Sunday 24 July 2011

Amy Winehouse & The World's Problems

In my previous post about Amy Winehouse, Jenny left this comment:

"I've seen a million facebook statuses on her death today and maybe one on what's happened in Norway on the same day, none about what is currently happening to tens of thousands of people in Bangladesh, East Africa, Malawi, Libya, Syria... It really pisses me off that people accord so much importance to someone who was essentially a highly privileged drug-addict, who happened to have a fantastic voice and once a upon a time made good music. If you want to mourn the loss of talented people, there are plenty of talented people dying every day, all over the world who never had the chance to let their talents shine. Mourn them, and then do something about it!"

 Here is my response:

Ophelia. Thank you for bringing up Privilege. I think it's an important point.

I'll make the assumption that you have the privilege of sane mental health, and that you have the privilege of being free of addiction to substances. So when you speak about all these things you can't speak for all of humanity or indeed all of a blog readership, only for your perspective, from the privileges that you carry with you. It is from this place of privilege that we can label someone as "essentially a highly-privileged drug addict", as if that catch all label means anything at all. I don't think this is how she would see herself. Indeed, there is nothing highly-privileged about being dead.

Your assortment of nations mention, of course -- there are tragic things going on there just like in all of our neighbourhoods. But what can we focus on as individuals? What should we focus on when we're posting on a film blog? That people are mourning the loss of a soulful singer does not mean that they're not also caring about Norway, or donating part of their salary to the Red Cross. So it seems strange that you would need to share links to Amnesty or Unicef. 

Amy Winehouse was very charitable - having donated proceeds from her songs to HIV studies, donating thousands of pounds worth of clothes to charity stores, and posing for photographs for Breast Cancer Awareness. I think it's important to look at these things from a bigger perspective. Ophelia sees Amy Winehouse as 'a highly privileged drug-addict', which is disappointing because, after all, Winehouse is an artist and a person who was far, far more than that. 

There have been two clear divides in the sad story of her passing. One is "This is so sad, we love her!" and the other is "Um, hello? a hundred people died in Norway and there's more important things happening in Africa."

Amy Winehouse was an iconic figure. Her music reached people. And I would like to think that Ophelia, a talented actress herself, would know that art transcends barriers. People aren't mourning a random drug addict, they're mourning a woman who, when on form, could make a hundred thousand people in a soggy field dream bigger. Or she could donate all the proceeds from one of her singles to the fight against HIV. We need food and we need money, but we also need art. I remember meeting a Holocaust survivor in Poland who told me how huddling up and singing songs at night literally saved their lives. I'm not saying Amy Winehouse ever saved a life, but what I am saying is that -- she was just a girl, who sang some songs, who had some real problems. And if people want to mourn her, they should. She was a human being, she was an artist, and she was a part of people's lives. That matters. 

Care to share?


  1. Kid...

    Kudos for your heart-felt and intuitive response. I agree with you. Further, I have been taken aback this weekend with the general response that mourning the loss of one detracts from the loss of many. We are all capable of great empathy and have room in our hearts enough to feel for all others who suffer. Being of privelege is of no consequence to human suffering. Addiction, a very real affliction that no one would choose to suffer from, affects many
    beyond the addicted. It is a societal, a world epidemic. Stating that someone who is privileged chooses to suffer from addiction as they would choose to
    suffer from seasickness aboard one of their many yachts is to display an innate cluelessness about addiction and humanity.

    To all those who have voiced disdain over public mourning in regards to Amy Winehouses's death needs to look in the mirror and reflect on their degree of true empathy. The first thing that must be released, is judgment.

  2. For me it boils down to subjective priorities and perspective. Amy Winehouse's death will have affected a lot of people emotionally because she was in their hearts, her music was from her soul and people saw their own souls in her. It was on that level that people related to her.

    Trying to compare her death with the Norwegian tragedy is just plain stupid. The ONLY correlation I can see is that they were news items on the same day. Whilst people remain to be affected by the events in Norway or East Africa that emotional connection is not there. If a relative or loved one died yesterday anyone would expect them to unconsciously or otherwise prioritise their personal loss above Norway's or Somalia's.

    I wouldn't expect someone that had just put their dog down to set their feelings to one side because of the horrors in Norway.

    I think it's arrogant to tell people how to feel or that their emotional priorites are wrong. I find references to Amy Winehouse as 'just another drug addict' (privileged or otherwise) deeply ignorant. If drug addicts were treated with symapathy and understanding rather than vitriol and contempt we would be able to deal with the problem in the best way, rationally rather than emnotionally. For me depression goes hand in hand with drug addiction, Ophelia might be less critical of Amy if she thought she suffered from depression.

    It's good that Ophelia has a platform and the means to voice her opinions but that privilege comes with responsibilities, not being ignorant enough to describe somebody as 'essentially a highly privileged drug-addict, who happened to have a fantastic voice and once a upon a time made good music.' without appreciating that for millions more people she was a lot more is one of them.

