Amy Jade Winehouse, dead at 27 years old. Nobody expected it, yet everyone saw the soulful singer’s demise coming. Her struggles were no secret — the tabloids made sure of that — documenting every misstep and creating headlines too good to for us to ignore on the newsstands Amy was a laughingstock; I remember when she was the butt of jokes on my favorite entertainment news programs. Yet, if her interviews can be any indication, Amy embraced her problems and became successful — she won 5 Grammys — from a song that firmly asserted her denial to save herself. Then, why is her death so sad? Is it a tinge of guilt that plagues us?
Amy careened down a path that could lead to no good end and yet we all watched with rapt attention. She was a train wreck and, as the saying goes, everyone loves those. Lady Gaga (who’s never met Amy, mind you) recently claimed on The View that it was not Amy that needed to change, but rather the world that needed to be kinder to Amy.
Of course, my initial reactions to Gaga’s sentiments were, “there you go, another person trying to capitalize on the death of Amy.” But the longer I thought, I wondered, do we all just need to be a little nicer to our celebrities? I know that I, along with others, laugh along every week to shows like The Soup and Fashion Police, where the hosts are far from kind to failing celebrities. The internet is no better, with sites like PerezHilton.com, TMZ.com and even the entertainment section of news sites that dissect the every move of celebrities. Still, we follow them.
We love to pick people apart. The jokes start innocuously enough, but soon devolve into something sinister. Remember when “Rehab” first became big? Halloween was filled with Amy look-a-likes, and no outfit was complete without the beehive hair, the ridiculously flared cat-eye and a bottle of vodka, of course.
That imitation rapidly turned into mockery in the years before Amy’s death — she was criticized and even booed when she was convinced to tour again (prematurely) and performed miserably. When Michael Jackson was alive, he too was picked apart mercilessly and there was no focus on the many acts of philanthropy he did in his lifetime.
This is the age where lives are entertainment.The age of reality television. Outrageous behavior is not chastised, it is glorified. We “fist-pump” along to the drunken antics of Snooki and the gang on Jersey Shore. Sure, they show signs of being serious alcoholics, but hey, they are young and having fun! We laugh at the attempts of those like Heidi Montag who, at 24 years old, has had as much surgery as any of the women on The Real Housewives franchise. Does anyone even remember the precocious little redhead with so much potential that Lindsay Lohan used to be? It is hard to with all of her courthouse woes and volatile relationships.
However, we make badly behaving celebrities continually relevant. Charlie Sheen acted poorly and unapologetically and we rewarded him for his behavior. TV stations and internet outlets fixated on Charlie and his escapades with his bleach blonde “goddesses,” while the world found creative ways to use his catchphrase, “Winning!” We emboldened him, strengthened his resolve by subscribing to his Twitter rants and encouraging him.
Whether we admit it or not, it is oddly satisfying to watch celebrities fail. They are not our role models, they are our toys. We cheer when they have a little too much fun on vacation and gain weight, when they wear terrible outfits, and when they mess up in public. They cry out desperately for our attention, and we give it to them. After all, they owe us — it is our money that supports the lavish lifestyles they lead. If they go to rehab but slip out of it, well, some people do not change. Handlers exacerbate the issue, pushing celebrities further into the public eye, because after all, they are a brand and a business. How is it possible for the world to see stars as anything more than entertainment when they are paraded and marketed as such, down to their very lives?
The routine is set: a celebrity spirals, we mock said celebrity, celebrity dies and we briefly grieve. Then immortalization comes, with all the faults glossed over. And the cycle repeats. With Amy Winehouse we have entered the immortalization phase, canonizing her by making her Back to Black album a chart-topper again and leaving bottles of vodka as a shrine near her home. This only aggravates the problem and trivializes her life. Another troubled girl lost to addiction. Lady Gaga, Amy needed to change.
The cycle has to stop. The best way to be “kinder” to these stars is to deny them the attention and demand they get help. If they seek it, reward the good, not the bad. Encourage change.
Siede Coleman is a 2011 College graduate from Allentown, Pa. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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