Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search

 


Comedian’s Death: Robin Williams and the Virtues of Suicide

The Comedian’s Death: Robin Williams and the Virtues of Suicide

by Dr. Binoy Kampmark
August 13, 2014

Now let the reader’s own moral feelings decide as to whether or not suicide is a criminal act.
Arthur Schopenhauer, On Suicide, in Studies in Pessimism

The Grim Reaper never runs out of converts. Put another way, death never gets his full due. Comedians do not figure well in this – they are particularly attractive targets in the business of death. Ironic, then, that clowns are sometimes hired to make the ill in hospitals laugh, to give the impression that the world is not as dark as all that.

The more one is engaged in the business of making one laugh, the more one is taken from. It is a well that never runs dry. There is much to be said that the jovial one is the creative giver, and the one who laughs in response is a pirate of emotions, a recipient, yes, but a parasitic one. While we will never know the extent of what a comedian like Robin Williams was going through when he took his life, a tendency of exploitation is all too strong. The comedian is doomed to suffer, and when that life is taken by the joker’s own hand, questions will be asked.

The casualty list for such noble people is high, and it comes with its fair share of ailments – alcoholism, drugs, the softening blow of dejection. Tony Hancock, one of Britain’s finest, found himself mocking the Australian society he visited near the end of his life with well-targeted viciousness. There was a sense that he was coming to his end, brooding in the twilight of his years. He died in a Sydney flat in June, 1968. He did leave grief, but he left a stunning record of humour.

For American audiences, John Belushi is cited as an example of one the reaper carried off the day the comedy died. Ironically, Belushi’s own death in 1982 after a combination of heroin and cocaine in his Chateau Marmont room in Hollywood was something of a spur for Williams to get clean. No slate, however, is ever clean. The prospect of taking one’s own life is always up the sleeve. Nor should it ever be removed. It is the ultimate play.

Grief, when it is total, untapped and uncontrolled, may leave one suspicious. Williams was evidently admired, though throwing words such as love around is not necessarily a wise thing. It is invariably compensation for what has passed – we did not think enough of him when he was alive. It says much that, at the end of his obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald, a helpline number is featured just in case people might get funny ideas. “Support is available for those who may be distressed by phoning Lifeline”. (Mensline and Kids Helpline also feature.) The more one talks about not merely suicide as a reality, the squeamish start taking over. Whatever you do – don’t do it!

The undertone here is one of ingratitude – you were selfish to leave the land of the living, and in so doing, made sure the lights went out for others. Suicide, which has been practiced since the human condition became aware to humans, is thereby delegitimised. It is somehow wrong to take one’s own life, especially if you are supposedly loved. Society itself is a barbarism that remains decidedly against the suicidal.

While the scolding element has not been all too evident with Williams, there is a suggestion that he should have shown more concern for his brigades and platoons of anonymous admirers. Behind the message of love is often a chiding note. Tributes are not necessarily unqualified in their affection. Why did you, bastard, leave us more jokes, or at the very least, live longer? We do not know you, but you owed us that.

Philosophers have been busy on the subject of suicide for centuries. A main target of this came from organised religion. The paradox of most religions, but notably those of the Book, is that suicide is most of all irresponsible and disgraceful to the glory of life. As Arthur Schopenhauer explained, “none but the votaries of monotheistic, that is to say, Jewish religions, look upon suicide as a crime.” The Enlightenment thinkers were scathing in their criticism of this tunnel visioned view.

That said, Immanuel Kant did keep a salvo there for those who felt that self-inflicted death was an option. Suicide, he argued was “in no circumstances permissible”. To commit suicide sees the man who does so sink “lower than the beasts”. A curious view, given that human beings are prone to collective suicide on a constant basis (war, economic ruin, and a myriad of other examples).

Again, as Schopenhauer explained, suicide would lead to a cruel appropriation of the dead person’s property, an “ignominious burial”, and a verdict of “insanity”. This, he pointed out with scathing observation, was most prevalent in England. How absurd, then, to compare the issue of someone who met a “voluntary death” with that of someone who inflicted a death with voluntary inclination.

While it is true that Williams has received many condolences and tributes, the love simply flows too far, drying even as it flows. Instead, his decision should be respected, however desperate it was when taken. Suicide is often misunderstood and almost always underrated. What should matter is the oeuvre, the body of work that says everything about a man who did something all too easy to ignore: make people laugh. His humour was volcanic, and it bubbled and steamed till death. Treasure him, if nothing else, for that.

*************

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Binoy Kampmark: Texas, Abortion And The US Supreme Court

The subject before the US Supreme Court justices in the case of Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt involved particular Texan regulations that were found to be an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to have an abortion. More>>

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On The Delusions Driving The “Leave” Option

Voting for “Leave” requires (a) a fantastically unbalanced view of the impact of immigration on modern Britain (b) a demonizing of the EU “regulations” that are commonplace within a modern economy and (c) a simple-minded optimism that Britain would not suffer any major damage to its economy, or to the status of the City of London. More>>

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On The “T” Word, And This Sunday’s Election In Spain

Once again, the RNZ news packages from the US and UK this morning underlined the striking difference in the treatment of the Pulse night club killings in Florida and the murder of the British Labour MP, Jo Cox. More>>

Werewolf: Getting Roasted, Kiwi Style

Roasting coffee beans is an essential step in the process from plant to cup. New Zealand does not grow any coffee, so it therefore imports 100% of its coffee supply from other countries. New Zealand does however roast a lot of coffee beans. More>>

Alastair Thompson: Jo Cox's Killing Looms Large As Brexit Heads Down To Wire

The mourning period for the brutally slain pro-remain Labour MP and mother of two Jo Cox was always going to be brief. Today, Sunday 19th June, with four days to go till polling, the Brexit campaign resumed. More>>

ALSO:

Pledge Me Goal Met!
On Scoop's Current Journalism Project

Gordon Campbell: Before this crowd funding effort wraps up tonight, I thought I should provide an update on the mental health journalism project that Scoop – and its readers – are funding. More>>

ALSO:

Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news