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Sat, Nov 1, 2014

LOGUE: Did tweet come close to violating code of moral propriety?

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Of all the reactions to Robin Williams' death, one of the most puzzling reactions comes from a source that should have thought about its response more carefully.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention took exception to the way the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said farewell to the Academy Award winning actor.

The academy, which presents the Oscars each year, tweeted a still from the animated movie "Aladdin" of Aladdin hugging the genie, whose voice Williams provided so masterfully and humorously. 

The caption read simply, "Genie, you're free."

This simple, poignant tribute prompted Christine Moutier, the chief medical officer for the aforementioned foundation, to remark to the Washington Post that the tweet came close to violating some code of moral propriety.

"Suicide should never be presented as an option," Moutier said. "That's a formula for potential contagion."

She's talking about the tendency of some people to romanticize suicide, especially when a celebrity decides to end life that way. 

She's concerned that vulnerable people, especially adolescents, will embrace suicide because an adored entertainer's way of departing the earthly plane brought him worldwide attention and did not lessen the public's love for him. 

It's not an unreasonable concern, which is one reason why the news media traditionally report suspected suicides with the usual sidebars about the warning signs of depression and where to go for help.

But how did Moutier come to interpret the academy's tweet as an endorsement of suicide as a viable solution to personal problems?

According to the Post, Moutier found the starry heavens over Aladdin and the genie, coupled with the message, "Genie, you're free," to imply that suicide is a perfectly fine way to liberate oneself from life's travails.

Somehow I doubt an industry that benefited from Williams' talent to the tune of billions of dollars was suggesting that fellow actors and comedians who fall on hard times should follow Williams' lead.

Williams' peers were not public health professionals or psychoanalysts or even journalists. They're artists and they express themselves differently than most of us.

The academy's tweet was a metaphorical way of depicting the bittersweet nature of Williams' death. Aladdin doesn't want to let the genie go, but he knows he has no choice. 

That hug was the public hugging Robin Williams goodbye before his soul disappears into whatever lies beyond.

Instead of viewing this as another cautionary tale about the unintended consequences of social media, could we not see it as a tribute to all that Williams shared with us?

No one is encouraging anyone to view suicide as an appropriate means to the ultimate end anymore than they are encouraging Williams' fans to become addicted to drugs and alcohol, have a couple of failed marriages or follow any other of the comic's personal paths.

To lurch uncontrollably into the fear that a famous person's suicide will inevitably prompt a spate of more untimely deaths is to commit the same spontaneous lack of thoughtful judgment attributed to people who commit suicide.

It's an irony that Williams himself might find amusing were he not enjoying a joke-off right now with Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Jonathan Winters. 

Robin has signed off. Nanu, nanu.

 

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