Reflections In Hindsight

Grace in the Rearview Mirror…it's closer than it appears

  • Ephesians 4:29

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Observations on the Aftermath of Whitney Houston’s Death

Posted by Ben Erlichman on February 16, 2012

Whenever a celebrity dies, especially one of the caliber of Whitney Houston, or Michael Jackson, or Larry King–wait…he’s not dead yet? Oh, he just kind of looks like he’s dead. My bad.

Whitney Houston

Anyway, there’s a predictable pattern of reaction from the media, from social networks, and from other celebrities. It’s horrible, but true, and most of it infuriates me. Here are two of my observations regarding Whitney Houston’s recent passing:

1. The media was well-prepared–too well-prepared. I think we all know by now that major media outlets have obituary files and footage already picked out for most of the world’s major celebrities, so all they have to do is pull out that file, mash together that footage and have the anchors/reporters practice going through some of said celeb’s lifetime highlights, low periods, and everything in-between before going on live and presenting the obituary.

That means that these news outlets not only have those files and footage, but that they update them regularly, and they also probably prioritize them based on who they think is going to croak first. In a way, this is a totally heartless and cold approach to the death of an important person, but if you stop and consider it, isn’t that kind of news exactly what everyone is supposed to get? Even-tempered, unbiased reporting of the facts?

I still don’t think I like it, though.

2. Idiots used Whitney’s death as a chance to advance their own agendas. This is the reason why I felt I should write on this topic today. I’m flummoxed at some peoples’ stupid behavior in response to Whitney’s death. If you thought the media outlets were bad for being well-prepared for Whitney’s death, you’ll be disgusted at some of the things coming out of celebrities’ mouths and from social networking sites like Facebook.

Two examples in particular really made me fume. Tony Bennett, who, for our younger readers, is a very famous singer/performer from yesteryear, made one of the dumbest comments I’ve ever heard after a celebrity’s death: he said, “I’d like to have every gentleman and lady in this room commit themselves to get our government to legalize drugs. So they have to get it through a doctor, not just some gangsters that sell it under the table.”

Tony Bennett

Look, I’m not going to comment on the validity of his argument. Maybe he’s right, maybe not. But that’s not the point. The point is that he stood up in public and used Whitney Houston’s death to advance his own agenda. Wow…what a way to pay tribute to a friend–use their death to tell the government that drugs should be legalized. How do you think the population would have responded if reputable pastor like Rick Warren (not that he would) came out in public and said that everyone should accept Jesus and live fulfilled lives so they don’t end up like Whitney Houston? The universe, including a lot of Christians, would throw a conniption fit. To sum up, Tony’s comment was poorly-timed, and inappropriate.

Here’s another dumb thing I saw, this one on Facebook:

Yes, I know this is Steve Jobs and not Whitney.

I used Steve because I saw this meme used after his death first–and also because the one I found with Whitney had a picture of her with her chest halfway hanging out. You get the idea, though, right? Millions “cry” when a celebrity dies, but no one cries for the millions dying from AIDS in Africa, or from ethnic cleansing/genocide, or from hunger.


I won’t argue with the premise. Yes, the world is a place of a profound injustice, and this does a good job of showing that discrepancy. That said, this is just as opportunistic and inappropriate as Tony’s comment above for exactly the same reason: the author is using a tragedy to advance their own agenda at the expense of the departed person immortalized in their meme, as if subtly implying that somehow, it’s partly Whitney’s or Steve’s fault that millions are dying. Or, at the very least, such memes are made to make us feel guilty about how we react to celeb deaths.

I’m probably not the best example of how to react to a celebrity’s death because I generally don’t spend much time following their lives in the first place. That said, you’re getting my opinion anyway.

When Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson died, and even more so when Steve Irwin (the Crocodile Hunter) was skewered by a stingray a few years back and died, I felt very sad. I didn’t go out and place flowers or notes or teddy bears on their graves (or in front of their chain of Apple stores like folks did with Steve Jobs), but their deaths impacted me (less with Steve Jobs, as I’m only a recent convert to the cult of Apple).

The meme above makes the assumption that we stupid, spoiled Americans care more about a person (who has actually affected our lives in some way) than we do about those suffering and dying around the world. Honestly, I’m sure that is the case with a lot of people, but to use a celeb death as an opportunity to guilt-trip the rest of us, including people close to Whitney or Steve or Steve or Michael, is wrong.

Sorry, but you’re just being a jerk. You haven’t considered how many people those celebs actually did touch in a profound way, who are already hurting at the loss of a friend, family member, or loved one (celebrity), upon seeing your meme, feel guilty and used as a part of a scheme to raise awareness for an issue that most people would already agree with anyway. In other words, your timing sucks because you don’t have the balls to try to promote your ideas in a time of normalcy and instead do it at the expense of someone’s death and others’ grief.

Alright. I’m done ranting. I’d love to get your thoughts on this. Next week, stay tuned for a much anticipated post, probably the second-to-last one you’ll get out of me here at Reflections: Things that Weigh a Thousand Pounds (aka things that I can leg press).


4 Responses to “Observations on the Aftermath of Whitney Houston’s Death”

  1. eghamlin said

    Amen! Or in other words, well stated! BTW, I will miss reading your posts. ;)

  2. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav) said

    From a certain POV – in fact, because of the very nature of POV’s – any reaction we make at all to the death of someone like Whitney Houston, if it’s not directed to the comfort of the family as such, is going to serve our own agendas. Not meaning any negative critique of this thoughtful and truthful post at all, but that includes this post. It has an agenda. Otherwise you wouldn’t have made it.

    And that critique, of course, includes my own reactions both to the event and to people’s reactions to the event, including yours.

    It’s not “agendas” that are the problem. Perhaps the real problem is that events that affect a “nexus” in the world, personal, group, or inanimate, say more about ourselves and about our agendas, and our assumptions that lie behind the agendas, than about the nexus. And perhaps the real solution is to make sure that our agendas and assumptions are sound, and to “season our speech with salt” so that we know how to present what parts of them are edifying at the time.

    I think that last bit is precisely what you were trying to say in the end anyway. :)

    • John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav) said

      A “nexus” – I’m borrowing this tweak on the concept from Babylon 5 – is something that, when it turns, the rest of the world tends to follow in its wake. Ms. Houston had that kind of power for many, many people. Don’t you think that God made possible such concentrations of impact in people, groups or events so as to expose the thoughts of the rest of us? I can cite this ultimate example as an illustration (and hope that it will help make the rest of my own observations make a lick of sense):

      (Luke 2:33 RSV) And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him;
      (Luke 2:34 RSV) and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against
      (Luke 2:35 RSV) (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.”

      Reflecting my agenda inevitably, for whatever it’s worth… :)

  3. jhtwriter said

    I would have used the death of Ms. Houston, but then I have no agenda outside of Christ. But about that meme, could we use a picture of Larry King or some politican and say: “One lives, many cry.” and then use the photo of those suffering and say, “Many dies and no one cries.”

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