The other day, I made a facetious post about the passing of Amy Winehouse on the old Spacebook (or was it MyFace?) At any rate, I textually intoned a quick summation of my thoughts on the issue. “‘They try to make me go to rehab…’ Well, maybe you should have listened.” That’s what I wrote. Some people simply “Liked” it, others criticized me for tastelessness and uncharitableness and a shoddy understanding of what it was like to go through a drug addiction. Someone else said I didn’t go far enough in what others called my “meanness.”
My intention was never to be mean or disrespect the dead. What I saw, and what I wanted to quickly bring attention to, was a bit of sour-tasting irony wherein a young woman whose break-out single was her affirmation that her drug problem was under control proceeded to die from abusing drugs. My tone may have been flippant*, and for that I did apologize to my Facebook friends and acquaintances. But my initial point, I stand by. As people began to profess a love and devotion to Winehouse, I can only see that her musical “genius” and the ensuing fame was based on a lie. “They try to make me go to rehab, and I said no.” And that was your undoing.
Some might think I am being a bit unmerciful, a bit uncharitable, or even just plan crass and prickish about her death. That might be the case, though I plead that that crassness is a necessary acidic counterbalance to the base offered by mostly everyone else.
I think there is a real distinction that needs to be made here about what is and isn’t a charitable and compassionate response to this very public news. To call out Winehouse’s destructive choices as foolish and stupid isn’t being uncharitable, but rather the opposite. The choices she made shouldn’t be lauded, or even respected, or even timidly whispered about well away from the public sphere. They should be unanimously and publicly condemned, for the good of everyone, and especially young people who erroneously flirt with narcotics.
Her death should be a clarion call against the “do what thou will” relativistic nihilism that has gripped our society by the throat and that prohibits any sort of moral judgement against these sorts of destructive behaviors. It is a war-cry against a materialistic culture that sees drugs as hip. It is an admonishment for young people to put down the mobile phones for 5 minutes to consider that their mortality, like everyone’s, is tenuous at best and that every tomorrow is a gift, and not a guarantee.
Some people are mistaking withholding judgment of Winehouse for compassion, but that really isn’t the case. Winehouse is dead, and no amount of political-correctness or pussy-footing about the circumstances of her death can change that. Calling drug addiction what it is, a pitiable and pathetic** state that we shouldn’t wish anyone to be in, is ultimately the most compassionate and charitable and just thing to do, and it may ultimately lead to saving lives. To call this a “tragedy” or an “accident” does a disservice to drug addicts and future-drug addicts everywhere. Tsunamis are accidents, this death was the result of poor choices and a destructive lifestyle FREELY chosen.
The answer to this young woman’s death isn’t to white-wash the reality of the situation out of some feigned desire for “respect of the dead.” The answer is to say, “Look, she made really poor choices and she paid dearly and ultimately for them. Don’t do that.”
Winehouse’s mistakes “irrelevant?” Not in the slightest. They underline and raise the important social and political questions about how we look at the drug problem. They bring to light the complex relations between individuals, the community, and the state and their relationship and duties with one another. They underline the very dire need for a more humane, less materialistic society. Winehouse’s pointless death is just another symptom of the internal festering of our society, and, I think to ignore that, to stick our heads in the sand and pretend that her death was some irreversible fluke of nature, is the real disrespectful route to take. If her death is an impetus for dismantling the drug culture and all the frills and bells and whistles associated with it, if it wakes even a small part of the Web 2.0 generation out of their MTV-induced stupor, then this young woman’s untimely end might bear some final good fruit, and I think that would be the greatest honour to her memory, rather than an indifference masked as compassion.
Rest in Peace Amy Winehouse, and may you find some peace in the next age that you could not find in this one.
* C S Lewis, in the “Screwtape Letters” has a lot of nasty things to say about flippancy, and I agree with him wholeheartedly.
** “Pathetic” in the traditional, more etymologically correct version of term; IE being emotionally moved by someone’s suffering.