Friday, February 17, 2012

The Misfortune of Great Beauty and Talent

Whitney Houston had a couple of tremendous disadvantages to deal with in her too-short life. The first: her astonishing gift of a voice and the second, her stunning beauty.

No one can be expected to bear that double burden and come out unscathed. That is, if one has allowed oneself to enter the world of big Celebrity.

The combination of her human failings and the American celebrity machine may be responsible for her untimely demise. Our culture collectively craved her and sought her until the craving and seeking took her over - body and soul. Only the very strongest of people can handle the burden of unbridled fame that celebrities who reach the stature of Houston have to live with and she, well, she was clearly not made of that "sterner stuff" that might have allowed her to endure.

You might (or might not) now be thinking about Charles Dickens. Yeah, probably not.

But, oddly enough, I recently learned that Dickens is someone who bore some measure of the American hunger for celebrity. This, according to a fascinating account of his first visit to America in 1842, recounted in the online BBC news magazine.
"But little by little, the enthusiasm of his American fans began to overwhelm him. When Dickens's boat made a stopover in Cleveland, he awoke to find a "party of gentlemen" staring through the cabin window as his wife lay in bed. 'If I turn into the street, I am followed by a multitude,' Dickens complained in a letter. 'I can't drink a glass of water, without having 100 people looking down my throat when I open my mouth to swallow.'
The article goes on to relay Dickens' complaints about those who tried to wring money out of his fame, such as the barber attempting to sell locks of his hair. How fascinatingly timely to examine the impact of this craving for people that our culture subsists upon. America the consumer: fast food for our bodies and fast consumption of stars for entertainment.

On a personal level, I feel terrible about what happened to Whitney Houston. I remember her from the 80s. I was young then too and envied and adored her -- like everyone else did -- for her apparent poise, grace, stature, and abundant talent. No other singer of the time could do for me what she could do. Hell with Celine Dion or Mariah Carey. They were nothing to Whitney. Her beautiful clear skinned forehead; her enormous mouth that opened to show massive rows of teeth while belting out incredible notes with that most elegant turn of her neck. She was like art in motion.

No one who could have compared the two of us then would have found my life the preferable one: nondescript, short, and unknown, I was an individual while she was an icon. And trust me, no one was sitting around craving me and my soul. But, in truth, there is no doubt that both then and now I walked the better path. From mine, the path of simple stability, I watched her take over the world and then I watched as she little by little lost everything. Actually, that is not entirely true. I stopped watching -- stopped paying attention around the time she married Bobby Brown and appeared in public looking and acting disjointed and out of touch -- using substances and craving public acceptance.

And there, right there, is the cost of fame, isn't it? Like living perpetually on that pivot point of a bad relationship -- just past the moment of heady glory where you are craved and desired, and instead in the stage of becoming a nuisance or an obligation needing to prove yourself and seek acceptance or what you loosely think is "love." Where everything you do is either ignored or misunderstood by the one(s) you think are important. The tables turned and instead of the public needing Whitney, she became the obligation, the career that was always one step behind where she wanted to be.

What can we, as a society, collectively do to prevent this cycle from continuing to churn up and spit out other young beautiful and talented souls? We must resist the craving for their bodies and their lives. I wish with all my heart that the media and individuals together could begin a transition away form the shallow consumer culture of entertainment. Yes, the media must stop feeding on it. But first the public has to stop caring! We must quit watching E Television. Quit buying People Magazine. Quit wondering who they are sleeping with or what they are wearing, eating or endorsing. Enjoy the talent but leave the people alone.

Many years ago, I transitioned from typical American girl to someone who couldn't care less about pop culture. And I am the better for it. Society is one step better for it too. I now thrive on a diet of excellent quality entertainment brought to me by performers of all sorts whose personal lives are entirely unimportant to me. This may seem shocking, but I now consider my favorite entertainers' private lives to be entirely their own business. And yes, that really DOES extend even to Richard Armitage.

I don't want to know them, be their friend, enter their private space or take their souls. I don't want to feed their addictions any more than I want them to feed mine. I simply pray for them that they never get famous enough to learn what Whitney Houston's life must have been like.

Let it begin today and let it begin with me.

1 comment:

  1. How very true!! They will continue to take pictures, invade privacy as long as there's a buyer. Let's just watch tv or listen to the music and pay our tributes to actors/performers by buying the dvd or cd etc.
    I just unfollowed People magazine on twitter in your honour ;)