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Week in Review: Aftermath of Robin Williams’ passing

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Although the events in Ferguson, Missouri have created a social media firestorm over the last week, much of the media cycle was dominated by the death of Robin Williams on Monday. Tributes have been pouring in, including this one and this one from Sound on Sight, and there has been some absolutely beautiful writing to go along with it.

It was first revealed that Williams died in a suicide after battling severe depression. Even more tragic news came when Williams’ wife, Susan Schneider, said he was just recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

“Robin’s sobriety was intact and he was brave as he struggled with his own battles of depression, anxiety as well as early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, which he was not yet ready to share publicly,” she said in a statement.

But when someone iconic as Williams passes away, that’s never the end of the story, and the celebrity’s death becomes a talking point for other problems in culture, the media and politics. We saw it when Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away earlier this year, and a discussion around drug addiction formed when Aaron Sorkin penned a tribute saying it’s inappropriate to say he “overdosed” as though there’s a “proper” amount of heroin.

The first step in any media cycle like this is to see who else in the media screws up. Yes, journalists are watch dogs, but it’s pathetic that there are bloggers out there who thrive with their finger on the pulse to write something scathingly critical whenever someone dips a toe in the water. The first target was ABC News, who ran a quote about being sensitive to the family’s privacy while ABC flew a helicopter over their home. Next was Fox News, long the punching bag despite themselves, in which they meant to show a clip of Mrs. Doubtfire but actually showed a YouTube parody (sadly it was not Tobias Funke from Arrested Development).

More still were outraged by Fox’s Shep Smith, who supposedly called Williams a coward for committing suicide. This was not the case, as in his actual quote he opined with the family and wondered aloud why anyone would bring themselves to it, saying, “And yet, something inside you is so horrible or you’re such a coward or whatever the reason that you decide that you have to end it.” Smith later apologized and clarified his remarks, but it started an entire other conversation about presuming that suicide is an escape or an act of cowardice.

But if targeting an individual is not enough, criticizing social media behavior on the whole is another valid way to get discussion going (and clicks) in the wake of a tragedy. The Washington Post ran a story about “The Dangers of Sharing ‘Genie, You’re Free” over the web. The Academy tweeted a photo of Aladdin hugging the Genie with the caption reading “Genie, you’re free,” and it quickly went viral. The Post however feared that this was an irresponsible move because it violates public health standards for addressing suicide, implying that suicide might be seen as a “liberating option.”

Although that’s not to say The Internet doesn’t usually deserve the criticism, like when trolls on Twitter chastise Zelda Williams, Williams’ daughter, for posting the “wrong” tribute to her father or not sharing some of the intimate, personal photos she owns to help everyone else’s collective mourning. She was so hurt by the select few who harassed her online that she has debated deleting her social media accounts permanently.

For the most part however, the good outweighed the vicious. President Obama released a statement about Williams, writing, “Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most.” Memorials have also been popping up in Boston’s Public Garden, home to the bench from Good Will Hunting, and soon in World of Warcraft.

And perhaps the best news of all is that there is still more Robin Williams to come. Four more films that Williams has already completed stand to be released, starting with the third Night at the Museum movie at the end of this year, followed by another with a Community director, a collaboration with Bob Odenkirk and a voiceover role alongside Monty Python cast members that will be his last.

The world lost a great actor in Williams, but in just this week alone we gained and learned so much.

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