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Do celebrities deserve their own Kaddish?

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Joseph Kugelmass’ thoughtful response to my Whitney Houston post is instructive:

Most celebrity deaths are not emotional events for me. I cared a lot more about Amy Winehouse’s death than I do about Whitney Houston’s death, for two simple reasons. I like a lot of Amy Winehouse’s songs; I like exactly one Whitney Houston song (“I Will Always Love You”). I thought Winehouse was maybe going to produce a lot more good music; Whitney’s career seemed over. While it may seem callous to calibrate my level of mourning according to what is, or isn’t, in my iTunes library, I would argue that when it comes to celebrities, there’s no other reasonable standard. That’s what it means to make your living as an entertainer.

Nonetheless, like everyone else, I was deluged with blips on my social networks, expressing deep grief over Whitney’s passing. Most of this grief, if not in fact phony, was at least greatly exaggerated. Like so many other things that people do in relation to popular culture, it was a weird, projective emotional performance, designed to convince oneself and others that one has the right emotions in the right amounts.

The performative aspect of compulsory mourning is what bothered me as I half-listened to the television yesterday morning. The depthlessness of the mandatory praise heaped upon her bothers me for the same reason Patrick Bateman’s encomiums to popular culture do: they’re necessarily rote and necessarily reductive. Joe’s right to point out the different etiologies of “fake emotions and real emotionlessness,” but the fact that they produce the same result should be troubling. But far from being troubling—or even acknowledged—anyone who points this sad fact out is attacked for not taking advantage of death to draw attention to problems of race and sexism in America today.* Because that is a far more respectful way to treat the dead.

That said, I encourage you to read Joe’s post to learn his Five Rules About Celebrity Deaths, as his general plan is far better than listing who you’re allowed to mourn before-the-fact.

*It goes without saying, but it’s worth saying again: there’s no one post to rule them all. This blog will be one thing at one moment and another in another. In point of fact, I’m about to “[feign] some kind of cultural superiority … even though [my] opinions and tastes are largely shite of the first water [that force most commenters to] make an effort to shaddup when [I] want to wax long and philosophical about some mainstream film [I’m] content to call art.” If you’d like to take me to task for that, by all means, go at me with gusto. Just try to make your criticism coherent.

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  • Rick Massimo

    Can’t it just be that if someone loves an artist’s music, or even just some of it, they want that artist to have a long and happy life, and if that turns out not to be true, they’re sad about that?

    • SEK

      If that were it, you wouldn’t see the kind of reactions to posts like the ones Rob and I wrote. There’s something more there—and I dare say it’s something intensely personal—that turns celebrity deaths into a Mourning Olympics. If you point out, as I did, that “winning” such a competition makes you sound like Patrick Bateman, you’re branded a monster. Or a racist. Or a sexist. Or someone insufficiently committed to ending racism and sexism.

      See how that makes no sense? That’s my point, and if it’s muddled in the post, it’s because it’s muddled in the world.

      • Fighting Words

        Maybe it’s just me, but after reading through all the comments, it seemed like only about five commenters actually had a problem with your post on “Whitney Mourning.” It’s just that one of the posters decided to post agiain, and again, and again, and again…

        • SEK

          I hate to bring it up, because anyone reading this won’t be guilty of it, but honestly: it’s the emails. Trolls troll threads because they’re trolls. People who email? They’re not trolls, and they are legion.

      • jeer9

        that “winning” such a competition makes you sound like Patrick Bateman,

        Is the “you” in that statement a reference to the media or individuals? Because part of the reason your post yesterday was “muddled” derives from the fact that the English professor gave no referent prior to the quote, as TN mentioned, and it continues to be ambiguous here. The English professor should not then be surprised that some readers took this second whack at the issue as a further example of callousness and superiority – and your “disingenuous” explanation less than convincing. Of course, had we all prior knowledge of your life history and previous behavior we would realize, like God, that “you” were not capable of such hardheartedness.

        • SEK

          I clarified yesterday, and then again, in the post above: “The performative aspect of compulsory mourning is what bothered me as I half-listened to the television yesterday morning.” You can choose not to believe me, but there it is:

          I was half-watching television on a Sunday morning while preparing for class on Monday and I became increasingly annoyed by the wall-to-wall coverage of her death that consisted of little more than the same ten talking heads sputtering on about how important she was to them. No music historians, no fans, just opportunistic Sunday-morning-psychopaths who reminded me (go figure!) of no one more than Patrick Bateman.

          • Uncle Kvetch

            I was half-watching television on a Sunday morning while preparing for class on Monday and I became increasingly annoyed by the wall-to-wall coverage of her death that consisted of little more than the same ten talking heads sputtering on about how important she was to them. No music historians, no fans, just opportunistic Sunday-morning-psychopaths who reminded me (go figure!) of no one more than Patrick Bateman.

            OK…it took awhile, but I finally understand what your post was about. I’m a little slow on the uptake, apparently.

          • AcademicLurker

            No music historians, no fans, just opportunistic Sunday-morning-psychopaths who reminded me (go figure!) of no one more than Patrick Bateman.

            Although do they sound like Patrick Bateman or does Patrick Bateman sound like them?

            I read AP many years ago but my impression was that since Bateman was incapable of genuine emotional responses of his own to music (or anything else)he borrowed press-release speak to express what he thought were the appropriate feelings to have.

  • Scott Lemieux

    I am outraged that this post was not instead a response to unspecified and uncited racist and sexist attacks on Whitney Houston. Which, based on a single comment made by someone else (tastelessly) referencing Houston’s own classist words, I assume you share.

    • SEK

      I’m outraged that your comment was not instead a response to the unspecified and uncited racist and sexist attacks on Whitney Houston that I neither specified nor cited in my post.

      • Appreciate the music

        Alright, we can maybe chill with the faux meta outrage. I mean, enough already.
        It’s true that the grief factory operates after pop stars’ early demise. I guess all these anti-encomiums would have been valid post Michael Jackson (guess maybe I missed seeing them here…?)
        Anyway, if you wanted a decent tribute, you only had to wait to see the PBS News Hour tonight. Her song choices may not have been everybody’s cup of tea, but her vocal abilities were astounding. Who can deny that?

    • Bill Murray

      Fox News was apparently the go to site for racist and sexist comment

  • davenoon

    Whitney Houston > Tim Tebow

  • elizabeth_dean

    Good Lord, man. If you don’t care about Houston dying, then I (and the rest of the world) care even less about how much you don’t care that she died. Is it so hard to believe, as the first poster pointed out, that maybe people were really big fans of Whitney Houston and it was painful for them for her to die? And is it really so ridiculous to think that which celebrities we do or don’t care about is going to be affected by race/gender? Either way, all this “oh, I am so above the grief of the populace, I do not indulge in their fake emotional outpourings, I am so special,” is so very transparent and pompous.

    • Stag Party Palin

      I believe you missed the point by several light-seconds.

    • SEK

      If you don’t care about Houston dying, then I (and the rest of the world) care even less about how much you don’t care that she died.

      And here, exactly, is the response I was talking about. Not the response to her death, but to how to properly discuss it. The only proper way to memorialize her, it seems, is to emulate Patrick Batemen’s enthusiasm for her work. Anything less, and you’re a pompous elitist who hates popular culture and despises anyone who doesn’t.

      And, of course, I do despise popular culture. It’s beneath me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to write another post about Batman.

      • Craig

        No, Scott, the proper way to memorialize her if you don’t give a shit about her is to ignore the entire thing. I’m not really sure why that sort of thing is difficult. You guys have written three posts to answer a question that no one was asking.

