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.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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