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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Why do we sensationalize celebrity deaths?

In this photo from Sept. 25, 2021, Takeoff of Migos performs onstage during Global Citizen Live in Los Angeles. (Rich Fury/Getty Images for Global Citizen/TNS)

Content Warning: This article includes mentions of death and gun violence.




Last week, rapper Takeoff was shot and killed in Houston, Texas. 

As news about this tragic and untimely death spread, a video of the moments that unfolded after Takeoff’s death also circulated around the internet. Not only does this recording grossly lack empathy, but it also demonstrates how desensitized we are to gun violence and the death of celebrities. 

Takeoff, whose real name is Kirsnick Khari Ball, was one of three members of the Atlanta-based rap group Migos. For those like me who were in college during the peak of their reign, listening to Migos was a defining element of every night out or gathering with friends. The group  — consisting of Takeoff, Offset and Quavo  — is known for their high-energy and ad-lib-heavy style of “mumble rap”. 

They defined a generation of rap coming out of Atlanta, already a locus for hip-hop through the artistry of Future, Gucci Mane, Young Thug and others who came before them. Takeoff especially contributed to their signature syncopated sound through his rapid rhythmic raps  —  a style that made him my personal favorite of the three. 

Takeoff also worked to establish himself outside of the group, releasing a solo album called “The Last Rocket” in 2018. Only last month, he released a collaborative album with Quavo, who is also his uncle. 

Early Tuesday, Police were called to a bowling alley hosting a private party with reports that a man had been shot after an argument. They later confirmed that this individual was Takeoff, who had been pronounced dead at the scene. The medical examiner categorized his death as homicide with gunshot wounds to the head and torso being the cause of death. 

While all gun violence is senseless, Takeoff’s talent and promising music career make his death harder to cope with. His contributions to the world mean that this loss impacts not only his family but his fans. It’s frustrating that the final moments of his life were recorded and circulated online. 

The graphic video, obtained and posted by a tabloid website, shows Takeoff on the ground after he'd been shot with people surrounding him — including Quavo, who was with him and yelling for help. The website also posted still images, though Takeoff's face was blurred in them. 

We should wonder why a bystander decided to record the moment in the first place and how the website came to acquire it, let alone to post the entire video. Violating Takeoff’s privacy and capturing Quavo in one of the worst moments of his life lacks compassion and treats the moment as a spectacle rather than a tragic event that doesn’t need to be widely shared. 

And this isn’t the first Black celebrity death to be treated as such. 

Back in September, rapper PnB Rock was fatally shot while eating with his girlfriend. A video posted to Instagram by a witness (and later posted to the same website) shows him on the floor of the restaurant moments after he had been shot. 

In 2019, when Nipsey Hussle was shot in Los Angeles, a video was posted to social media of his girlfriend, Lauren London, frantically running through the hospital in search of him. 

Vanessa Bryant, the widow of legendary basketball player Kobe Bryant, was awarded $16 million in August in her lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff and Fire Department over photos first responders took at the scene of the 2020 helicopter crash that ended her husband and daughter’s life. 

As these incidents show, moments of celebrity death (caused by gun violence or otherwise) are often seen as moments to be consumed — to be recorded, sold and used as social media content. This kind of behavior is inhumane and, frankly, disgusting. 

We seem to think that the very public life that celebrities live means that they owe us constant entertainment —  in life and in death. 

These decisions also highlight how desensitized we’ve become to death and, in particular, deaths caused by gun violence. The loose firearm restrictions in our country and the countless violence that they have enabled have created a culture where death by guns is quotidian and inevitable. This same attitude similarly normalizes death so much that we are comfortable sharing it online —  where it can’t be taken back and moves beyond the control of any original intention. 

The video of Takeoff will not be his legacy, but it’s disheartening that it exists at all. I can only hope that we choose respect over clickbait the next time something like this happens. 

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