        (I feel, presumably, exactly the same way about her as you. I Think she made shlocky, disposable pop, and built a career that was mostly characterized by how much she wasted her talent. But I don’t assume that people care about this opinion, so I just walk on by when people are talking about her. If anyone asks, I will tell them straight away how little her death affected me. So far, I’ve found that no one has asked, surprisingly enough.)

        • No, Scott, the proper way to memorialize her if you don’t give a shit about her

          See this.

        • SEK

          No, Scott, the proper way to memorialize her if you don’t give a shit about her is to ignore the entire thing.

          I didn’t realize the maxim was “Don’t speak ill of the media when it speaks of the dead.” I suppose that’s not a valid point to make. I should just shut up and not be disgusted by what I see, because it’s all good. It’s all good. It’s all good …

          • Craig

            If you were “speaking ill of the media” then you could have linked to actual posts by people in the media that you were satirizing. Christ knows they couldn’t have been hard to find, right? But there were no links, just a snarky bit of quoting from American Psycho. Is it really surprising that some people saw your post as an (unnecessary) attack on whatever emotions they might have been feeling about Houston’s death?

            • SEK

              I was inspired to write this post after having the television on. I assumed that other people had had the television on in the past 24 hours. I didn’t realize I was breaking a cardinal rule of blogging by not linking to what seemed to me to be ubiquitous.

              • Craig

                Could have mentioned it. But then you’d have to explain the gag, and that wouldn’t weed out people who hadn’t read Ellis.

                Seriously, try to read your post objectively. Tell me, with a straight face, that it says “the media is writing ridiculous things about Whitney Houston now that she’s died” more than it simply says, “Whitney Houston sucks.” You’re defending the former while I’m telling you that your post actually said the latter.

                • jeer9

                  Thank you, Craig.

                • Richard

                  I think it said more than that. It said Whitney Houston sucks and the people who are effected by her death suck

                • SEK

                  Could have mentioned it. But then you’d have to explain the gag, and that wouldn’t weed out people who hadn’t read Ellis.

                  Yes, then I’d have to have explained the gag. Which makes it not funny. Which defeats its purpose. Put another way: this place is famous for its Internet Traditions, and honestly, I didn’t think that many people reading this site would not have been familiar with the reference. You don’t see me cracking wise about, say, 19th Century non-Darwinian evolutionary theorists, because I understand my audience. (I do teach rhetoric, after all.) But American Psycho? One of those incredibly faddish books everyone read or films everyone watched? *(If I cracked wise about Hogwarts, I wouldn’t footnote it either.)

                  One striking thing about your response is that I almost didn’t post this not because I was afraid no one would get it, but because I thought it’d be way too obvious … and the first comment made me think I was correct. Only now do I see the horribleness I expressed.

                • elm

                  I think this is the fundamental problem: it seems clear to me that Rob and SEK both intended their posts to be about the media circus around Whitney’s death and not Whitney herself or her fans. (I say that about Rob’s post because that’s what the post actually (though far from eloquently) said; I say that about SEK’s post because he claims that’s what it was about and I take him at his word.)

                  Many readers do not seem to understand this, either through the fault of the authors lack of clarity or through their own misunderstandings, and feel insulted that Rob and SEK were mocking Whitney or, far far worse, mocking them.

                  I understand why a number of readers felt that from the post themselves, but why do so many continue to believe that even though SEK and Rob have both explained what they meant by their posts?

                • Craig

                  Your unwillingness to actually respond to the substance of what I, and other, people are telling you about that post is weird. Let’s leave aside Ellis and Patrick Bateman and all that jazz for a second. I am telling you, flat-out, that your post read as an attack on Houston (and the people mourning her) and not, as you’re saying, as an attack on the media. Giving you the benefit of the doubt that this isn’t just a bit of ex post facto ass-covering (and I am giving you that benefit of the doubt, because I don’t think you’re generally much of an ass-coverer) what I’m left with is a post that attempted to express one idea and, inadvertently, expressed another instead. And what I’ve yet to see is an acknowledgment that that is what happened, and is a part of the reason, or maybe even the main reason, why people were somewhat offended by the post. Not once have you said, “I attempted to express an idea, and I didn’t do so as well as I could have, so part of this backlash has been my fault.” Instead, you’re arguing with the straw man that anyone who took exception with your post of necessity did so because they believe it’s right and proper for everyone in the media to wax at length about the genius of Whitney Houston, and only do that. It’s horseshit, Scott.

                • SEK

                  Craig, the fact that I wrote a follow-up post explaining myself and the genesis of my reaction seems to me plenty enough of an admission that I don’t think I effectively communicated my point the first time, don’t you think?

                • Craig

                  This post is filled with the language of victimization, about how you were “attacked” (by a fucking commenter, for Christ’s sake, a relationship in which you wield virtually all of the power.) So no, I kind of don’t think it’s “enough of an admission” because it’s not really any admission at all. Not once in this post, or in your comments, is there anything that remotely resembles contrition. (Contrition isn’t really the right word here, since I don’t think you owe anyone an apology, but I do think when a writer tries to express an idea, and is told that they did a poor job expressing said idea, that they should acknowlege, at some point and in clear language, that they fucked up. Instead, so far all I’ve seen is you doubling down by shitting on people who were offended by your post and telling them that they just didn’t get it.

                • Ed

                  Thank you, Craig.

                  Seconded.

                • SEK

                  Instead, so far all I’ve seen is you doubling down by shitting on people who were offended by your post and telling them that they just didn’t get it.

                  I explained in the comments to the original post why I wrote it. I explained in the post above why I wrote the original one. Now I’ve explained in the comments to this post why I wrote the original one. At a certain point, I think I’m allowed to start thinking less of people who aren’t getting it because I can only conclude that they’re determined not to get it. How many times am I required to re-explain the joke? (Before you answer, keep in mind that you’re looking for me to say “I attempted to express an idea, and I didn’t do so as well as I could have, so part of this backlash has been my fault” … which is exactly what having to explain the joke is.)

                • Craig

                  If you’re constitutionally incapable of saying, in plain language, “I fucked up,” then that’s on you. If you prefer to play the victim, so be it. We’re all grown-ups here, and we can all make our own choices.

                • Fighting Words

                  @Craig,

                  You know, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I understood exactly what SEK and Robert were getting at in their posts. I’m sure many other people did as well.

                  He doesn’t need to apologize to anyone. Just because you didn’t get a reference, doesn’t mean he “f’ed up.”

                • SEK

                  Craig, I’ve admitted that my intended message didn’t resonate with the audience I thought I was writing for. And I’ve clarified what I meant multiple times. I’m not going to say “I fucked up,” because I did successfully communicate what I meant to everyone not complaining, so in a rhetorical sense, I reached the folks I meant to reach. But, realizing that I was being more obscure than I thought, I clarified. If I say “I fucked up,” that’s an insult to everyone who got the joke. So, I ask you, is it better I offend more people with an apology or assume that my multiple explanations are sufficient to mollify the outrage of those I unwittingly offended?

                  I ask this seriously. There’s an art to backtracking, and it’s a rhetorical art, meaning it’s something I’m interested in. I’ve tried to respond to this as I think appropriate, but because I did communicate my intended message to many a reader, I don’t think complete contrition is necessary.

                • Malaclypse

                  So, I ask you, is it better I offend more people with an apology or assume that my multiple explanations are sufficient to mollify the outrage of those I unwittingly offended?

                  It seems clear that, at this point, what you need to do is photoshop Whitney Houston with a Giant Sammich. Then, and only then, will you overtake Erik as History’s Greatest Monster.

