It was a little after 4.30pm in Los Angeles on Wednesday when Twitter went into overdrive after Variety and the Hollywood Reporter confirmed the death of James Gandolfini.
On holiday in Italy, the actor, who was just 51 years old, had apparently died suddenly from a suspected heart attack. The outpouring of shock, disbelief and despair that the world had lost this genius of a man was immense.
Gandolfini is best known for playing Tony Soprano, a capo of the New Jersey-based DiMeo crime family in the HBO drama, The Sopranos (from series two, he was the acting boss). First broadcast in January 1999, it won a multitude of awards, including five Golden Globes and 21 Emmys - three of the latter for Gandolfini. In its time, it was considered the most financially successful series in the history of cable television (and remains HBO’s highest rating series ever), and in 2013 the Writers Guild of America named it the best-written series in television history.
Its success (and ongoing success thanks to box sets) is in no small part down to Gandolfini’s performance, which is strong, warm, funny, frightening, tender – and he brings to the character a complexity that, despite the violent themes, makes him immensely likeable, especially to women. An unlikely sex symbol (overweight, overbearing, cruel), Tony’s struggle is trying to balance his life in the Mafia with a complicated family life and his bouts of depression. Visits to his psychiatrist, Dr Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) complicate his life still further, owing to the sexual tension between the pair (although the good doctor never openly shows or acts upon it). He is that lethal but attractive combination in a man – powerful and vulnerable.
At first, people thought the news of his death was a hoax; Twitter is renowned for some sick individuals announcing the sudden passing of celebrities. I recall on the day that Michael Jackson died, I was in the gym and a friend texted to say that he had just heard that Jeff Goldblum had been killed while filming. That, thankfully, turned out to be a hoax.
For the next couple of days after Gandolfini’s death, it was as if the whole world united on Twitter to send their condolences to Gandolfini’s family. People who had worked with him spoke about his kindness and warmth; all proclaimed his incredible talent.
It is at times like this that social networking operates most successfully, providing a platform for people to share their thoughts and emotions. While Twitter has its fair share of trolls, whose personal comments cause great distress, and while it is also a platform for rumour-mongering, it still provides a great social service.
With increasing numbers of people having to work away from home (I spend most of my time on the other side of the world, over 5000 miles away from most of my friends and family), social networking stems the feelings of loneliness and isolation that are often felt. More so than Twitter, Facebook shares photos, stories, TV and movie clips, book extracts – anything that people have enjoyed personally or professionally that they think others might, too.
Through Facebook, I have touched base with incredibly talented people the world over whose work I would never have known had it not been for this online contact. I rely on Twitter for most of my news, as it reaches the Twittersphere long before it reaches traditional broadcast and print routes. The problem with this is that it might not be entirely accurate but, for the most part, it is.
I keep up with famous court cases and have learned a great deal about the law as a result of comments and discussions on Twitter. I have been directed to TV shows that have never reached my radar. Twitter and Zeebox have also resurrected the pleasure of watching live TV, as Tweeters share comments while a show is actually on the air. The disadvantage if you have recorded the show is that social networkers have a habit of giving the game away, thereby ruining that night in front of your stored programmes you were so looking forward to.
But social networking has undoubtedly changed the way we look at the world and our communication with it. Just think, if it hadn’t been for social networking, you would not have just read this blog.
And that really would be tragic.