Robin Williams – humour, nostalgia and community

The tragic news of Robin Williams’ death has generated some heartwarming stories of friendships, community and bitter sweet positiveness through online posts, viral media and memes. As someone who remembers watching Mork & Mindy as a child, and loved many of his films from both the serious to comedic ends of the spectrum, I was shocked and saddened by this news. But, I have felt the stories and narratives from fans, celebrities and journalists emerging around Robin Williams provides a fascinating insight into the types of personal and collective relationships form around fans, media, storytelling and celebrity identities.

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This screen capture of some of the memes circulating on the “know your meme” site shows. The content that’s circulating covers a couple of fascinating areas:
Humour with clips of his early stand up career, images from his more comedic roles as Mork from the late 70s TV show Mork & Mindy.

There’s also a desire to seek out further information, or provide further information either around the circumstances of Williams’ passing away or providing information on the challenges facing those with mental health and even some encouraging people to react positively by petitioning for better mental health funding.
There’s also some stories emerging about the four future films we’ll still see Williams’ in, including a new “Night at the Museum” movie where we’ll see him reprise his role as Teddy Roosevelt.

Moral Boundaries. The criticism towards the US ABC live arial coverage above the Williams home after the family requested privacy (which the ABC have now apologised for). Or framing in ‘bad taste’ tweets which confuse Williams’ death for that of Robbie Williams or others. Or the unfortunate timing of airing the Family Guy episode featuring suicide and Robin Williams Or Fox News’ woeful coverage and poor judgement And the shocking trolling of Zelda Williams forcing her to close her Twitter account There are important moral boundaries being policed and depended upon here.

Finally, and maybe the most dominant frame, is the overwhelming sense of nostalgia and community.
Most prominently this has included the celebrity community which worked with, or knew, Robin Williams. A number of web sites have gathered and commented on some of these celebrity tweets ranging from Steve Martin to Barrack Obama: and
Given that Williams’ work straddles so many generations from the baby boomers (the famous Mork episode of the Happy Days, his early stand up work, the TV series Mork & Mindy) to Gen X (Dead Poets Society amongst other films) and Gen Y (Alladin, Jumaji, Mrs Doubtfire etc). As we can see from many of the clips and images fans have chosen it is clear that the values that Robin Williams symbolises in his various roles – from comic to serious – have helped shape meaning and decisions that fans have made at every level – not only what film or TV shows they watch, but also teasing out key concepts and phrases they’ve integrated into their own lives and sought opportunities to explore. Everything from his advice for people to “stay weird” at an epic stand up performance recounted over at, to Dead Poet’s Society “Seize the day” or “Captain, My Captain”, to images from Patch Adams, or key lines of advice from “Good Will Hunting”. His role as a psychiatrist counselling Will Hunting in particular has generated a lot of images and phrases which fans are using to reflect on his passing away.
These clips, images and phrases draw attention to the particular connections and relationships that fans developed to Williams’ work and roles.

It’s also interesting to notice some of the memorials to Robin Williams where fans are leaving flowers and messages including his star on the Hollywood walk of fame, outside the gates of his house – but as well as these there are locations which became famous through the movies he appear in such as the park bench he sat at to deliver his advice to Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting or the house of Mork & Mindy fame.

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From his stand up work, to his love of the Zelda computer game franchise, to the last instagram message of himself and his daughter, people have selected particular images and connections which display the emotional links they feel toward a particular part of Robin Williams, many of which are bound up in personal and collective histories of watching (or working with) Robin Williams.

Support is available for those who may be distressed by phoning Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.


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