Yesterday morning, we all heard the shocking news that Robin Williams, one of the world’s most-loved and successful comedians, had passed away in what has now been acknowledged as a suicide. For most of us, this was a reminder of the fragility of life and the human condition – as well as the unsinkable thought that a man that had left us in peals of laughter throughout our youth in Mrs Doubtfire (1993), Jumanji (1995) and Flubber (1997) has now left us period, due to being haunted by demons of his own.
What we found particularly comforting was the sheer quantity of people across our social media networks that shared farewells, condolences and celebrations of the brilliant works that Williams’ 37-year career had spanned. Not only was the story of his death largely broken through online newspapers and social media, but throughout the day we were exposed to dozens of varying pieces of Williams’ career that we often didn’t know existed, all using social media hubs such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
We saw The Academy Awards’ official Twitter page @TheAcademy post the heart-wrenchingly simple line, “Genie, you’re free,” referring to Williams’ show-stopping performance as Genie in Disney classic Aladdin (1992). Along with the image of Genie and Aladdin hugging that was posted with it, the tweet has so far amassed 307,212 retweets and 210,253 favourites.[youtube height=”HEIGHT” width=”WIDTH”]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wCUcepbflA[/youtube]
We saw videos unearthed of Koko, one of the world’s most famous apes known for her fluency in sign language, meeting Williams in 2001, a truly adorable video in which Koko and Williams are found tickling each other and laughing together. Just this morning, social media exposed us to a tribute video from The Gorilla Foundation, of Koko mourning the loss of Williams by signing “CRY LIP”, quivering her lip and immediately becoming sombre. Many did not know about Williams’ activism with great ape conservation, but this video consequently brought awareness to it.
We saw Buzzfeed post a 2001 YouTube video of Robin Williams appearing on James Lipton’s ‘Inside The Actors Studio’, discussing the existence of heaven. When asked, “If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say at the pearly gates?” Williams replies with signature cheekiness, “if heaven exists, it would be nice to know that there’s laughter. That would be a great thing to hear, God go ‘Two Jews walk into a bar…” At only 26 seconds long, Buzzfeed’s post is currently sitting at 8,718 likes.
We saw iconic Hollywood comedy theatre The Laugh Factory post a photo on Twitter of the marquee above their entrance, showing the words, “Robin Williams, Rest In Peace, Make God Laugh.” This post has garnered 4,718 retweets and 5,462 favourites so far.
We saw a myriad of Hollywood heavyweights take to social media via Twitter to express their grief for Williams’ death. Williams’ on-screen daughter in Mrs Doubtfire, Mara Wilson @MaraWritesStuff, tweeted, “Very sad, very upset, very glad I did not have to hear about this through Twitter. Probably gonna be taking some time off it for a while.” Actor and comedian Steve Martin wrote, “I could not be more stunned by the loss of Robin Williams, mensch, great talent, acting partner, genuine soul.” From Neil Patrick Harris to Danny DeVito to Ringo Starr, social media allowed celebrities and fans alike to express the same notion of loss. They connected with each other with mutual memories and experiences of Willams and bridged the gap between Hollywood and its viewers.
The power of social media as a medium is truly undeniable in 2014. It allows us to expose, share, celebrate and immortalise various aspects of a person’s career and simply, to remember.
The social media flurry that gave us the biggest involuntary shiver down our spines is the fact that #OCaptainMyCaptain, a line from one of Williams’ earliest and most notable works Dead Poets Society (1989), is trending on Twitter. In the film, Williams is fired from his role as a private school teacher, and in the final scene, his students all stand on their desks in defiance of his departure. They all salute their teacher with “O Captain, My Captain”, a quote from a Walt Whitman poem.
Twitter is now awash with a large number of fans and companies all posting photos of themselves standing on tables, all under the hashtag of #OCaptainMyCaptain, serving as melancholy reverences to an actor that had given them so much.
If that doesn’t solidify your belief that social media drives the essence of humanity, we don’t know what will.