Saturday, July 23, 2011

Addiction strikes again: RIP, Amy Winehouse

Today, the world received the sad news that singer Amy Winehouse passed away at the tender age of 27.

This event is shocking in the way any death is - it is sudden and one doesn't associate death with the young. Note that the cause of Winehouse's death is as of yet unknown though it is suspected to be alcohol or drug related related as Amy struggled with addiction in life.

I've already heard people using simple labels and blanket terms to describe this passing, as people often react to tragedy in the most simplistic terms when in fact, there is nothing "easy" about addiction. People label Winehouse a "junkie" or say she has joined 'the 27 Club', referencing her place in an increasing group of rock stars that passed at the same age, as if this is an expectation or normal rite of passage.

Amy's death is a sad reminder of the brevity of life, the consequences that can result from not getting help, and offers further proof as to how devastating addiction can truly be.

Winehouse sprung up as a sort of anti-hero (not unlike Kurt Cobain), a person who challenged convention and rebelled against the system, writing and belting out a song about her refusal to go to rehab - for which she was rewarded when the song became a #1 hit and international smash, making her a household name. The only time one heard Winehouse referenced in the media was for her antics regarding drugs and alcohol and its resulting behavior, such as one of her final performances during which she seemed unable to remember song lyrics on stage.

Celebrities with addiction are not an uncommon phenomenon, most of the public is quick to point out who has a problem and lambast them. Shows like 'Celebrity Rehab' turn their stars into profit pawns instead of giving them the tools to overcome addiction, hence their continued relapses, overdoses, and deaths, while 'celebrity doctors' continue to turn a profit with blood money, supplying celebrities with drugs they don't need and enabling addicts. The public does not allow celebrities to make mistakes, be imperfect, or have real problems - and is quick to judge and ridicule those who need help while supporting media that preys off of their illness and misery. How could a star like Amy Winehouse turn a new leaf when her public image as an addict was given so much attention? Did the media ever highlight other aspects of her character and did the public focus on her talent, or just her mounting problems as a topic of discussion around the water cooler? Would a sober Winehouse have ever been successful or supported? Did people come to see her shows to listen to her amazing voice or to see if they could catch one of her famous onstage mishaps? There are even websites online taking bets on who the next celebrity will be to make it into an early grave. The public has made a game of the misery of public figures, as a scapegoat from the realities of their own lives and as an outlet for their own dark desires to see others fail, namely those with some measure of financial success or fame.

There is more than enough blame to pass around for the loss of Winehouse and a celebrity-obsessed society that makes light of celebrity problems and revels in seeing big names fall. Yes, the media needs to be more accountable, as do these 'doctors', but the public also has a level of responsibility to fulfill here. The media circus is fueled by the public's cravings to see all and know all, yet they clearly don't understand all. What they see is a small snippet of a person, not a complete picture, and I'm sure there was plenty more in Amy Winehouse worth celebrating than what she snorted up her nose. I choose to remember Winehouse as a talented singer and young person who deserved better, both for herself and from the public and media so quick to profit from her troubles. People must be willing to take a look in the mirror prior to throwing stones at those they have never met when they dwell in their own glass houses. They should expect more from themselves, raise their standards of media expectations, and encourage a media to flourish that celebrates human achievement, not destruction.


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