When Vancouver police announced that Glee star Cory Monteith, 31, was found dead, they offered condolences to Monteith's friends and family, as well as to his "millions of fans." Those millions of young grieving fans may be experiencing an emotion they've never known before. Accordingly, they're expressing it in one of the surest means available today: through GIFs.
If you take a look on social media platforms like Twitter and sites like Tumblr, you'll see posts such as the one below, which subs in the show's scripted romance between Monteith's Finn and Lea Michele's Rachel for Monteith's and Michele's real-life romance.
Even though it was for Glee, at least Cory Monteith saw Lea Michele in a wedding gown before he left. pic.twitter.com/jAE0bEsDrd— livvy (@teensvogue) July 15, 2013
On Tumblr, there have sprouted plenty of GIFs of specific scenes of Michele crying tagged with her name:
It's a slightly macabre way to remember Monteith, but it's also understandable. Michele was one of the most high-profile figure in Monteith's life (after all, they were dating at the time of his death). And while many of Monteith's colleagues and coworkers have released statements, Michele's response is the one people are waiting for. So far, she hasn't publicly spoken about Monteith's death — nor, to be fair, is she obligated to. "We ask that everyone kindly respect Lea's privacy during this devastating time," her rep told Us Weekly.
That having been said, GIFs of Michele crying have become a way to imagine what hasn't been said and see what hasn't been seen. Moreover, these GIFed reactions are indicative of how young people express their grief today: by personalizing the Internet experience. Glee, after all, has been one of those shows that commands a young, deeply invested and highly emotional fan base. "Usually they'd [the fans] cry: at performances of songs they loved, break-ups, kisses – everything. They poured their emotions into the show and out on to the internet," Sarah Bee, who used to man the show's Twitter account in the UK, writes for The Guardian.
At the heart of it, Glee's (young) fanbase is mourning a man they might not know personally in one of the few means available to them. Just look at the pages dedicated to the #finchel (the social media tag for Finn and Rachel's romance) tag on Tumblr, which began long before Monteith died.
The loss of an apparently sweet and unassuming man who appreciated their love for his work will have a profound impact. They will feel anguish for his castmates, not least his onscreen and real-life girlfriend, Lea Michele. They will lose his character, Finn, too.
In some ways, Monteith's death reminds of that of another young heartthrob: River Phoenix. But back in 1993, there was no Twitter or Tumblr for fans to express themselves. Sure, a GIF may seem trite. But in this case, at least, it is the expression of real grief.