WARNING: This one’s going to be considerably serious by my standards. If you’re looking forward to my signature brand of humorously hyperbolic militancy against all things stupid and/or irritating in the world...well, better luck next time, because this ain’t the one where you’ll be doing a whole lot of laughing...at least I hope not. Sickos.
So earlier in the month (February 11th, to be exact), it was widely declared news that the iconic female singer Whitney Houston was found submerged in her bathtub at a suite in the Beverly Hilton Hotel, dead at the premature age of forty-eight. If you haven’t heard that news by now, you most likely live underneath some kind of naturally formed composition of mineral fragments. If you find yourself frequently (if not, constantly) logged into Facebook like myself, you might have also stumbled upon the above picture at some point or another. It has Houston on one side, and several emaciated and impoverished children presumably from an African country on the other, with a caption reading “1 Person Dies and 100 Million Cry, 1 Million Die and No One Cries. The Society We Live In Is Really Messed Up--.” If your memory is keen and alert, you may remember seeing a variation on this same type of idea back when Apple founder Steve Jobs passed away.
Now this could just be my overly cynical imagination getting the best of me, but doesn’t this picture strike the exact wrong note? Rather than being powerful and affecting, it just comes across as disrespectful and irreverent? I know that the tone is in the eye of the beholder; not everyone’s personal understanding will yield the same results. If you view this as some kind of a useful tool in supporting an important cause, I understand. Frankly, this picture would not bother me NEARLY as much if it weren’t for the people who were circulating it. But as I see it floating around on the net, I see it posted not by active humanitarians who are hoping to spread awareness of the gut-wrenching enormities that are happening in Third World countries around the globe, but by the same sort of people who were proudly displaying pictures ruthlessly mocking Whitney Houston’s drug habits or tastelessly posting statuses saying that Justin Bieber should be the next person to bite the dust in some horrible way. Geez, I thought I went over that already (back when I was much more considerate and compassionate).
The key words that piqued my suspicion and ultimately coerced me into writing about this issue was the line “The Society We Live In Is Really Messed Up--.” Something about the vernacular in that statement crawls under my skin like a malignant little scarab beetle. The word choice suggests an overly casual attitude in regard to a very serious topic, the lack of explanation implies a lack of knowledge for the person's argument, and the brevity of it gives off an unpleasant air of smugness and insincerity. To me, the captions don’t say “there are ‘messed up’ things going on in other countries” as much as they say “anybody who was affected by Whitney Houston’s death is ‘messed up’ in the head.” Once again, just my thoughts. Feel free to disagree.
I’m gonna deliver the truth here, and it may not exactly be flattering or enjoyable to hear. Many people have a strange and usually distorted view of celebrities and big names, particularly American celebrities and big names. We essentially view them as super-powerful entities who have been placed on earth to mingle with the mere mortals that are us normal people. Everybody adores them, everybody feels like they know them through their movies and music, and their lives play out like picturesque fantasies as far as we know. They can seemingly handle terminal illnesses, drug addictions, alcoholism, financial endeavors, sexual promiscuity and the general public scrutinizing their every move a lot better than any other walk of life. They have become imbued into the popular culture that we cannot imagine the world without them. By the time that we actually do witness the death of one, it is a tragedy. The allusion is broken, and we now see that the untouchable person we held up on such a high pedestal was in fact HUMAN.
Meanwhile, the same people who mourn the demise of a celebrity remain mostly ignorant of the genocides, famines, droughts, financial crises and myriad other appalling inflictions that occur in under-developed nations each and every day, not to mention the fact that a good many of those countries are controlled by corrupt authoritarian regimes. Because children are exterminated at a young age or die of starvation early on, they were never given an opportunity to leave their influential footprints on the world, often dying without anybody in particular lamenting their lost life. Let me make this clear that I believe that we, as citizens of this world, should better familiarize and educate ourselves with world issues like this, and do our best to help prevent this kind of miserable death in any way possible whether through monetary donations, mission trips, or the like. But I do not support depreciating the death of someone else in order to say something. That’s like the Eric Cartman way of bringing a point across. Or rather, it’s like something PETA might do. They could be supporting a viable cause, but it will mean nothing if their plan to raise awareness is ugly, repellent and controversial for the sake of being controversial.
As I said before, the picture can be viewed in two (or maybe more) lights: one that DOES in fact stress the plight of the much less fortunate nations, and one that simply acts as a cheap shot towards Houston’s timely demise. And far be it from me to assume what the creator was thinking, but it makes me wonder how the negative implications couldn’t have possibly crossed his mind. I’m not disputing what he’s saying, but I do object to his execution.
In writing this particular piece, I happened to do a little research (ooh, shocking!) to see if any bloggers or writers online had anything to say about the picture, or pictures of a similar variety. And en route, I accessed an article posted on a website called Global Changemakers in October 2011, around the time when Steve Jobs’ life came to an end. I urge people to read this thoughtful excerpt, which actually shares the banner phrase of the photo I have been ranting about this whole time.
But instead of coming across as potentially malicious or mean-spirited toward Jobs’ death, the Sri Lankan writer Sulakshana Senanayake respectfully acknowledges the significant contributions that the Apple chairman gave to the world, even going as far as to call him the Albert Einstein of the 21st century. It’s easy to tell that the writer had a tremendous amount of respect for this influential innovator. Only after his reverent tribute to the man’s legacy does the article switch focus to the other pressing issues in Third World countries, providing statistics and estimates. And lookee there, the article even suggests that readers take action by donating to smaller community-based programs so that food can be supplied. This is precisely the way that I prefer touchy issues be addressed.
So why shouldn’t Whitney Houston also be given the proper respect after her death? She was a highly talented and successful music artist, and from my point-of-view, making music (and really, art of any variety) is a humanitarian work. Sure, it might not be as direct or as life-saving a method as plunging into other territories to build shelters and supply nourishment, but it does have the ability to bring happiness into people’s lives. It can inspire people, influence their emotions, give them ideas and can hold a special place in their heart forever. I wasn’t born in time to experience the highest peak of Houston’s singing career, but I know for a lot of people, her name was synonymous with the 1980s. She emerged with one of the greatest singing voices of all time, broke the color barrier, crossed over into the mainstream, and inspired the career of many other singing artists after her. So let’s stop with all this nonsense and just appreciate the significant impact she had on the music industry.