Cultural Caviar

In the Wake of Whitney’s Wake

February 25, 2012

Nat King Cole had his own program preceding MTV’s existence by more than twenty years. Soul Train is the second-longest-running syndicated program in history; America’s Black Forum is the third. It’s safe to say there were a few black folk on television prior to Michael’s backward strut. Robbing those others of their achievements doesn’t transform someone into MLK post-mortem.

Do not tell us how you care about the children/the family/the significant other, then proceed toward immediately pimping out images of the deceased and filing massive lawsuits on their behalf. It is clear all you care about is the money. Fair enough. Money is important. But sanctimonious testimonials as to how you are the only selfless thing standing between a cruel, cruel world trying to pilfer royalties of the special Limited-Edition Chia Michael Jackson and the poor innocent dears already richer than Midas are enough to make anyone retch before reaching across the red carpet to slap some sense into your fool head.

Speaking of which, cheers to a little personal responsibility in the matter. Michael’s problems didn’t begin with Conrad Murray. Amy’s ex-husband might have gotten her hooked, but it’s pretty clear she enjoyed staying there. And as to Whitney, the aforementioned villain Bobby Brown was actually performing in concert on the night she was sliding beneath the suds.

And please curb the excessive praise. In the week since Whitney’s passing her supposed friends told us she was the greatest singer of her generation (agreed); she was the greatest singer of the century (doubtful); and she was the greatest singer who ever lived (suggesting her advocates smoke as much crack as Whit ever did). Even at her four-hour (YES, it was actually FOUR HOURS) funeral actor Kevin Costner eulogized that once she arrived in the Great Beyond the Lord Almighty Himself would be doubtful even He could create such a magnificent creature. (There are many inappropriate places for blasphemy, but delivering it at someone’s funeral tops the list.) 

Finally, and this cannot be stressed enough, do not confuse great ability with being a great person. Listening to such conflation during recent celebrity deaths has been sickening. We’re first to admit one or two of Michael’s songs still have us tapping our toes. He was also guilty of some highly questionable behavior. Amy led a tragic life, but tragedy is only one ingredient of martyrdom. Whitney had a fabulous voice. It doesn’t mean she was anything more than a great singer. Even Mahatma Gandhi wasn’t as great as he’s cracked up to be.

Amid the multitude of interviews following her demise was a conversation with the principal of Whitney E. Houston Academy. It used to be that public buildings were never named after living people, mainly because the honorees might turn out to be addicts or deviants, and no one wants their children attending Hophead Jr. High. They appear proud of it now.

So please, family members and friends of recently deceased celebrities, resist the temptation to fabricate a divine myth out of whole cloth. Too much of it lying around these days was threadbare from the start. Appreciate the genuine accomplishments, pass over the unseemliness, and simply recognize sometimes the old ways are best. Foremost among these is practicing discretion while in the wake of a wake.

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