    Amy Winehouse's death will become another sad entry in history, it will seem in many ways insignificant compared to other entries such as the tragedies listed by Ophelia, but for now it is remarkable and so it should be. Anyone that thinks they can tell me to care less about it can fuck off.

  3. Wow, anonymous, I have no idea who you are but thanks for sharing your views -- very powerful.

    Aurora, too, you are very wise!

  4. Honestly, I wouldn't mind much about people on the facebook being emotional about the untimely death of a pop star and not venting their potential frustration about world-wide wrongs.

    As for Norway, or your poor neighborhood, or any neo-colonial conflict out there, or the financial crisis, or DSK it would almost be obscene to try to word the horror and the shock on your FB status. Indeed either you go overboard or are exceedingly tame and appear as unfeeling...and this is socially bad for any facebooker out there.
    Thus, lamenting Amy's plea comes naturally since it doesn't demand from the mourner any kind of ethical or political assertiveness.

    What really puts me off somehow is that both the Norway shooting AND Amy made it to the front page of many newspapers simultaneously. As much as I like Amy and as much as I kept hoping for a "Back from Black" record I think that the news didn't deserve to be on the frontpage. It would have been far more interesting and respectful for Amy to have an informative and long article about her in the entertainment section even a week later.

  5. The original commenter, JENNY, left this response -- I have had to delete her original reply as she was getting some unwanted emails because of my posting her website here:

    "I'm sorry if I have stepped on anyone's toes, truly! What I was trying to say wasn't limited to Amy Winehouse's death rather to celebrity deaths in general. And kid, you are right, what I said about her was harsh and judgemental.

    Here is what got me; of all the friends on my facebook page the overwhelming majority commented on Amy's passing as they also do when other celebrities die. Only a tiny minority ever takes a stand or shares their grief or concern or frustration on anything else that is going on in the world. My earlier comment was born out of my frustration with this symptom of the society we seem to live in that one or any celebrity's death is accorded so much more importance that people pour out their hearts and souls on their social networks while remaining silent about pretty much everything else. That's where talking about privilege truly has it's place.

    My harsh comments about Amy's privilege v her drug addiction where therefore misplaced. I truly don't know what I was thinking!

    I do not fault anyone for mourning someone so talented and well-loved. I don't have a heart of stone. I too was shocked by her passing and I feel especially for her family and friends.

    What I don't understand is why we don't accord anywhere near the same importance to the death of everyday people when we take to our facebook and twitter etc. The timing and forum (a film blog) of my earlier comment was misplaced. Sometimes that's what frustration does with me and I apologise to anyone who I've offended.


  6. Firstly, I apologise for swearing in my last post.

    I also apologise to Jenny if I caused any offence. I have read a number of comments with views similar to hers on Twitter, I can take insensitivity, disrespect and arrogance but not at the same time. What happened to not speaking ill of the dead ? I'm not religious but that should surely be a respectful human convention.

    I wont bang on about AW's talent, vulnerability, premature death and troubles. I think we know the score there. Yes I am a fan and despite not being family or a friend (as Jenny qualified her sentiments) I mourn her death.

    The god given right to lecture people on how they dont care enough or correctly as eloquently described by Shruthi is a cause for concern for others and just seems pious to me.

    More tedious and annoying than anything is the condescending way in which people talk about 'smack heads', like they themselves are that much better. Marlo you clearly didn't get AW and no one is asking you to but the way you speak about the deaths of other human beings is callous. As convenient as it may be to dismiss every aspect of a person besides a drug addiction it is also lazy and I have to say wilfully ignorant. You dont like her music and you think any aspects of her personality as a talented artist and 27 year old woman are overshadowed by the fact she may have taken heroin, I think that says a lot more about you than her.

    And yes she was a soul singer and yes she touched millions of people with her humanity and talent, two things I doubt you're qualified to understand.

    I thank the host for allowing me to say my bit. I now return it in it's original state and wish you all the best in the future.


  7. Sorry I will just add that I am seeing in the papers the state of AW's parents and the pure grief they are currently experiencing. I'd like anyone who has the facile callousness to sit and write 'get a grip, she's a smackhead' to take the time to imagine how those that knew and loved AW would react to such a complex and well thought through understanding of the situation. Of course they would lynch you, not just because they're grieving but because they know what they're talking about and you dont.

  8. Definitely the last post; I refer anyone who would actually like to understand addiction and AW better to Russell Brand's tribute -

    'We need to review the way society treats addicts, not as criminals but as sick people in need of care. We need to look at the way our government funds rehabilitation. It is cheaper to rehabilitate an addict than to send them to prison, so criminalisation doesn’t even make economic sense'

    As I say, you must want to understand more about it. If you choose not to then that is fine but commenting on it in the same pejorative manner will do nothing more than confirm that you are speaking in ignorance and wilfully so.


  9. this is a tough argument - and i won't get involved. but i love how in the comments, on the whole, everyone seems to have resolved their concerns on the issue - it says what a great forum you have created here kid!