Sunday, February 12, 2012

Why Whitney Matters

If you haven't yet heard about the passing of Whitney Houston, I'm guessing you live under a rock. In any case, if you haven't heard, you must not have internet access and, so, you're not reading this.

In the 24-or-so hours since this somewhat shocking news broke, I've seen two camps emerge online: there are those who have been posting links to Whitney Houston videos, photos and articles...and then there are those who take pleasure in making jokes about this sad news and/or saying things such as, "A lot of people died, and she was just some addict that none of us really knew...what's the big deal?" That's actually a reasonable question, in some ways. I didn't know Whitney Houston. Never met her. I don't even own any of her albums. (I'm old enough to have to admit that I may have had a few cassingles, back in the day.) And, truth be told, I'm not a huge fan of addicts, in general. I've been related to enough of them, seen enough people I cared about turn into assholes via addiction, and been exposed to the worst aspects of addiction via many years of working in the not-for-profit sector that I'd be more than happy to never spend ten minutes with a drug addict or alcoholic, again.

That said, the death of Whitney Houston leaves me with great sadness and, if I had to identify with one of the two camps, I'd go for the former. I'm not on a posting spree of Whitney videos, but I actually do care that this happened, even though I never met Whitney Houston. 

First off, the argument that we didn't know her is a silly one. We live in a time and place where the celebrity phenomenon creates some pretty damned convincing illusions. One of these is the illusion that the very famous are practically friends of ours, almost family. Like it or not, we're happy when our favorite actor gets an award. We cheer on our favorite athletes. We anticipate the birth of our favorite celebrity's baby, and wonder what name the baby will be given. And we grieve when an actor, writer, singer, or other celebrity we've come to care for passes away. It's a part of how the world works, these days. To deny it is just silly.

Second, and more importantly, Whitney Houston's death speaks to a whole lot more than some woman I never met coming to a premature end. It speaks volumes about women's roles in the modern world, and how far we have yet to go. In this way, her sad end is very much like the sad end that Princess Diana suffered, and here's why:

Whitney Houston was talented. 
Whitney Houston was beautiful.
Whitney Houston was rich.
Whitney Houston came from a close-knit family.
Whitney Houston was well loved on a global scale.

All this, and yet, she still did two things that we often associate with low self-esteem: she entered into and stayed in an abusive marriage for many years, and she became addicted to drugs.  And this is what is so heartbreaking to a lot of us, especially women: that someone so gorgeous and talented and loved....someone who seemingly had everything going for her didn't - couldn't - love herself enough to make choices that were in her own best interest. We loved her from afar, and it's inconceivable to us that she couldn't love herself more. 

We didn't know her, personally, but we watched her go from being a gorgeous, talented teenager, to a mere shell of her former self, whose gift - her amazing voice - was destroyed along the way.  That, in itself, was sad enough. To find out that her life, itself, is over, is truly heartbreaking...especially when one considers the efforts she finally did make to clean herself up and try to build her career, again. If you're anything like me, you were rooting for her to make a comeback. 

And, so, yes - Whitney does matter, and some of us do, indeed, care. If this is the way it can end for someone who seemingly had the world in the palm of her hand, what does that say about the chances an ordinary girl or woman has in this world? Or an ugly girl? Or a girl with no talent? Why is it so damned difficult for girls and women to love themselves, and demand the best for themselves?  

If it drives you nuts that some of her fans are going a little hog wild about posting her videos on Facebook, keep in mind that they're probably trying their damnedest to remember her as she was, when she was at her best.  Not just her most beautiful (but, yes, surely that) - but when her voice was so amazing, when she was great to watch, when we looked forward to her next song. Who of us wouldn't want that for ourselves, after we're gone?  Before she was a hot mess, she was a woman and a singer.  Is it so wrong to want to remember that?


Heidi said...

That's a really nice post, Lana. Well said. I consider myself to be of the latter, "I got really sick of watching her decline" camp. But I think you make a great argument.

I think so often of that interview she did (out of her mind) when Bobby Chris was about ten. I think everyone was horrified. Since then, I have mainly been concerned for Bobby Chris, since we learn our self-esteem lessons from our mothers. I hope she is learning from many other strong women around her now, instead.

Snapper said...

Have you seen this, Heidi?