A post-modern destination

Amy Winehouse lived around the corner from my house. As it happened, my 27-year-old daughter had come to spend the afternoon with me as Twitter started to announce her death, so I was not insensible to the grief of losing a young woman of such great and original talent.
We could not help but observe the arrival of police, journalists, TV satellite vans and fans. And it was touching to watch on the news when Mitch Winehouse arrived a day or so later and thanked all those who had come for the comfort their presence gave him.
But beside the genuinely distressed are a large number (they are still coming) just sightseeing. They hurry down the street, all dressed up, seldom alone, laughing (until they reach the solemn spot), on their phones telling friends where they are, already taking photos before they’ve stopped to think why they might’ve come.
The late Gordon Burn was the first to pay literary attention to such spontaneous shrines, long before that most famous installation of collective emotion outside Kensington Palace. Watching the steady stream of sightseers, I wonder how I would write from inside the head of a character who walked up Camden Square betraying such anticipation and excitement. What’s going on here?
Very few of them bring flowers or other offerings; they come to see what other people are looking at and to look at who else is here, avid to witness what others might be feeling.
They appear to come in hope of locating the viral grief advertised on the endless news footage, in search of an emotion to be performed and consumed in the form of a Twitter hashtag or the photographs taken to demonstrate to their friends where they’ve been.
Channel Four News described the inquest into Amy Winehouse’s death as a ‘cold-hearted process’. I disagree: the grief-tourists of Camden Square provide a far more cold-hearted spectacle.


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