                • Craig

                  I’ve admitted that my intended message didn’t resonate with the audience I thought I was writing for.

                  The problem, Scott, is that there has never been a hint of the idea that you genuinely understand why people could have been offended by your post. Your attempt to clarify what you were saying is followed, in the same paragraph, by a bit of whiny faux-victimization without a single word, in between, being written with any sort of empathy towards the people who maybe, actually, do feel some degree of sadness about Houston’s passing, regardless of whatever bullshit narrative The Media is putting together, and don’t appreciate when a writer who they respect seems to use their own grief as a punching bag. Not a single shred of empathy has been evident at any point in this chain – you’re so fixated on the righteousness of your words that you’ve decided that any genuine human emotion that anyone is feeling is irrelevant to the discussion. And just so we’re clear, I’ll reiterate again that I personally have none of that feeling towards Houston, who meant and means nothing to me. But I respect those who do feel that grief enough to not try to turn myself into some sort of victim to the mass grief of others.

                  (To the people who “got” what Scott was saying initially – congratulations. You are perfectly attuned to his wavelength, and this sort of Vulcan mind-meld is truly to be commended. The rest of us, whose SEKdar is not quite as finely attuned, can only aspire to get to your level, but in the meantime we can only muddle through in our half-formed state as best as we know how.)

                • What will happen if things do not happen the way you want them to happen?

        • djw

          You guys have written three thousands of posts to answer a question that no one was asking.

          Fixed that for you, as they say. Seriously, the vast majority of posts written here are written because the poster feels like writing about that. Occasionally someone will write a post in response to a specific question or with traffic and the audience in mind, but that’s the distinct minority.

          This compulsion to police the appropriateness of public utterances in the immediate aftermath of a celebrity death is actually kind of fascinating, in a way that has nothing to do with Houston or whomever.

          • Not to mention the idea, which I have received in comments to some of my posts lately, that we are somehow supposed to think about what our readers want to hear before we post. Um, no.

            • Bill Murray

              but c’mon you drive a Toyota, that right there makes you unserious, so you should do what I want. Which would be getting back to top politicians from each state.

              • Robert Farley

                I hear he fucks sheep.

                • Malaclypse

                  It would be irresponsible not to speculate.

      • elizabeth_dean

        I don’t see anyone saying you should be waxing on how great Whitney Houston was or stirring yourself up into fake grief that you don’t feel if you truly don’t care about her. That’s not what any of the complaints about your post were really about.

        And I never accused you of being too elitist in your tastes in culture. What I said was that going on about how difficult it is for you to be surrounded by all this fake emotionalism and how above it all you are is obnoxious.

        • SEK

          I complain about the media’s lack of investment in its stories-as-stories all the time. I complain about conservatives pretending to care about things they don’t care about all the time. I’m not sure why this represents such a great leap in SEK’s history of complaining about stuff.

          That it does indicates that there’s something different about this than any other issue. I’m interested in why the media’s facile treatment of the thousands killed by drones warrants no complaints, but its facile treatment of a dead pop singer merits praise.

          • elizabeth_dean

            Dude, where is anybody defending the media here? All of the criticisms I’ve seen have specifically been criticisms of your unnecessarily snarky and superior posts on the subject. And can you truly not see why pontificating on about why you don’t care about a cultural icon’s death is different than complaining about political coverage? Poor coverage of politics effects us all negatively. Coverage of celebrities we don’t care about is mildly annoying at best. And I find it very difficult to believe that overobsession with Whitney Houston is the reason the press doesn’t cover drone strikes, or that you criticizing coverage of celebrity deaths is somehow going to make the press going to care, or whatever the point of your last sentence even was in the context of this conversation.

          • Richard

            But you dont seem to see that your post wasn’t (at least the way I read it) a criticism of the media for its excessive coverage of Ms. Houston’s death but a criticism of the people who were affected by her death. Your post seemed to be saying that I’m not affected by her death, the people who were affected are deserving of my contempt. Maybe you didn’t mean to say that, maybe you meant a searing indictment of the press coverage but that isn’t what you posted.

            • Uncle Kvetch

              But you dont seem to see that your post wasn’t (at least the way I read it) a criticism of the media for its excessive coverage of Ms. Houston’s death but a criticism of the people who were affected by her death.

              FWIW, I took it that way as well. It wasn’t at all obvious to me that the posts were taking aim at the media, but at the fans.

              And I’ve got to say that while a number of my Facebook friends posted something about Whitney Houston in the 24 hours after her death, I saw precious little of this “competitive mourning” behavior. More like “Such sad news…here’s a link to a song of hers that has many happy memories for me.”

              If anything, the reaction to Steve Jobs’ death on Facebook was far more unsettling; there was some really weird deification going on there, among people I wouldn’t have expected it from.

              The inevitably mawkish, smarmy media outpouring at a time like this is certainly worthy of a good skewering. None of the posts here accomplished that.

              I was inspired to write this post after having the television on.

              I pretty much avoided all mainstream media for several days after Reagan died, as I did with Michael Jackson, because I knew there was going to be nothing worthwhile, and a whole lot of horrible dreck. “They won’t stop talking about [topic]!” is pretty weak sauce as media criticism goes. There is such a thing as an off button.

              • Bill Murray

                It wasn’t at all obvious to me that the posts were taking aim at the media, but at the fans.

                Farley’s specifically said that

                • DrDick

                  And SEK’s was a pretty obvious riff on the standard issue celeb obit.

              • You know, Kvetch, I have to say, good point. Probably, just as people were projecting various personal things onto Whitney Houston, I was almost certainly more annoyed in this case because of the Steve Jobs hangover. If I had to choose, I’d rather have said more about that carnival.

                On the other hand, there were some pretty strong commentaries about Jobs, such as a political cartoon showing him reincarnated as a Chinese factory worker building Apple products. I saw less overt policing, and yet, these jabs at Steve Jobs and Apple did not somehow make mourning him impossible.

            • Ed

              Nor is it as if we had all been subjected to a Diana-like hail of mass grief for days or weeks. Houston was hardly cold. The media and popular reactions were what you’d expect, but little more than that.

      • John

        I don’t have a problem with your response, Scott, which was amusing (but I generally find Bateman’s music criticism amusing, so I’m an easy audience here).

        I did think that Rob’s post was weird – a pre-emptive and barely coherent response to a question nobody was asking. And Erik’s comment in that thread where he seemed to take special glee in pointing out how much he didn’t care about the death was also in poor taste. The basic problem with those was not so much that they were not showing proper respect for the dead as that they seemed to be going out of their way to be dismissive. Everyone is entitled to not like a musical artist, even right after they die. I’ve never been a fan of Houston’s music at all. But why go out of your way to bring up how much you don’t care?

    • EJ

      I believe SEK’s problem is that sometimes genuine grief at someone’s passing is expressed in a ritualistic, formulaic way. This apparently means that it is not sincere. It’s also something that happens only with celebrities, in the media, not at every memorial service for anyone ever.

  • Trollhattan

    I think Princess Diana’s death kicked celebrity pop culture public mourning into a whole new realm that we’re still unable to completely comprehend, much less establish what the new “norm” might be.

    That Ms. Houston was barely ever on my radar, and then mostly because of this or that misadventure, means I don’t have a personal response to her passing. I feel sympathy for her family of course and can understand that her fans will now be deprived of her ever making a triumphant return. It all seems like a waste of a talanted life.

