The Winehouse Effect: How We Kill Celebrities

Reading Time: ~3 minutes

In late June, Amy Winehouse stumbled onto a stage in Serbia, where she slurred words and lost track of the song playing behind her. TMZ gleefully reported that “tickets to the show were roughly $57 — a lot considering the average monthly salary [there] is $428.” To go on: “Money… spent.”

Amy Winehouse served as a treasure trove of mishaps. She became the girl that everyone loved to hate, that everyone scrambled to pick apart with vulture beaks. What would have been the tragic story of wasted talent, youth, and life, was constantly a parody of addiction.

If she wasn’t making “stumbles” toward rehab, goodness, she was making “stumbles” to the red carpet.

Would you ever say that about someone with a chronic drug problem? Someone who had battled with depression all of his or her life? No, of course you wouldn’t. But the media made her into a comedic puppet of excess, so even as we watched someone slowly die on TV, we laughed and pointed fingers and shook our heads.

And the media? It’s not the sole fault of People magazine or US Weekly, or even TMZ. It’s the people who read it. It’s the people who stand in line in the grocery store, so desperate to talk about something, that they grab a gossip magazine.

Celebrities are, of course, what we feed on. Magazine sales alone show that gossip is more important to us than newspapers.

This has been touched on by South Park’s clever “Britney’s New Look,” where the town kills Britney Spears by taking too many pictures of her. Also, by comedian Jon Lajoie’s song “Michael Jackson is Dead.”

Lajoie points out, too, how we immediately recant every mean thing we said after the celebrities in question die. We go from ranting about someone’s bad habits to re-broadcasting their life stories and hinting at secretive and unique post-humous collections that will surely make some record company a bunch of money. The sensitive soul, the tragic artist, the person that – just last month – we were sneering at in front of the computer screen, in front of glossy tabloid pages, in front of the TV.

Either way, it’s a clear trade-off: The public offers celebrities money, fame, and fickle admiration for a pained life of isolation, criticism, and no privacy whatsoever.

Celebrities buy big houses to protect themselves from US, but we’re waiting outside their door. We deify these people just as we condemn them for what they represent: shallowness, short-sightedness, excess. It’s only natural they’ll go off the tracks. Really, if you don’t become what the public wants you to be, you’re destroyed.

Rappers have to be about money and guns. Pop singers have be about broken hearts and pseudo-feminism. Death metal has to be about mental anguish- but in aggressive terms that differentiate the material from emo bands that sing about the same things, but whine instead of shout.

All of them have to have some kind of issue that makes them more marketable. To become a bright and colorful piece of meat in a broth of bland and forgettable singles. Meat we can chew on, taste, and if necessary, spit out. 

Look at Rihanna – she was some amalgam of Britney Spears and Beyonce, but after her tragic relationship with Chris Brown, she became the… wait for it… Queen of Pain. Enter songs like “Disturbia” and “S&M.” Good, the marketers found her niche.

Dare I even say the name Lindsay Lohan?

Basically, if you don’t become a complete egomaniac, you turn to substance abuse, instead. I.e. Keith Richards vs. Mick Jagger (proof), Kurt Cobain vs. Lil Wayne (proof). Katy Perry (proof) vs. Amy Winehouse.

Or as Lil Wayne explains, “I’m me, I’m me, I’m me / Baby I’m me, so who you? You’re not me, you’re not me / And I know that ain’t fair, but I don’t care.”

But female musicians are in a tough spot, because we accept ego more readily as a male attribute. Really, only female rappers like Lil Kim or (kinda) Nicki Minaj get away with it. Ke$ha is working on it, but it’s a tough line to straddle. Lady Gaga and Beyonce have done well with it, and I’m not saying there aren’t exceptions to the rule, but what content is really peddling the most gossip?

So basically female artists have substance abuse – which the media focuses on as a serious character flaw among women – or a complete detachment from reality. Or becoming “super sexy” or something.

The really sad thing is that we make so many of these people hate what they do. They get that good at a form of art – music or acting – and suddenly, they’re famous. Suddenly, they can’t buy groceries, they can’t take the train, they can’t go anywhere except their mansions. And their wealth and faces become their prisons.

Or, as Eminem states in “The Way I Am:” “I can’t take a sh*t, in the bathroom / Without someone standin’ by it.”

We put these people on a pedestal, but the problem is that the pedestal is adjustable via our approval, and our approval is based on our expectations, and our expectations are based on our assumptions. So one wrong move and they go from Heaven to Hell faster than it takes a camera to take that slutty/disoriented picture of Female Singer X.

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