Cultural Caviar

In the Wake of Whitney’s Wake

February 25, 2012

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In the Wake of Whitney’s Wake

Admittedly it is déclassé to kick someone when they’re down and even more so when they’re dead. Yet with recent hagiographies of Whitney Houston by well-intended but totally immoderate friends and family, it appears the time has come.

We highly esteemed Miss Houston’s talent. Her voice used to be singularly moving, even if she squandered it over the years. The quandary comes when (for all intents) such one-dimensional personages leave the stage. What should be a dignified (and mercy’s sake, private) affair is often marred by the most outrageous profligacy of public eulogizing. Thus it is for those well-wishers, present tense and future, to which this entry and its counsel is sincerely dedicated.

When your relative dies doped-up on a hospital gurney at home or slides into the hotel bathtub with a champagne glass, do not—we repeat, do not—immediately run to the public at large shouting, “We don’t know it was the drugs!” Yes, we do. You may not, but we all do. It absolutely was the drugs. Even if it wasn’t the drugs this particular time, it was definitely the drugs in aggregate.

Don’t make with the doe eyes and faux-physician routine pretending someone can do hard drugs for years (or decades), abruptly quit, and everything is suddenly as it once was. Only a fool thinks doing hard drugs day in and day out, hours at a time, for months on end doesn’t play havoc with your innards.

“Whitney had a fabulous voice. It doesn’t mean she was anything more than a great singer.”

Fans, Americans especially, are a remarkably forgiving species. No one will rub your nose in what has apparently occurred. If you don’t mention it, chances are no one else will, either. Does anyone ever talk about Eddie Murphy picking up a transvestite or Hugh Grant picking up what looked like one? These stars neither defended nor denied their acts, so we all go see Eddie’s next Nutty Professor installment. But the minute you insist the obvious wasn’t the culprit, people begin throwing things at the television set. And writing articles.

Do not tell us the newly deceased celebrity was on the verge of a stellar comeback. If they were, they wouldn’t be lying in the morgue due to advanced pin-cushionage. Yes, Michael had a concert series planned. “Planned” does not a comeback make. We’ll give him a “came close,” but that’s as good as he gets.

As for Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse, the nearest these addiction specialists were to comebacks was Season II of Hell to the No (otherwise known as Whitney Is a Raging Cokehead, though sometimes referenced as Being Bobby Brown) and…well, it says quite a bit when Amy was so busy making track marks she couldn’t pull herself together enough to run a down-and-out-of-control reality-TV train wreck off its rails.

To hear amateur Rhodes Scholars tell it, Whitney Houston integrated primetime. Odd, in that we recall the most pointed barbs during her life were for singing “too white.” (One wonders if being physically abused, becoming addicted to crack, and being a single mother makes her sufficiently “black.”)

Michael was supposedly one of MTV’s first mainstay nonwhite acts. So what? It may come as quite a shock to people under thirty, but there were actual real-life black people on television long before anyone thought of MTV. Nielsen ratings in those days were the kind television executives today would don a Klan robe to see light up the sweeps-week returns.


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