AS fans around the world began to grieve Robin Williams’s death, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — best known, in many circles, as the people behind the Oscars — sent out an image (above) that some considered close to crossing the line.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Christine Moutier, chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said that the “Genie, you’re free” image was not an ideal memorial for Robin Williams.
“If it doesn’t cross the line, it comes very, very close to it,” Moutier said when asked if the image violated “public health standards for how we talk about suicide.” “Suicide should never be presented as an option. That’s a formula for potential contagion.”
More than 270,000 people have shared the tweet, which means that, per the analytics site Topsy, as many as 69 million people have seen it.
The problem? It violates well-established public health standards for how we talk about suicide.
Moutier was referring to a well-documented phenomenon, better-known as “copycat suicide,” in which media coverage or publicity around one death encourages other vulnerable people to commit suicide in the same way. Adolescents are most at risk of suicide contagion; in recent years, groups like AFSP have also become particularly attentive to the role the Internet plays in romanticizing notorious or high-profile deaths, something it has long asked both the news and entertainment industries to avoid.
The starry sky from Disney’s Aladdin, and the written implication that suicide is somehow a liberating option, presents suicide in too celebratory a light, Moutier said.
Moutier has some advice for organizations and individuals talking about Williams’s death online: Be sure to acknowledge that suicide has underlying issues — and those issues can be addressed. The focus, she adds, should be on his incredible life. It certainly shouldn’t celebrate or glorify how he died.