Bitter irony: George Michael, associated for many primarily with the hated song "Last Christmas," died on Christmas Day of all days. The expiring year has some celebrities on the conscience.
"The year the music died" – that's how 2016 went down in history at the halfway point: Prince and David Bowie, two pop culture icons, left in the spring; Leonard Cohen and George Michael followed at the end of the year. There were also actors like Gotz George and Bud Spencer, athletes like Muhammad Ali – not to mention formative politicians (Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Guido Westerwelle, Schimon Peres) and public figures (Elie Wiesel, Rupert Neudeck).
A world without many
On Twitter, people repeatedly expressed their dismay – but also displeasure. The current year was directly addressed: "2016, it's enough!"Many contemporaries seem to be like Thomas Mann's "Buddenbrooks": A world without many and much that seems to have always been there as a matter of course becomes not only imaginable, but increasingly real.
Cultural scientist Philipp Felsch described this feeling as an entire era saying goodbye to its idols. Many people experienced the death of the exceptional British musician Bowie as the sudden disappearance of an institution, he told "Philosophie Magazin" this summer. "And institutions don't actually disappear just like that."
Mourning for Cuba's ex-president Fidel Castro
When this does happen, it also calls into question other certainties – such as the role played by the deceased during his or her lifetime. The most prominent example in 2016 was probably longtime Cuban President Fidel Castro, who died at the end of November. In Latin America, mourning and admiration dominated in the aftermath; elsewhere, there was also clear criticism of the numerous human rights violations during his reign.
In Miami and in Spain, Cuban exiles celebrated the news of the revolutionary leader's death. There was actually only agreement that Castro was a formative figure of the past century.
Even beyond such globally noted cases, various media outlets noted that the number of obituaries they published had piled up. This was not only met with approval: Catholic theologian Manfred Lutz warned that "eternal obituaries" should not replace eternal life. He told the Suddeutsche Zeitung that he was observing "a never-ending, completely ritualized, gloomy mourning process in which the dead are no longer left in peace at all in the media"; an "exaggerated pathos" and a "hopelessness on display".
"Rest-in-Peace Festival 2016."
Others apparently see a sign of hope in spontaneous expressions of condolence and consternation. Roman Curia Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi tweeted a song quote on each of the anniversaries of the deaths of Cohen, Bowie and Prince. Fans sent petitions to God asking him to bring back their idol.
The magazine of the "Suddeutsche Zeitung" designed a poster for the "Rest-in-Peace-Festival 2016" and distributed it with the comment: "The best festival of the year. Unfortunately, it doesn't take place on earth."At the latest after the death of George Michael, the reference to the heavenly band that God is apparently putting together this year appeared almost as ritualized on social networks as the catchphrase #rip for "rest in peace" (Eng. rest in peace).
Kitschy or creative? Silly or appropriate? Tobias Pehle of the Association for the Culture of Remembrance appeals for serenity. "Maybe the death of an artist really gets to some people," he says. Moreover, places and rituals of farewell are always important to cope with grief, he said.
Yet what some contemporaries laugh at may well conceal a deeper meaning, as the Protestant religious scholar Gesine Palmer recently pointed out in the "Welt" newspaper. When people lay "vast quantities of flowers" – whether to commemorate the dead of an attack or a deceased pop culture hero – they are confronting the finite nature of earthly existence. "All of these people have courageously confronted the most powerful adversary of all," Palmer said: "the fearsome death that we are far too fearful of keeping quiet about as a rule".