Kirstie Alley died last week, and I am having some feelings about it.
I've never been somebody to pretend that the connection we feel in a parasocial relationship isn't real: of course it is, and in some ways it's both the foundation and the curse of human society. Loyalty to a language, loyalty to an ethos, to a culture, to a land—the sense of home—loyalty to a leader: these are all parasocial relationships. And that can be good or bad. Because that leader, inspiring that loyalty, might be Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., or they might be Josef Stalin. That ethos might be utilitarianism or it might be the prosperity gospel.
This can shake out a lot of different ways.
And has, and will. Some fandoms are better than others.
Anyway, I had always liked and admired Ms. Alley in a vague sort of way. I enjoyed her work, but I wasn’t what you’d call a superfan. She was gorgeous and funny and had a presence.
Anyway last winter when I was undergoing cancer treatment and was largely incapacitated, I spent a lot of time watching British history re-creation documentaries on YouTube. (the Absolute History channel will eat your entire life if you let it.)
One particular series—I think it was called Time Tunnelers—is a sort of unholy spawn of Quantum Leap and I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here. The schtick was that a group of celebrities were sent about to do menial labor in various periods of English history. (British colonial oppression begins at home, after all.)
It featured (among others) Ms. Alley.
It turns out she was a badass.
She was the oldest actor on the show, and yet waded in to muck stalls, gut fish, scrub pots, and slog through the sucking mud of shellfish beds while cheerily saying things like “Oh I grew up on a farm, I know how to pick a hoof.”
Her competence was profoundly soothing. And somehow exactly what I needed.
Ms. Alley, you didn’t know me and it was probably just a job to you, and a somewhat annoying one. But you did me a solid.
And now she’s gone and it was cancer that got her, apparently detected quite late.
Irony is a bitch. Get your health screenings, people. We need you here for as long as you can stay, and you never know when you’re helping somebody just by showing up.