My Prince, or Who Cares About Celebrity Deaths

As Niki reports, 2016 is seriously sucking as far as celebrity deaths go. Prince, as in the Prince, has been confirmed dead. A lot of us are in mourning.

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Those who aren’t are wondering why. He exhibited a petty streak, as some of these stories dubiously dubbed “outrageous” confirmed. He was a dedicated Jehovah’s Witness, along with all that is carried by that description. Furthermore, mourning celebrities, especially non-niche ones, is commonly associated with being vapid and shallow, so empty in your head and in your life that you over-invest yourself in the lives of famous people. Feeling sad about the death of a star is for people too mainstream to care about things that the masses are too uninformed to care about, the reasoning goes. I may be guilty of multiple counts of performative apathy on this front myself.

Yet, for me, the grief over the death of Prince only exists because I am and always was a weirdo in so many ways, not because of the few aspects of myself that might be considered stock-standard.

Though Prince himself never identified as anything but straight, he modeled an alternative form of gender and masculinity in unapologetically black body and style that was widely perceived to be sexy. Even in this post-marriage-equality era, most models of non-binary, non-standard, and/or subversive gender, especially masculine gender, are white. Those few who aren’t white are often seen as campy or weird rather than sexy and edgy, but that wasn’t the case with Prince.

Prince created unmistakably sensual music and arrayed himself in fabulous outfits that made many of the less-than-queer squirm in discomfort at their own perception of him as sexy. The way that straight men rushed to call him “gay” when faced with his many swooning female fans says so much about the sort of masculinity-policing that has precious little to do with sexual orientation as well as the general lack of consideration for the female gaze.

He took himself seriously, as the talented man that he was (and exactly as many less-talented white artists do, though black ones are judged more harshly for behaving in the same way), rather than conveyed a funny, campy, winking persona. While there is very obviously plenty of room in the LGBTQIA+ tent for funny, campy, winking types, that Prince was both seriously sexy in a way read as at least somewhat feminine and seriously talented positioned him as a unique figure.

When both your physical form and the preferred fashion by which you clothe it are both traditionally seen as hilarious rather than legitimately attractive, a figure who manages to navigate similar issues and come out on top often appeals to you. It’s even better when that figure is mainstream enough to enter your awareness despite fundamentalist religion doing its best to block people anything like him from your world. Representation matters, even if it’s via an imperfect person.

That someone like Prince not only existed but also was A Big Thing for me of all people — and practically since birth at that — still astounds me. My family gave up listening to the radio and non-religious music for the most part by the time I was seven years old or so. I myself quit listening to music several times growing up. Part of the reason why the two of us in the family who were most invested in piety couldn’t stay 100% cold-turkey music-free was Prince. The sheer seduction of his literal siren call could not be ignored. We’d sneak hits of him off the radio and giggle about it, me like the schoolkid I was and the other like fangirl she wished she could openly be.

It’s no coincidence that one of the first CDs I bought after I came out to myself as an apostate was Dirty Mind. Had I not been 8 years past puberty already, listening to that album would have certainly sparked it. As it was, I adored staring at the cover, with special emphasis on Prince’s navel and happy trail, as I listened to songs on some topics it would be an understatement to call “taboo” (consensual incest, anyone?).

Prince was gifted in a way I could never be and physically svelte in a way I never was and will never be, but that he conveyed serious artistry and serious sex appeal in a gender-pushing, non-white-skinned, textured-hair form meant everything to me.

First/featured image by laughlin

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My Prince, or Who Cares About Celebrity Deaths
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3 thoughts on “My Prince, or Who Cares About Celebrity Deaths

  1. 2

    Yes! You summed up many of my own feelings on Prince. I loved so much about him, esp. early in his career. His raw sexuality probably helped me overcome my own Catholic sex guilt. But I was also uncomfortable with his religious choices. They seemed at odds with his progressive presentation.

  2. 3

    Musicians and actors are unlike other artists in that there is not just an ongoing body of work but a visible presence through the media. Actors make movies and/or TV series, musicians record albums and perform on tours. Both do interviews and are photographed, living their lives in parallel with their audience’s lives. We see, listen to and think about them almost daily for decades, sometimes as much as we do our family or friends.

    As the audience, we grow up with musicians and actors and identify as much with them personally as with what they do. We become…invested in their lives, for lack of a better word. When they die, bands break up or retire, they get arrested or imprisoned, etc., it’s not really a surprise that it affects us.

    Writers, on the other hand, appear publicly only periodically. Even those who are influential, hugely popular and/or produce large amounts don’t engender the same emotional response. Harper Lee wrote a massively important book with a second released and highly talked about shortly before her death, but there still wasn’t a “national mourning”, nor was there when Carl Sagan died. And they got a lot more attention from the media after their deaths than most writers will.

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