Marketplace Scratch Pad

Death sells, and that’s okay

Scott Jagow Jun 29, 2009

I feel like Harry Burns. You know, from When Harry Met Sally. I spend hours, I spend days…. thinking about death. Maybe that’s because I’m on the Internet a lot, and that’s all anyone’s talking about.

The deaths of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson and now TV pitchman Billy Mays all in the same week have put a death grip on social media. From tasteless jokes to people trying to sell memorabilia, you can find it all, if you dare do a search on Twitter.

This is what you get when the entire world is able and willing to share their thoughts simultaneously.

But I’m okay with it. With the bad, comes the good. I’m also thinking about death because someone I knew personally died this weekend. He was the president of my high school class. I just saw him a few months ago at our 20th reunion. That should tell you how old he was. Over the weekend, so many members of my class shared their thoughts with each other on Facebook, and I’m sure Luther would’ve liked that.

As a high school principal, he touched a lot of people’s lives. And these celebrities touch people’s lives too — in a different way. When anyone dies, especially those that die young, you can’t help but think about your own fleeting existence on this planet. You can’t help but want to talk about it, even if for some people, that means hiding behind crass comments.

I read an article complaining that social media should just let it go:

One has to wonder if the price of Oxy Clean will now increase to a point where no one will be able to get stains out of their clothes effectively without taking a loan out from the bank. On Myspace, a status update read: “RIP Billy Mays. People, contact me if you’re looking for Orange Glo. Collector’s item!” Social media at its lowest point.

But how disrespectful is it to a pitchman to sell something of his after his death? Our fascination with death leads us to assign higher value to things created by people who are no longer with us. There’s nothing more they can create, so what they did create in life becomes more valuable. That’s just the way it is.

I’m amazed at how many people are writing odes to Billy Mays, from beer bloggers to sportswriters to NPR bloggers.

Mays was on the Tonight Show just last week with his cohort, Anthony Sullivan of the Discovery Channel show, Pitchmen. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable few minutes of human interaction, and a great way to remember the man. So yes, I’m embedding it in my blog:

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