    An Etta James discussion would elicit an outpouring of genuine emotion from me, and I suppose that’s my point. Artists either make an emotional connection or they don’t.

    • I think Princess Diana’s death kicked celebrity pop culture public mourning into a whole new realm that we’re still unable to completely comprehend, much less establish what the new “norm” might be.

      There were others. John Lennon was a good pre-internet example. He’d obviously done a bunch of weird things, but also a bunch of obviously influential things.

      • ploeg

        Yeah, but Reggie Dwight never updated a fucking song for John Lennon. Diana is the template going forward here.

        Seriously, if you think of a recording artist who just passed on, put a quarter in the jukebox and have your own personal wake. Or do likewise with a bunch of like-minded people.

        • Yeah, but Reggie Dwight never updated a fucking song for John Lennon.

          In fact he wrote a new one.

        • Uncle Kvetch

          Diana is the template going forward here.

          The Diana thing was deeply creepy. I can grasp someone being moved by the passing of an artist whose work has spoken to them. But the paroxysms of grief over Diana were a whole ‘nother story, especially outside the UK.

          • Richard

            I just never understood the Diana thing. Still dont understand it.

            • She was a goddess, and when your goddess dies it’s a big deal.

              • Uncle Kvetch

                She was a goddess

                Well, that’s pretty freaking weird.

                • I wonder how this temple museum is doing. I’ll bet Graceland beats it.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  If Diana had passed away when this blog existed, I think my post would gave generated our first 1,000 comment thread.

              • I don’t know if this is what you meant, but I’ve heard that parallel drawn before: in the modern, secular, post-Enlightenment blah blah blah world, we no longer have a pantheon of gods to gossip and invent stories about, to imbue with passions and loves and hates and skills and powers larger-than-life. Instead we have royalty and celebrities. Or rather we used to have royalty as a separate category; now they’re just another type of celebrity.

            • Bill Murray

              Your post seemed to be saying that I’m not affected by her death, the people who were affected are deserving of my contempt.

    • Fighting Words

      I was in England as an exchange student in 1995, two years before Princess Diana died. The people I lived with at the time and all of their friends HATED Diana. I unfortunately lost touch with them and I always wondered what they thought of Diana when she died.

      The funny thing about the reaction to Whitney Houston’s death was that as late as two days before she died, sites like TMZ and Perez Hilton were mocking her for a date she had with Ray-J (I think it was). Even airing the “Crack is whack” statement she made several years ago.

      And that, to me, is what’s weird about the whole Whitney Houston grievence fest (I say this as a fan of Whitney’s work). As late as Friday, people probably thought of Whitney more for her personal problems than for her music. It’s odd seeing people who were recently being dismissive about Whitney Houston, now lauding her.

      I am a fan of Whitney Houston, and of all the divas out there, I was hoping for her to make a comeback the most. I guess it’s never going to happen.

      • The funny thing about the reaction to Whitney Houston’s death was that as late as two days before she died, sites like TMZ and Perez Hilton were mocking her for a date she had with Ray-J (I think it was). Even airing the “Crack is whack” statement she made several years ago.

        A really important point.

  • Robert Farley

    Gonna have to add “The Ghost of Whitney Houston” to the LGM Enemies List.

  • thebewilderness

    It was traditional not to speak ill of the dead. If you did not mourn them or if you hated them you simply did not mention it.
    Now it would appear that we live in a culture where it is becoming a tradition to heap hatred and contempt on the dead, or mourn them, or declare how very much this persons death does not matter to you.
    Whatever we feel, good bad or indifferent, we seem to need to shout it to the world.

    • LKS

      But it was also traditional to grieve in private, to limit it to the community of people who actually knew the deceased.

    • No, it wasn’t “traditional,” if by that you mean “traditional for every society in the history of the world,” which is what, given the way you proceed, you would have to mean.

      • thebewilderness

        I beg your pardon. I was referring to the American traditional social methods of addressing a death. Yanno, Whitney Houston’s culture and traditions.
        Although since this was an American woman who died of being a woman in America I would have thought that would be easy enough to grasp.

        • Bill Murray

          specificity is the soul of all good communication

        • DrDick

          I did not see any of the actual posters speak ill of the dead, beyond saying that they were not fans. Farley thought she was significant enough to warrant a post noting her passing, even though he was not a fan at all. SEK merely riffed on the standard media celebrity obit, without specifically commenting on Houston herself.

          • And I pointed out that I love “I Will Always Love You.” Which I do.

            There is no one “American” tradition concerning The Burial of the Dead. There are many, and it has always been that way.

  • Richard

    Well said, Craig. Is it that difficult to not post about a subject that you make a point of saying you dont care a shit about?

    I’m not a great fan of Houston (much prefer the work of her mom and her aunts and cousins – Cissy Houston, Judy Clay, Dionne Warwick and DeeDee Warwick) but I just don’t have a problem if some people were and are great fans and don’t presume, unlike Scott, SEK and Kugelmass, that their grief is phony or exaggerated.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Fascinating; a misreading of someone else’s post is being attributed to me, when the entirety of my contribution to these posts was a one-sentence link to a positive musical obituary.

      • SEK

        This is what you get for not being a part of the solution.

      • Malaclypse

        And you are only writing about this now because Ron Paul is forcing people to talk about this real and important issue.

        • SEK

          At this point, I honestly have no idea why I’m writing about this.

          • I figure if I can convince even one person to work themselves all the way up to writing a splenetic hagiography of Whitney that they would never have even considered otherwise, then it’s worth it.

        • Well done.

      • Richard

        I agree, Scott. Shouldn’t have put you in that sentence. But I don’t think I misread the others

  • There’s an escalation of mourning since there’s an escalation of communications. When say John Lennon’s death affected more people deeply than Whitney Houston, there’s more ways for hardcore Houston fans to show their grief, police others expressions, etc. I doubt it’s any different from the 1950s, just more in your face.

    The media has always given rote reactions to deaths they give rote reactions to everything else. Wars, deaths, natural disasters- with nothing new under the sun, the news has to deal with everything as routine.

    I’m most annoyed by this new meme when a celebrity dies their picture is compared to a kid dying in Africa with the caption, “One dies, millions cry. Millions die, no one cries.” As though only OUR opinions matter (I’m guessing those millions have families and friends). And the death of a stranger should affect me the same way as someone who touched my life (Not that I did much crying over Steven Jobs or Whitney Houston).

  • Anderson

    Taking my cue from that heavily-anthologized poem by Hopkins, I would guess that in mourning the Whitney Houstons of the worls, folks are mourning themselves.

    People who were of an age to be listening to her in the 1980s probably associate her with their adolescence and early adulthood and the hormonally-hyped emotions of that time. When they hear that she’s dead, they remember buying the cassette, listening to it while they made out or cried over a breakup, etc., etc.

    Pop performers are there for consumers to identify with, and when someone dies with whom you’ve identified, it’s part of you gone too. It may be trite, but hey, most of us are trite.

    • thebewilderness

      I think that an important aspect of it. My son called me to tell me she had died. He did not expect it to feel like a gut punch, but it did. They are of an age.

    • According to Parmenides, he who calls himself trite cannot, therefore, be trite. But that’s only if you’re down with Parmenides. I find some of his discursive protocols immensely phallologocentric.

      As I said below, I think mourning oneself is fine. I think The Cure are a fantastic band. I also think it’s fine to say that’s what you’re doing, instead of saying you’re mourning a person who, as far as you were concerned, was basically just an occasion for something else.

      • Anderson

        Sure, let’s attribute a considerable degree of psychological self-awareness to the general public. Seems plausible to me.

        • Anderson- me neither. But it’s a useful implausibility when, suddenly, “mourning” is made synonymous with anything that a) makes somebody sad and b) is associated for any reason with a given performer.

  • I felt very similar, but even more so, when Michael Jackson died. It’s not that Jackson wasn’t great. He was, briefly. And then he was pretty not great. But the outpouring grief, while probably legitimate for some people, was an act. It was a new way to recycle 80s pop culture, with emotions as fake as an 80s-themed fashion party.

    My experience with Jackson’s death was exacerbated by the fact that I was on an extremely bizarre trip to Central America at the time. As one who has backpacked a reasonable amount in Asia and Latin America, the international backpacking culture is kind of gross, nowhere more so than in the acceptable musical selections. Of course, this mostly means hearing Bob Marley completely out of context no matter where you are, but in this case, it meant have people in guesthouses blasting Michael Jackson at 7 am and at 11 pm. To say it was all I could do not to break things is an understatement; certainly I never need to hear Michael Jackson again.

    I felt that whether from the Australians, French, or Salvadorans, the constant discussion of Jackson was by and large not from the heart at all. It was just the cool thing to talk about.

    • John

      Not having cable news, I’ve not really seen any of this, but is the reaction to Houston’s death really on a level with what happened when Jackson died?

      • Nah, but it’s been a lot. Overlap w/ Grammys part of the whole phenomenon.

    • I think you may be underestimating how seriously the French take Michael Jackson.

  • Jim Lynch

    Garry Trudeau hit the nail on the head (in Doonesbury) after Elvis died, when one of his characters noted, “30 million necrophiliacs can’t be wrong”.

    • Uncle Kvetch

      Yeah, as long as we’re all trying to identify the watershed moment in the rise of mediatized mourning here, Elvis deserves a shout-out. I was 13 at the time and I remember finding the whole thing incredibly weird.

      • Bill Murray

        I’m gonna go with Franz Ferdinand

        • Bill Murray, Franz Ferdinand is still alive. The RZA was right — you’re getting delirium from all those coffees and cigarettes, Bill Murray.

      • Richard

        Not so weird if you were ten years old when Elvis appeared on the Sullivan show and things after that were never quite the same.

        • When I was ten years old, we were halfway to having “Elvis does Sullivan” on YouTube, but nonetheless I haven’t been the same since I first heard “Well, That’s Alright Mama.”

    • That’s unfair. Some of them were just impressed by the Mississippi Delta shining like a national guitar.

  • Western Dave

    “I didn’t think that many people reading this site would not have been familiar with the reference.”

    Thought wrong. Apology accepted. I totally didn’t get it.

    I think Erik is closer with “It was a new way to recycle 80s pop culture, with emotions as fake as an 80s-themed fashion party.” but a bit too cynical. How many weddings did I go to where “I will always love you” was the first dance. A lot. This was last dance at prom music, music that folks had their first make out session to. The outpouring for Houston is in part for her, but mostly for our own lost youth.

    As for the racism and sexism comments, I think they are better directed at the music critics who dismissed her.

  • OK, a couple of things. First of all, hi everyone!

    Second, it’s really unfair to suggest that if Scott doesn’t have anything nice to say, he shouldn’t say anything at all. As I suggested in my post, if all you’re hearing about for 24 hours is Whitney Houston, you will probably end up writing about her, if only to clear the cobwebs. Ignoring Whitney’s death would mean (for this short period) ignoring about half of the Facebook and Twitter updates that connect me to the rest of my corner of the world.

    Finally, there’s this:

    I’m not a great fan of Houston (much prefer the work of her mom and her aunts and cousins – Cissy Houston, Judy Clay, Dionne Warwick and DeeDee Warwick) but I just don’t have a problem if some people were and are great fans and don’t presume, unlike Scott, SEK and Kugelmass, that their grief is phony or exaggerated.

    I wasn’t assuming anything; when I generalize in a post, what I’m really doing is aggregating close readings of a lot of little things I’ve seen or heard. These include, for example, the hashtag “#whitneylove,” which does not map onto real grief.

    (If it does, and you are planning to use the hashtag “#grandpalove” when your grandfather dies, that is amazing and please email me so I can help share your story.)

    • Richard

      I dont think anyone has said that Scott shouldn’t say anything if he didn’t have nice things to say about Houston. What I found off putting in the posts was the apparent contempt toward persons who were affected by her death (at least in the way I read the posts – SEK has now said that this is not what he meant to convey and I accept his explanation) and posting about a subject where the poster says upfront he doesn’t give a shit about the subject.

      As far as my criticism of your post, you state that the grief of the fans is, if not phony, grossly exaggerated. Thats a direct quote. This seems to be a gross exaggeration and over generilization on your part. Yeah, if your’e tweeting about her death, your’e probably exaggerating your feelings (not that I know anything at all about societal use of Twitter) but it seems to me that there are thousands, if not millions of people, who have been affected by her death. Either because her songs were the soundtrack to their youth, because her singing spoke to them (her singing in I Will Always Love You is really quite spectacular – emotional without being overwrought) or because her undeniable physical beauty and fairly rapid decline said something to them. I haven’t watched TV nonstop since her death but in the news segments I’ve seen, a bunch of fans have said that her music and her persona meant a lot to them. I take them at their word (even if I don’t share the sentiments).

      • Yeah, people have been saying just that: “If you aren’t emotional about her death, Scott, then just ignore it instead of writing about it.”

        The direct quote is “greatly exaggerated” (not “grossly”), but yes, and I still stand by it.

        Fake grief is always annoying, including when you’re going through the real thing. I’ve been through plenty of non-celebrity deaths where somebody was clearly making a scene, or etc., and shifting the focus from the dead person to themselves. The fact that most people I know take the path of least resistance, and don’t say anything publicly about the nuisance of it, doesn’t mean that there’s no back chatter (“What is s/he doing!”), nor does it take away from the countless great movie scenes that satirize insincere grieving.

        But here there’s a third way: what makes this “phony” is not that the emotions are unreal, perhaps, but just that they have little to do with Whitney Houston. For example, if she’s an opportunity for somebody to grieve over their departed childhood, that may be authentic, but it’s hardly “paying respects.”

        • Richard

          The problem I have is I strongly disagree with your claim that you can tell phony emotions from real emotions. Now you’re saying that if you are emotional about losing a part of your childhood, that may be authentic but it’s not paying respects.. You seem to have changed the argument midstream. Now their emotion isn’t phony or greatly exaggerated, it’s authentic but the wrong type of authenticity. I don’t pretend to know what is fake versus real but doubt you can make that determination from a few clips on tv

          • There’s absolutely no way for me to know, with certainty, whether a speaker is showing good faith or not. I definitely have to make a judgment call, and in some cases I’ll be wrong. However, that is the kind of judgment call we have to make all the time. I have to evaluate whether I think Obama, Romney, Gingrich, etc. are talking in good faith, in addition to deciding about the positions they take.

            Of course, one could argue that even if I do have to second-guess politicians, I don’t have to second-guess ordinary people who are sad about a performer’s death. This would be wrong. If I take everyone at their word, I’m still making a judgment. It’s just a very lazy positive judgment.

            Here’s a hilarious example: one year, while I was teaching summer classes at a prep school, a bunch of different faculty conversations revolved around Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which almost nobody had seen. These discussions, which were all started by different folks, ended with everyone enthusiastically averring that they were dying to see the film.

            I assumed, based on this information, that what these folks actually wanted to do was see the film. So I bought a copy and set up a screening at a time when most faculty are free. The total number of attendees, myself included, was 1.

            It’s not as though I was a social pariah; lots of people thought they might come and didn’t, and groups of us did other stuff to unwind that same week. So my bomb of an event actually was about ambivalent feelings toward the movie. When I realized nobody had seen the film, but everyone claimed to be eager to see it, I should have sensed ambivalence instead of taking people’s declarations literally.

      • Her singing in I Will Always Love You is really quite spectacular – emotional without being overwrought.

        Totally. What a beautiful song.

    • thebewilderness

      We are not required to be fair.
      Is this a new rule? I don’t understand.

      • Nothing is required; everything is permitted! But fairness seems like a good voluntary ethos within the blogosphere.

    • HMS Glowworm did 9/11

      If it does, and you are planning to use the hashtag “#grandpalove” when your grandfather dies, that is amazing and please email me so I can help share your story.

      My grandmother died about six weeks ago. I can honestly say that #grandmalove wouldn’t have been all that implausible for some of my younger cousins. Giant rural Catholic families can be very earnestly kitschy.

      • This makes all my time reading this comment thread worth it. Not just the factoid, but how you framed it, everything.

        It goes without saying, but naturally I’m sorry that this slice-of-life comes out of a sad event for you & your family.

    • Uncle Kvetch

      Ignoring Whitney’s death would mean (for this short period) ignoring about half of the Facebook and Twitter updates that connect me to the rest of my corner of the world.

      I don’t find that convincing. Every year over 50% of my fellow USians are transfixed by the Superbowl. Not being interested in football, I ignore it. If I had a blog of my own, I don’t think I’d feel compelled to write a post every year letting my readers know that I don’t give a shit about the Superbowl.

      • Well, you may not have to write a post every single year, but in my opinion, if you are going to call yourself “Uncle Kvetch,” at least one year’s worth of kvetching about football should be tolerated by all your readers.

        • Uncle Kvetch

          Fair enough.

    • Reilly

      Here’s your attempt, from your post, at ascertaining the motives of the — I guess we’d have to say allleged — Houston mourners:

      Most of this grief, if not in fact phony, was at least greatly exaggerated. Like so many other things that people do in relation to popular culture, it was a weird, projective emotional performance, designed to convince oneself and others that one has the right emotions in the right amounts.

      So now we understand the strange psychology of the emotional underclass, but what motivates the higher-reasoning animal such as yourself?

      As I suggested in my post, if all you’re hearing about for 24 hours is Whitney Houston, you will probably end up writing about her, if only to clear the cobwebs. Ignoring Whitney’s death would mean (for this short period) ignoring about half of the Facebook and Twitter updates that connect me to the rest of my corner of the world.

      Yes sometimes the great ones have to descend to the superficial simply to rid themselves of the superficial, most especially if the two major avenues leading to their “corner of the world” happen to be “Facebook and Twitter updates” — arguably the two most superficial modes of communication ever invented. That must be a curse for you, but then how else could you make your valuable social observations? How else could you aggregat(e) close readings of a lot of little things (you)’ve seen or heard.? Not generalizations, but real instances, evidence of intent, windows into the insincerity of these social performers, like “#whitneylove” as opposed to say, “#Ode to a Whitney Power Ballad”.
      I only wish you had opened my eyes sooner. For three or four days before the NFC title game, co-workers and acquaintances who had never expressed an interest in football were ending conversations with “Go Niners!” I should have stood my ground and decried them as frauds who weren’t really emotionally invested.

      • Surely, Reilly, you don’t think that embedding twelve redundant allegations of elitism accomplishes more than just coming out and saying it once?

        The fact that I’ve criticized some aspect of popular culture does not mean that I hold myself above the rest of humanity. It’s not that broad of a statement, nor is it symbolic of a generalized feeling of contempt.

        What is there to say about the Superbowl? I doubt you’re arguing that a surge of interest in football, surrounding one big game, is not superficial? So, if not, then I guess you’re just saying that you were broad-minded enough to tolerate the Superbowl excitement without pouting?

        That’s fine. I certainly don’t have some major ethical objection (that you’re not speaking up on behalf of our beleaguered culture or something). Two weeks ago I had a perfect opportunity to give a speech about how much I dislike Midnight in Paris, and I didn’t, since I thought it would be a bummer.

        That said, those sorts of situational decisions don’t apply in other contexts. They certainly don’t follow a general rule that we could put into practice equally well on this subject, in this medium…unless we want to go back (yet again) to the immensely problematic advice “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all, and have a Superbowl party to prove how normal you are.”

        • Reilly

          Surely, Reilly, you don’t think that embedding twelve redundant allegations of elitism accomplishes more than just coming out and saying it once?

          I’ll leave aside the implication that twelve (was it that many?) is eleven redundancies and that once only would suffice to get my point across; that in my case economy of language would be enough to make my point, but “#whitneylove”, even within a more constrained forum, is inadequate to demonstrate sincerity.
          I don’t consider not liking popular culture as elitist, that’s simply a matter of taste. I don’t think criticising popular culture necessarily makes one an elitist. Criticism is part of an open society and can be valid or not, persuasive or not. My point was that your criticism was predicated on an obviously elitist view — that other people’s reasons for writing about Houston in social media could be readily dismissed as insincere, but that your reasons for writing about her were only natural. The truly elitist thing about your opinion was how oblivious you seem to the inherent elitism. Your argument was itself subjective, presumptive and superficial but your presentation was as social observer. Hashtag psychology isn’t convincing, especially when it’s coupled with self-serving rationalizations.
          My point about the NFC title game wasn’t to indict those people for being superficial or phony or any of the other things you interpreted the Whitney Houston fans to be. I believe they were sincere in that they were reacting to the circumstance, the reality of the home team being one step from the Superbowl. Just because they hadn’t thought about or followed the team all season doesn’t mean they couldn’t have an emotional reaction to the fact of it. The same, of course, goes for those commenting on Whitney Houston.
          For the record, I did not mean to imply that you are contemptuous of or hold yourself above the rest of humanity, just that this particular argument has as its basis an elitist viewpoint.

          • That other people’s reasons for writing about Houston in social media could be readily dismissed as insincere, but that your reasons for writing about her were only natural.

            This doesn’t really work. First of all, I did write, in the original post, that some people would undoubtedly produce wonderful tributes to Whitney. I didn’t totalize.

            Second, I wasn’t writing about Whitney Houston. I was responding to the policing of Scott’s quote satirizing certain reactions to Whitney’s death. This matters because I could have written the same post as a Whitney Houston fan. I knew plenty of hardcore Nirvana fans who were disgusted by the enormous reaction to his suicide, on the grounds that they were the ones who actually cared — that is, the ones who cared five days earlier.

            Hashtag psychology isn’t convincing.

            Perhaps not. I could give six more examples, but in all frankness, I’d run the risk of annoying the friends and acquaintances being quoted. So I guess if the trade-off is “lack of textual support,” then that’s a shame, but there’s nothing to be done.

            I believe [the fair-weather Niners fans] were sincere in that they were reacting to the circumstance.

            I would not disagree with this statement in a million years. But how is it significant? I mean, either you’re saying that they’re sincere about a superficial ad hoc enthusiasm, or you’re saying that this kind of excitement is not superficial. In the first case, the result is an epiphenomenon; in the second, you’re making a pretty bizarre claim.

            So let’s assume they’re being superficial (in the limited sense of as compared to diehard 49ers fans) but sincere. What is so dreadful about criticizing that? Is enthusiasm so fragile that every spark of interest in anything, no matter how transient, must be carefully nurtured? Sure, the big result might be a bunch of folks thinking I’m a jerk…but honestly, I happen to feel like I wasted a lot of my twenties doing stuff like attending or hosting semi-ironic Superbowl parties. In my opinion, once you start being afraid to denounce anything cultural, the next phase is a diffident will to conform.

            • Reilly

              This doesn’t really work. First of all…

              First of all, yes it does. That’s why I put those two quotes together in my original post.

              I would not disagree with this statement in a million years. But how is it significant?

              It’s significant in relation to your Rule 3:
              Many people who are publicly sad about a celebrity death had not thought about that celebrity once in the previous twelve months.
              You offered that perhaps as a truism, but the inference was that it proves insincerity. I gave an alternative motive. I can easily accept that it’s superficial, without accepting that it’s deliberately exaggerated or phony.

              In my opinion, once you start being afraid to denounce anything cultural, the next phase is a diffident will to conform.

              Whoa there, Joseph, I think you just jumped the straw shark. Nobody’s demanding conformity. But just to guard against it, I think tomorrow you should go out and emulate this guy.

              • First of all, yes it does. That’s why I put those two quotes together in my original post.

                Even if that opening sentence annoyed you, which I guess I can understand, I did write two more paragraphs and this is *definitely* not a response to those.

                I can easily accept that it’s superficial, without accepting that it’s deliberately exaggerated or phony.

                We totally have to stop arguing about this, because (apparently) we agree. Sincere but superficial. If you want to claim “thus I refute Kugelmass” on that basis, I’m willing to concede the point…except, under those circumstances, why would anyone care about SEK’s post (which remains the reason I wrote mine)? Do we really have that much of a vested interest in protecting superficial (if perhaps sincere) expressions from mockery?

                Sure, you could argue that in trying to mock this superficial stuff, SEK inadvertently mocked other mourners with more invested. But that gets into pretty censorious territory. Along the lines of what I said before about Nirvana, you could equally make the claim that superficial mourning itself obscures and inadvertently mocks grief that has more of a basis, and is more deeply felt.

                Nobody’s demanding conformity.

                Indeed not, including you. I’ll rephrase: Why shouldn’t SEK and I make some ongoing effort to represent our values? If I really don’t like football, then on some level, I’m wishing the game would die out. I’m entitled to blog as much as I want about how football is lame. I’m also entitled to satirize football, to make up skits about football, and so forth.

                Let’s say that I really like literature. It seems like most people would say: “Stop waging war on football. Start a nice book blog and leave football fans alone.”

                It’s a great theory, and to a large extent, that’s exactly what happens. But it’s not really a solution. Is my timid, inoffensive book blog going to be mocked by a significant percentage of football fans (if it ever came to their attention)? Of course. From a mainstream perspective, it is a nerdy and arcane subject. What’s not to mock?

                Nothing is more ridiculous than the idea that mainstream superficial “expressions” of emotion are in some kind of danger from “elitist” snipers, and unless we can shame SEK into apologizing, he’ll have smothered the simple pleasures we all depend on. But that’s where you end up once you start fighting for the right of the (supposedly pitiable) Other to do what s/he was gonna do anyway, without qualms.

    • EJ

      You do understand that the fans twittering and posting facebook statuses or whatever are a all different people, right? It’s not one person making a dramatic scene. How is it exaggerating one’s grief to take two minutes to post a facebook status?

      • You do understand that the fans twittering and posting facebook statuses or whatever are a all different people, right?

        ARE THEY? That’s what we have to start asking. (Having said this, Kugelmass peers nervously around the corner. He turns and walks briskly down a poorly lit alley, then disappears from sight.)

        >follow Kugelmass

        >I don’t know how to follow Kugelmass. You are standing in Times Square. You have a biscuit.

        >eat biscuit

        >The biscuit is delicious, but the memory of Kugelmass’s haunted expression detracts more than a little from the meal.

  • Also, I’m glad somebody brought up (goddess) Diana’s death, because so much about this issue is summed up by the fact that Elton John played a new version of “Candle in the Wind” at her memorial. Change a couple lines, and voila! Marilyn? Who’s Marilyn?

    • jeer9

      Ohhh, and Joe? Your Five Rules stink.

      1. A blogger is not capable of being “disrespectful” to a dead famous person. That person’s friends and family do not care.

      A blogger is quite capable of being tasteless and contemptuous to a dead famous person’s admirers, especially immediately after the passing.

      2. In most cases, famous people who die young will still have managed to have more of “a life” than 99.99% of people who die old.

      You’ve quantified that, have you? Let me know when the results are published.

      3. Many people who are publicly sad about a celebrity death had not thought about that celebrity once in the previous twelve months.

      Because a movie or song or role model rarely flashes through one’s mind during meaningful moments as those seldom occur during the course of a year beccause most people aren’t really “living” according to you.

      4. Some of the things that lead to celebrity deaths are, in fact, not relevant to the lives of ordinary folks (e.g. Michael Jackson’s personal drug doctor).

      Some of the things bloggers concoct are not, in fact, relevant to the lives of ordinary folk, though the grief of ordinary folk is clearly inauthentic and they’d probably need Michael Jackson’s drug doctor if they were capable of understanding how banal and mediocre their lives are.

      5. Public mourning is affected by ridiculous, irrelevant factors.

      My bowel movements are affected by ridiculous, irrelevant factors such as how much soda I drank that day or whether a particular bathroom has good toilet paper or one-ply. Have you just discovered existentialism? “Blankety Blank Blank” is affected by ridiculous, irrelevant factors
      applies to EVERYTHING.

      Wipe your ass and try to say something more intelligent than because Elton John changed a few lyrics the public experienced collective amnesia. But then Elton’s a special person, you know, unlike ordinary folk, and he’s able to hold thoughts about two people in his head at the very same time.

      • Richard

        Can’t believe I’m saying this but I totally agree with Jeer9

        • Jeer9: Please put this up as a comment on the actual post (since that is definitely what it is), and I’ll be happy to respond.

          • DrDick

            Jeer is constitutionally incapable of doing that.

        • DrDick

          Just a small hint here. If you ever find yourself agreeing with Jeer, you are doing it wrong. It is especially egregious in this case, since Jeer is on record as not giving a damn about issues impacting the female 51% of the population, since they do not (and from all evidence never will) affect him personally.

          • Correction: that was soullite.

            • jeer9

              The socialist handwringer has trouble making distinctions. Just get off his lawn.

              • DrDick

                True, all you asshat idiot trolls look the same to me. If you ever have anything useful or even vaguely interesting (actually coherent would be a big improvement) to say, I will let you know. Let me know when you graduate from the 8th grade.

                • jeer9

                  Manju, is that you?

                • DrDick

                  You only wish you could be Manju.

          • John

            Well, I certainly agree with him that Kugelmass’s Point 2 is asinine. Celebrities have lived “more of a life” than ordinary people? That’s outrageous.

            • #2 was poorly stated, to put it mildly. I’ve clarified matters in my response to Jeer9 (see trackback below).

    • John

      Wasn’t the original version of Candle in the Wind already a pretty major contribution to the kind of culture of mourning celebrities who die young that you’re bemoaning?

      And, hell, Diana, unlike Marilyn Monroe, was actually a close personal friend of Elton. While most of the Diana grieving was insane and bizarre, I think Elton John, of all people, had the right to actually be sad about her death.

  • DrDick

    I have a modest suggestion for everyone who is/was offended by Scott’s or Robert’s largely inoffensive, if not properly deferential, posts (and I for one understood immediately what both of them were getting at and I am not always the sharpest knife in the drawer about such things) and feels it is the worst thing in the world. If you do not like it, don’t read it. Nobody forced you to visit the blog or read what they have written.

    • thebewilderness

      You didn’t go there. But yes, you did.

      Nothing on this blog is open for discussion so if you don’t like what they say go away?
      Can you explain why the comments are turned on? Are they for the accolades only?

      • rea

        A blog’s comment section is a community of sorts. Do not be surprised if the regulars look askance at a stranger who drops in to tell us how awful and insensitive the bloggers are.

        • DrDick

          Exactly.

      • DrDick

        I will try to clarify since I seem not to have communicated my meaning well. This is not about disagreement or whether anyone should be here or not, but about the extreme passions being generated over relatively trivial matters in a series of posts on pop culture and the ways that we as a culture and the media in particular deal with celebrity deaths.

        People seem to be taking these as full on assaults against Houston as a person or themselves in some bizarre way. None of the posters has said anything negative about Houston, beyond the fact that they did not care for her work. This latter is simply a matter of personal tastes and I certainly do not get offended when they slag artists I happen like, which has happened. I simply find the reactions here bizarre and totally out of proportion. My own reaction would simply be to move on without commenting, as I often do in these cases.

        • Richard

          I think you don’t understand why some of us were offended or irritated at the posts. I could care less if someone attacks Houston as an artist. I’m not a fan myself. And, as you say, liking or hating an artist is just a matter of personal taste. But I read SEK and Farley, especially the SEK post which seemed to compare her defenders to a fictional shallow serial killer,as saying that her fans or the people expressing grief at her death are either phony or deserving of contempt (presumably for liking a very popular singer)) or pawns of the media. I disagree with that.

          • SEK

            And one point that a lot of the regulars have been making is that if you think I’m knocking someone “presumably [because she was] a very popular singer,” you clearly haven’t read much of what I’ve written, since I’m about the last person on the planet who’d ever knock anything because it happens to be popular. For Christ’s sake, I’ve got academic publications about Batman, Doctor Who and Kick-Ass. In other words: context matters.

            • DrDick

              Yep.

              • SEK

                And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to re-watch “Vincent and the Doctor,” as I’m teaching it tomorrow.

            • Richard

              I read your post and first follow up and believed it was saying that fans of Houston or persons affected by her death are phony or laughable (you approvingly posted the comment by Kugelmass which expressly stated that the persons affected by her death were expressing phony grief or were exaggerating their feelings). I think that is a fair reading of your post (although not what you now appear to have meant to say). But with that, I’m hanging up my writing shoes for the night and going to listen to some music by the Sweet Inspirations, Whitney’s mom and aunts

            • elm

              As I just watched the Kick-Ass blueray, have you listened to Vaughn’s commentary track? He takes a number of fantastic digs at Millar that I think you’ll like. (At one point, when delving into Big Daddy’s and Hit Girl’s parent-child relationship, he comments that this wasn’t in the book, but that while comics can get away with two-dimensional characterizations, movies need more nuance and so he thought making Big Daddy someone the audience could actually relate to was something important. I’m assuming that was a dig specifically at Millar and not comics in general.)

    • Richard

      And I’m sure you will follow this sage advice the next time Scott defends an action taken by Obama

      • DrDick

        Given the relatively trivial nature of this and the other two posts on the same topic and the extremely heated commentary by yourself and others, I see the analogy perfectly.

        • Richard

          You call my commentary heated, much less extremely heated? My ire has yet to be raised

          • DrDick

            I quote:

            What I found off putting in the posts was the apparent contempt toward persons who were affected by her death (at least in the way I read the posts – SEK has now said that this is not what he meant to convey and I accept his explanation) and posting about a subject where the poster says upfront he doesn’t give a shit about the subject.

            Does not sound particularly calm and dispassionate to me.

            • Richard

              Never said I was dispassionate but there is a big difference between extremely heated and what I expressed

              • DrDick

                I quote again:

                But I read SEK and Farley, especially the SEK post which seemed to compare her defenders to a fictional shallow serial killer,as saying that her fans or the people expressing grief at her death are either phony or deserving of contempt (presumably for liking a very popular singer)) or pawns of the media.

                This is exactly what I am talking about. Farley quite explicitly (if somewhat incoherently) said that he was not judging anyone’s personal reactions. He thought she was significant enough to warrant a mention of her passing (hardly an unusual event here), even though he was not a fan. He then made a (again not very coherent) comment about how the media deals with these things. SEK picked up on that with a riff on the standard issue celeb obit, which is exactly the kind of thing he does given his academic focus on pop culture.

                • rea

                  Man, I’d hate to see him when he was extremely heated.

                • John

                  I think the real problem that kicked this thing off was not what Rob said, but how he said it, which was clumsy and prone to misinterpretation.

  • Anderson

    The anger we see here tends to support the identification idea. People aren’t getting mad about their aesthetic appreciation for Houston.

    • DrDick

      Agreed. The level of passion seems completely out of proportion to anything that was actually said.

  • elm

    Where’s Bijan to to figure out for us the last time this blog had 3 posts in such a short time span about a non-political topic? Clearly, the blog authors (and, in particular, Brockington and noon) are trolling their own board for increased pageviews!

    • Sorry, my funding for Scott Studies ran out last week and was not renewed. I applied for an extension to cover SEKosity, but the general feeling I get is that they regard SEK as mere “pop Scott” and not worth serious social scientific effort.

  • Nathan of Perth

    Have always had a visceral dislike for massive public grief outpouring movements ever since the Diana fiasco back in my school days.

  • Dave

    I am incredibly grateful that SEK brought that comment to my attention. I endorse it wholeheartedly. Specifically I agree with the proposition that SEK’s tastes and opinions are “shite of the first water.”

    • kth

      It really had nothing to do with anyone dying, but was the Jewel thread (also the Yglesias threads dealing with Sean Combs and Britney Spears (sadly lost to posterity), as well as one just the other day pertaining to a young woman called Lana Del Ray) all over again. Ms. Houston’s death merely furnished a higher horse from which the partisans of pop to insist that other people admire and respect the music they like.

      • kth

        Sorry bout that, Dave! meant to reply to Nathan just above you.

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  • dave

    This is hilarious, on so many levels. Just sayin’

  • muddy

    I’m way too late to this party. I just wanted to say that it’s sad that she apparently didn’t feel the love that has been pouring out since her death. I always wonder in these cases if the person would be dead at all if they realized how much people really cared. But then I don’t know if people really did give much of a shit, or give it any thought anyway, until after she was gone. It’s confusing.

    • Paula

      It seems like Lemieux’s and SEK’s point is that all this outpouring of grief and/or empathy w/ Houston and her fans didn’t really occur until her death.

      Arguably, very few people spared thoughts about Whitney Houston when she wasn’t a chart topper. The celebrity culture that took her up when she was “successful” and which praises her now at the event of her death didn’t seem to give a shit about her when she was a has-been with addiction problems. “Celebrity culture” as distinguished from actual fans. Those categories aren’t mutually exclusive, but I’m pretty tired of the faux grieving when it seems so easy for people (in the media and in random pop culture discussion among us “regular folk”) to make crass jokes and obsess about the problematic personal lives of Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen (and Winehouse, when she was alive) just because they have the fortune of still living.

      I don’t feel sorry for rich celebrities, but it seems worthwhile to note that people’s judgmental sides tend to be ugly when it comes to serious mental health issues in the public eye. So, yeah, the media’s saturation of Whitney Houston grief feels gross.

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