Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Whitney Houston

Yesterday, on his audioblog, Charles, a local DJ on 94.1 WHJY, expressed concern over the mass hysteria surrounding the death of Whitney Houston. While I at first vehemently disagreed with his statements and his opinions, during the course of his argument he became extremely convincing.

His thesis: People never cared about Whitney Houston until she died.

Seems harsh, right? Well, his reasoning is somewhat sound. Whitney Houston was one of the golden divas of the late 1980s and early 1990s; people bought her records en masse and celebrated her amazing performances and strong resonant voice, insinuating she would rise to the acclaim of all the great divas before her--Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin--and would achieve long-lived fandom when most others fizzled out rather quickly. Her career seemed pristine and enviable, until her life began spiraling out of control because of her marriage to Bobby Brown and the controversy that surrounded the two of them and their cavalier drug use and abuse. Then came the realizations that there was physical abuse in their relationship; there were questions as to whether their daughter would be taken away, and whether her career could be resurrected.

She was vilified in the media, pilloried for scorn and negative example.

She then seemed to fade away into static and oblivion.

Then came a reality show which she begrudgingly agreed to be on, which was followed by even more scrutiny and negativity. Her life spiraled further into tabloid fodder, her marriage fell apart and her appearances on television or other programming were heralded with anything but positivity.

Insert a few years of obscurity and mediocrity and you arrive at the present, wherein she is being celebrated as one of the greatest voices of her generation, as a true diva, and as the definition of beauty, talent and role model.

As Charles pointed out, something doesn't add up here; people are more concerned about her postmortem than they were even 10 years ago. Her divorce wouldn't have made front page news, a comeback tour would have been shuddered quickly, and anything other than the aforementioned would have been ignored almost entirely.

Are we, as a culture, so quick to grasp onto only the good in a person, or are we too quick to judge and condemn someone for even the smallest of failings. Are we too critical, analytical and quick to judge? Or are we genuinely concerned and saddened by her passing.

As Charles put it, "I can't be saddened by the death of someone I never met and know little about." While I agree, I don't entirely. I do feel some empathy, especially for her family and friends, and perhaps for the music community, knowing they lost someone so impacting.

I think the true test will lie in whether she is as greatly remembered in two months or even a year from now as she is today.

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