Peaches Geldof in May 2012. Photo: Getty
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Peaches Geldof and the new, hyper-experience of mortality

Peaches Geldof’s death reveals a kind of post-mortem celebrity that is fuelled by social media.

This morning I woke up, rolled over and, as I always do, scrolled through my twitter feed. Owen Jones – a British socialist – tweeted his shock that Peaches Geldolf, 25, had died. I immediately checked for a hashtag and went about trying to find out more.

Predictably, Twitter was in overdrive with a constantly refreshing feed of #RIPpeaches and other hashtags. There is something awfully banal about this kind of memorialisation. The deaths of celebrities have always been mediated, but the ascent of social media has produced a kind of hyper-experience of mortality, which I engage in, but also find unsettling.

Twitter rolls from one highly-charged affective state to another. Many have already written that the default mode for trending tweets is one of outrage. I would also say that public grieving is just as prolific. Just recently I wrote about the death of Dave Brockie – lead singer from metal band GWAR. As with Peaches’ passing, Twitter was the forum where ordinary fans and celebrities articulated their grief.

There is something touching in the seemingly infinite number of tweets – platitudinous, awkward and often full of cute emoticons – generated by ordinary people in the face of the tragedy of a distant celebrity. In turn, mainstream media run obituary stories peppered with tweets from celebrity mourners as a means for fleshing out the story.

Then it’s all over. We roll to the next outrage and next tragedy punctuating our thoughts with hyperbolic language until the feed refreshes and something new captures our affect.

What struck me most this morning, however, was that Peaches – daughter of Live Aid founder Bob Geldof and the late Paula Yates – will now most likely be most famous for her death. In the last decade there was a buzz around celebrities famous for “doing nothing” – Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, the Kardashians.

In the mid 2000s, Peaches was one of the “brat pack” partying in London and featuring in gossip magazines. She was never as prolific – or criticised as much – as Paris in the “doing nothing” stakes, and she had some hipster clout in her status as Bob and Paula Yates’s daughter. Then she dropped off the radar – marrying and having two children.

Her death is now her distinguishing identity. And even then, it seems to be skewed through a rehashing of Yates’s apparently similar demise. Tweets such as “with mum now” and much-covered fact that Peaches’ last Instagram post was a snap of her and Paula reinforce a kind of fatalism that not only was her death inevitable, but that this is what will define her.

This sort of post-mortem celebrity is in part fuelled by Twitter, which produces willing twitterlebrities but is also able to elevate less tweet-savvy stars to trending status in death. “Peaches_g” had far fewer followers than Gaga but the tweets of mostly ordinary people in the last few hours have memorialised her in the twittersphere, and elevated her to a celebrity status beyond her “famous for doing nothing” image ten years ago.

There is obviously a moral dynamic to this post mortem celebrity.

As a very much alive, messy, rowdy teenager, Peaches was criticised as a bad daughter – pitched against a virtuous Bob Geldolf who had selflessly taken on another man’s children. Peaches' mother, Paula Yates, famously left Geldof for the Australian rock musician Michael Hutchence, with whom she had a daughter, Tiger Lily, in 1996. Hutchence died in 1997 and when Yates died in 2000, Geldof assumed care of their child.

Key to criticisms of Peaches' partying behaviour was a moralising concern that Peaches had not “learned” from her mother’s death from a heroin overdose.

In death, Peaches accrues moral standing, however. In part, this is because the strain in tweets and subsequent media write-ups rehearses a narrative of helpless inevitability. Emphasised in these stories – alongside the “mother’s daughter” line – is Peaches’ redemption – in her marriage, child-rearing and rediscovery of her Jewish heritage. Peaches, then, died with some moral standing – at least in terms of her representation in the press.

In terms of “post mortem celebrity”, perhaps it is important that the star memorialised is also moralised. The banality of recent articles on Peaches - about home renovations, and watching Lord of the Rings – is matched in the tweets of her ordinary fans who appear to relate to her not as “famous for doing nothing” but as “real” because of her status as a mum: “RIP peaches geldolf, two little boys left without a mum. Proper heartbreaking”, tweeted @nata1ie_sk.

I had reservations about writing this article. Was it too soon? Was it in bad taste? I don’t wish to moralise on Peaches’ worth myself. Rather, I am interested in how the media – and the mediated public – constitute celebrity, even in death.

The ConversationRosemary Overell does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Rosemary Overell is a lecturer in cultural studies at the University of Otago.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue