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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Fame and the cult of celebrity worship can be treacherous things


Note: The following piece is not an attempt at journalism, but rather it is a social commentary from my heart.

This topic is something I've been mulling over and pondering for a while now, and in light of the tragic death of Whitney Houston being reported on, speculated on, and bantered about by innumerable media outlets, talkshow heavyweights and political reporters speculating on everything from cause of death to how Ms. Houston lived her life, raised her child or had gotten on or fallen off the proverbial wagon with regards to  what her friend and mentor Clive Davis calls her "searing battles" with substance abuse, it all seems rather minuscule when put alongside the broader-reaching question of what brings such a seeming astronomically successful human being to the depths of despair and depression after being so widely thought by both her friends and colleagues to be a kindhearted, hard-working, faithful and driven person. I have my theories.

By all accounts, (and I speak from a generally publicized notion of who she was), Whitney Houston was a singer nearly all of her life who grew up singing classical gospel songs and her local Baptist church in Newark, New Jersey. She had a gift. One of grace, most would say and for those of us who heard her, it was a gift of great melodic power (as many of us heard in her 1991 rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner at that year's Super Bowl). She she was signed to a record label in her late teens and groomed for superstardom. She sang the most beautifully crafted songs, wore the most regal gowns to gala events, and she seemed to speak with a poise and grace that truly seemed the mark of a humble human being who was always grateful and thankful to her loved ones and her creator at every turn. She had hit after hit, number one after number one. The world tours came and as a byproduct, international stardom was only inevitable.

Whitney would go on to success after success in music, films and the like and she would be marketed as a pristine, angelic, beautiful songbird--the best of our time many would say. She would get married to fellow R&B singer Bobby Brown and the couple would welcome their daughter Bobbi Kristina into the world. But somewhere along the way, the couple, once so happy, would be reported as having had domestic disputes where drugs and alcohol were suspect as somehow involved. The press would quickly gravitate toward the scandal of it all of how this same pristine angel of a person could have fallen so far from the grace and honor of her multiplatinum, award-winning triumphs. Critics would say, "How could this be?" "We never saw this coming." "How?"

Whitney Houston would make a comeback in in the late 90s after divorcing Bobby Brown. She looked strong by many accounts and would top the charts once again. Still, somehow, some way, scandal continued to follow her. Whether being caught with marijuana at an airport or reports of cocaine or pills being found, the specter of tragedy waiting to happen was always there haunting and taunting her. Until just last year, we heard that she had checked herself back into a drug rehab facility. I, like I'm sure many others, had hoped that she would recover and make a return to her former glory. But it was just not to be the case as our last image of Ms. Houston was the terrifying thought of the beloved star unconscious in a bathtub after telling her bodyguard that she was tired.

I make this point to speculate as to what might have made Whitney Houston so tired, so depressed and so weathered. She had money. She had fame. She had both the ability and the people around her to obtain whatever she wanted: houses, cars, clothing, housekeepers, accountants, attorneys, doctors. She almost literally had the world at her beckoning. But she was still tired. Why?

You might often think, as have I, that when celebrities complain of being depressed, being lonely, when their relationships fail or when they resort to drugs or alcohol to fill their time, that these people are messed up, spoiled, and ungrateful for everything they've been given, for with their fame has afforded them. But I see another side.

An Imagining of a Life of Fame

Picture a life in which you're known by nearly everyone on the planet. You walk outside to just walk your dog and you're suddenly mobbed by fans asking for autographs. You meet a stranger in an elevator who screams with uncontrollable glee at the very sight of you and proceeds to stalk you for the next month. So you move to a  secret, undisclosed location--one camouflaged by trees and secret roads. You can only grocery shop in the middle of the night when no one is around and even then you must be sure to disguise yourself.

When you're not being mobbed and life is good, you're in the studio making an album and all the while you read in the press that everyone is expecting this next album to be a smash because you are "The Voice," the best singer a generation has known. But it's been years and you're tired and being tired you take a sleeping pill or two to calm yourself from all the pressure. But soon the pills wear off and you need something stronger, so you find another pill and it works for a while until it doesn't and you need more just to get the same effect as before. This cycle continues for years. You can stand it anymore! You just want to live a semi-normal life, but a normal life is impossible, because you, my friend are famous the world over with everyone expecting greatness from you, kindness from you, and autograph, a picture. It becomes difficult to even find solitude in a bathroom stall without someone wanting to talk to you or sign a piece of paper.

Another two years later you finally get off of your tour and all your want to do is rest, but the studio is calling. You're behind schedule on your four album deal with your record label. They need another album, interview, photoshoot, etc. You do all of that and you're still tired all the time so you take one more dose of pills and this time a drink or two or three to relax but you forgot that you can't drink with those pills in your system and you the combination stops your heart. You've now become a statistical example of another celebrity dead before the age of 50 due to a tragic drug and alcohol-related demise.

So the next time you wish to be famous, think on these things and get back to me. Maybe it's time our culture of celebrity idol worship comes to an end.

Until next time... roll on!

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