking about how he shouldn't have been driving under the influence of alcohol / without a license.

Obviously this was all B***S*** since we had got our licenses together and he didnt have any alcohol that day. But when people asked the lecturers / other students about the guy from your college who met with an accident, they would rather propound hearsay as the gospel truth rather than admit they hardly knew more than 40-50 people well in a batch of 500-600 people.