By now I am sure everyone has heard that Whitney Houston has died. As of this writing the circumstances of her death remain a mystery. Unfortunately for Whitney, and in a way all of us, the circumstances of her life are not.
I was in high school when Whitney first became known to the world at large. Her particular style wasn’t my thing but even as a kid I had to appreciate that she had an amazing talent. She could hit, and sustain, notes that few other performers could hope to. She dazzled us all with her beauty and her voice and for a while all eyes were on her. Despite her faux pas at Live Aid (had “I’m bigger than the Beatles” not been uttered in England of all places I’m sure it would be a much less maligned) for a time she was the biggest act in the world.
Not many people, outside heads of state, can appreciate the pressure that puts you under. All that adoration transforms you from a person to an object, one that must please at all times at all costs. We ask quite a bit of our celebrities and we ask the world of our biggest stars.
I’m not going to suggest these people have it horrible. They are catered to quite a bit and get a free ride fairly often by people who just want to live in their orbit, even if just one night. We also give them a free pass when they make a bad choice, so of course, like any one else would, they keep on making those choices.
Sometimes those choices lead to a pattern and sometimes that pattern becomes a disease. Whitney, Amy Winehouse, Lindsey Lohan and so many others that we have forced our expectations onto have suffered from this. The humane reaction would be to hope they get the help they need, from their loved ones and medical professionals, but of course, they aren’t human to us, they are objects of worship and treating them humanely is out of the question.
Because as much as we demand they let us love them, once they’ve continued to disappoint us the only thing we want more than their good old days is to revel in their downward spiral. “You will, by god, entertain me one way or the other” passes the lips of our collective psyche when celebrities falter. We are all stalkers in one way or another and our emotional abuse just makes it harder for them to recover.
Whenever we lose a beloved public figure like this, in the shadow of so much pain, we tell ourselves that “we will remember her at her best.” I’m not sure I want to do that though. I don’t know that we have the moral right to. Yes Whitney did those drugs herself, but we had a hand in it, and we took our sick twisted pleasure at her fall. I think we have a moral obligation to look at her at her worst, and accept our culpability in it. I will take the silver lining with a dark cloud inside it, because maybe it will encourage us to behave a little better the next time one of our icons stumbles.