By Michele Yeo
When news broke last month that Matthew Perry had passed away at just 54-years-old, fans were shocked and of course, saddened. But it didn’t take long for that sadness to transform into something else: entitlement. In the immediate aftermath of his untimely death, many social media users took to the accounts of the actors who starred alongside him on Friends demanding they issue some sort of statement about his passing. Some of the former co-stars even limited, or altogether turned off, the comments on their previous posts because people were inundating those posts with messages about Matthew and questioning why they hadn’t honoured him online yet. This was just days, even hours, after his death was made public.
I can’t imagine, not only unexpectedly losing someone close to me, but then having that grief compounded by complete strangers demanding to see some sort of evidence of said grief. It’s grotesque and macabre. Yes, celebrities enjoy a life of privilege and there are certain responsibilities that come with being a public figure but even the most famous people in the world are not obliged to show us their grief or to prove to us that they’re grieving. The pressure was so intense, on Monday, just two days after Matthew’s body was discovered, the Friends cast issued a joint statement essentially saying they weren’t yet ready to make a statement. “We are all so utterly devastated by the loss of Matthew. We were more than just cast mates. We are a family,” their statement read, “there is so much to say, but right now we’re going to take a moment to grieve and process this unfathomable loss.In time we will say more, as and when we are able. For now, our thoughts and our love are with Matty’s family, his friends, and everyone who loved him around the world.”
When Matthew’s cast members did feel either ready to speak out – or just got tired of being harrassed – they did so in tandem. Matt LeBlanc and Courteney Cox were first up, posting touching tributes on Instagram last Tuesday with Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, and Lisa Kudrow following suit the following day. The actors clearly banded together to come up with a strategy of how and when they’d address their friend’s passing, much like they came together all those years ago to famously negotiate their Friends salary raises as a group. Their cohesiveness is a lovely testament to their bond, but the fact they felt compelled or pressured to say anything at all before they were truly ready says something about where we are as a society. The immediacy and intimacy of social media has brought us many good things but this is not one of them.
Grief is a unique experience for everyone – how you process a loss isn’t necessarily how I’ll process a loss and the experience should not be policed by anyone, particularly strangers on the internet. And while having the Friends cast appear on such a long-running hit show for so many years, one that has found new life and new fans in streaming, can easily lead to a parasocial relationship where we may feel like we know them,it’s important to remember these people are not actually our friends and they don’t owe us anything. Are we so chronically online that we truly believe we’re entitled to a public display of their grief? Because we are not. It’s lovely they eventually posted touching and heartfelt tributes to their late friend. I definitely enjoyed reading them. But if they didn’t post at all, that would have been okay, too.