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David Marcus: Why we feel so deeply about Gabby Petito

What I like about influencers is that they are the artists currently held in disdain. Actors and poets used to be warned against in polite society, now they are pillars of that society. 

Influencers are the old school artists, a little dirty, what do they actually do or produce? They are thought to be a bad influence. But lo, that is the traditional role of the artist. Gabby Petito was an influencer, an artist, and that is why her loss has captured the heart of America.

There are those on the left who, as usual, want to make the media attention given to the death of Petito a symbol of America’s racism. MSNBC’s Joy Reid calls it “missing white women syndrome.” CNN’s Don Lemon points to white privilege. It is reductive, dismissive, and ignorant nonsense. It also denies Petito agency for how she chose to live. It is not racism that made her disappearance a cause celebre, it is her spark and creativity.

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There is a thing that film, television, and theater directors look for. An it factor. It is a kind of visual and emotional gravity. Gabby Petito had it. And it wasn’t an accident, she worked at it, she made it. 

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She wanted to be compelling and she was. She wanted us to look and we did. She wanted her life to matter and it does. It hurts because she was a bright star and it hurts when those go out.

My son likes this Australian YouTuber named Lazarbeam. The guy plays video games and records it. 

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Sure, I think that’s ridiculous, but he’s funny, I mean really. And when I was 12 I lived and died with Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage. My parents were similarly dismayed.

For better or worse this is art now, it is the lens through which the kids capture their lives. And it is kind of wonderful.

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It is generally best to think about people on their own terms. We may see narcissism and the death of culture in influencers and YouTube stars, but they are really just striving to create, to be heard. 

In mourning Gabby’s death we also see afresh the world through her eyes. All of its hope and promise. And therein lies the cruelty of her too soon passing. 

We gave the kids this void we call the Internet, we cannot be surprised that they are extremely online. Theirs is the plastic of digital reality to make of what they wish. Theirs is a poetry of pixels.

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Many of us feel deeply about Gabby Petito. It’s because the kid went for it. 

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All the beauty, struggle, lovely lack of control that is life when it is actually being lived. You saw it, you still see it in every clip. 

It’s dangerous to understand just how beautiful the world really is. 

911 call in Gabby Petito-Brian Laundrie incident released Video

In mourning Gabby’s death we also see afresh the world through her eyes. All of its hope and promise. And therein lies the cruelty of her too soon passing. 

But we would be remiss not to celebrate her work and art amid the sadness. 

The mark she left on the world was not her death, but her life.

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David Marcus is a columnist living in New York City and the author of “Charade: The Covid Lies That Crushed A Nation.” 

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