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Internet uses comedy to cope with controversial celebrity deaths

On April 10, 2024, Orenthal James “O.J.” Simpson died of prostate cancer at 76 years old. Simpson is most known for being on trial for charges involving the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. The trial was televised and spanned 11 months, starting Nov. 9, 1994, and ending Oct. 3, 1995. Simpson pled not guilty, and his response has been parodied ever since.

In 2017, comedian Dave Chappelle famously joked about four encounters he had with Simpson in his comedy special, “The Age of Spin: Dave Chappelle Live at the Hollywood Palladium.” The internet has also joked about Simpson since the trial. However, the news of his death has led users to become ruthless in their constant jokes and memes about him.

According to an article by TMZ, “The news of O.J. Simpson’s death is sparking a wave of commentary – much of it coming in the form of humorous memes based on the most controversial aspects of his life.” The same article provides a handful of examples of Simpson-related memes and jokes. 

A user on X (formerly known as Twitter) posteda photo of the late comedian Norm Macdonald saying, “Tonight we report the unfortunate passing of NFL legend O.J. Simpson, may he rest in peace. On a more positive note, sources say the real killer has been found dead!” 

Regardless of whether Simpson is guilty, public reaction to his death highlights an emerging social media trend of users posting memes or joking excessively about controversial celebrity deaths.

Emily Hester, a freshman studying electrical engineering, gives her opinion on this phenomenon. 

“I think people respond this way on the internet because whether or not a controversial celebrity has been proven to have done that controversial thing, it’s almost a form of solace for a lot of members of society,” Hester said.

Hester said she also makes jokes when grieving because “it’s a way to make light of something scary.”

Queen Elizabeth II and Henry Kissinger are other controversial public figures who have had memes and jokes created after their deaths. Queen Elizabeth II died on Sept. 8, 2022, when she was 96 years old. An article by New York Magazine provided many examples of posts made by X users, who joked about or made hateful comments about the former queen and royal family. 

One example is a post by an X user named Justin Baragona of a video of a CNN reporter asking a British woman about Queen Elizabeth II’s death. The woman being interviewed adds she is not “the biggest fan of the queen” because of “British colonial history” and “quite shady” things like Prince Andrew. 

Kissinger died on Nov. 29, 2023, at the age of 100. He was also met with a flood of memes and jokes related to his death. According to a Dazed article, “The long-awaited death of Henry Kissinger has been an internet meme for years, and now it’s finally happened.” 

The article provides readers with a Henry Kissinger-related meme example, using a post made by an X user named Evan Shapiro. The post shows Kissinger taking a BeReal photo while in hell.

Kissinger played a role in the U.S. bombing of Cambodia, which led to an estimated 150,000 civilian deaths. The same Dazed article states Kissinger has “also been accused of facilitating genocides in East Timor and Bangladesh, and scores of coups, death squads and assassinations in Latin America.”

When it comes to social media users reacting to controversial public figure deaths, comedy is often seen as a perfect manner for people to express their thoughts on each celebrity. The reception of each celebrity’s actions also led people to find solace in making fun of awful tragedies.


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