Monday, February 13, 2012

Houston, We Have A Problem

Not long after hearing of the death of Whitney Houston, I posted the following status message on my Facebook page:

"Damn it, Costner! You had ONE JOB!!! #ripWhitneyHouston".

I followed that up by remarking that she had picked a good time to kill herself, as there would still be time to put together a montage and pick out songs for the appropriate tributes before the Grammy's aired. An hour later, I was down three friends and had a few messages in my inbox remarking on my insensitivity.

When any celebrity dies, the usual run of jokes appear followed soon after by passionate rebuttals from white knights; true believers who see it as their duty to defend the deceased. They besmirch us wannabe comedians for having no respect for the deceased and bemoan our cynicism. While there may be those who truly find humor and delight in the death of Whitney Houston, the vast majority of us are not poking fun at the woman herself. We're having a laugh at a facade.

Whitney Houston certainly had talent. Her debut album slowly climbed the Billboard charts, and, while it didn't exactly set the world on fire, Houston at least deserved a shot at the Best New Artist Grammy for the album. Her follow-up, however, was a stellar effort. If "Whitney Houston" was her "Off The Wall", then "Whitney" was her "Triller". The moment that album left the factory, her place in pop stardom had been solidified. Even before that album was finished being pressed, producers and agents and other music industry types were carefully crafting the image of Whitney Houston in order to push it onto the world. They were molding her from an R&B artist into a pop sensation. They chose her songs, gave her an exciting look, and sent her out in front of her album to take on the world.

Unlike most other pop creations, Whitney Houston could actually sing. Her rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" evokes patriotism in even the most hardened of cynics. Her version of "I Will Always Love You" is, in my opinion, a better love song than The Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody". No matter how talented she was, though, no matter how much we thought we identified with her through her music, that doesn't change the fact that those of us who were Whitney Houston fans beyond liking some of her music, were really just fans of a facade. And that facade changed with the times. We watched her morph from an exciting pop-star into a refined, sophisticated diva. This was meticulously planned and executed in order to prolong her shelf life. And while that was happening, we connected with her even more because it gave us the illusion that we were watching her "grow up".

We never really knew the woman. She was undoubtedly more complex than what was presented to us on television. And we can say that we loved her, but, without really knowing her, could that really be true? You can say that you're saddened, but, really, what are you sad about? Her albums didn't disappear when she died. You can still watch her videos and hear her music any time you want.

Those of us poking fun at the death of Whitney Houston are really only making fun of the image and are rejoicing that the dream is finally over for this particular facade. And, while it may seem callus and uncaring to make jokes, I'll submit that those of you who are convinced that you are in mourning over her death are doing a much greater harm. This sort of faux-affection diminishes the sadness of those people who actually knew and loved Whitney Houston the person. They saw the image, but they loved the woman. You never loved her. You never even knew her. At best, you just liked a bunch of her songs.

No love should exist between a musician and a fan; only between a fan and the music itself. The musician is a facade. Only the music is real.

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