Romanticizing Addiction, Part 1

I’ve thought a lot about the death of Whitney Houston this week. I’ve struggled with it. I want to share more of my thoughts about that in a subsequent post, but before I do that, I wanted to share a portion of an interview I watched this morning. I’m not going to mention who the participants are because we’ve become such a polarized society that I fear if I told you who the two men were, you would make up your mind about the content of the interview and the validity of their arguments based upon your personal feelings about them. Both can be polarizing figures.

Guest: Whitney Houston wanted to kill herself. Nobody takes drugs for that long if they want to stay on the planet. The hard truth is that some people will always want to destroy themselves and there’s nothing society can do about it.

Host: Addiction is a disease. And if you are suffering from a disease you can’t make the choice. You have no choice.

Guest: Well then they don’t believe in free will, and I don’t believe anyone is a slave to addiction. I do believe it’s a disease. It’s a mental disease, but you have free will and you can get through the disease, as millions of people have chosen to do. It’s a lot of free will. You don’t have free will when you get lung cancer. You do have free will when you’re a crack addict. But, it’s very difficult. My point is that there are self destructive people, and that society does not grapple with them. We, the media looked the other way on Whitney Houston. Everyone knew she was a drug addict for decades.

Host: You said in your column, “The media has no bleeping clue how to cover the death of Whitney Houston. That’s because she was slowly dying for years and many in the press simply averted their eyes.” Guest, I have seen dozens of stories over the years detailing the addiction, the erratic behavior, the denial of the addiction on the part of Whitney Houston.

Guest: They were sensationalized to exploit the woman’s condition, not try and help her. When’s the last time you saw a public service announcement from a famous person–a singer, an actor–to the American public to say, “You know, you don’t want to be like Whitney Houston. Don’t be like Elvis. Don’t be like Janis Joplin.” When’s the last time you saw that? They don’t exist. Do you know what we do in the media? We wink-wink it. We Snoop Dog it. We Willie Nelson it. “Hey, oh yeah. They’re stoned. That’s fine.” And what message does that send? “It’s okay.” It’s not okay.

Host: I think it’s apples and oranges you’re comparing. On the one hand, the media did detail her troubles and highlighted it…

Guest: They exploited it.

Host:…but at the same time I would agree that they celebrated her talent and stardom.

Guest: Name me one media commentator outside of myself who said, “Hey Whitney, you’d better knock it off or you’re going to be in the ground.” Name me one.

Host: Maybe people don’t come out and say it like you do because that’s the style of your show, but by covering her behavior, and detailing her actions…

Guest: They exploited her.

Host: …over the years. In a way, that’s shining a very bright light on it.

Guest: If everyone in the show business community had said to Whitney Houston, “Hey. You’re gonna kill yourself…”

Host: But that’s different. Are journalists supposed to be in a position of conducting intervention?

Guest: They’re supposed to be in the business of telling the truth. And the truth is, if you get into hard drugs you can go at any time.

Host: And by showing her behavior over the years, didn’t we shine the light on that?

Guest: No. Because it wasn’t put in any kind of judgemental capacity at all. It was like a sideshow.

Host: (incredulous) Do you think she was cast in a positive light over the past 15 years?

Guest: It wasn’t positive, it was, “Oh look at this. Now she’s going to rehab.” It wasn’t, “Hey Whitney, knock it off.” It wasn’t that. It’s never been that. Ever.

Host: Let’s move on because you and I could argue for hours.

Guest: That’s right. And I’d always be right.

Host: On the subject of the flags flying at half staff in New Jersey on Saturday, the day she’s laid to rest. Governor Christie has called for that. Is that the right idea?

Guest: Yes. I think we should respect the life and talent of Whitney Houston. I said a prayer when I heard she died. This isn’t a personal thing, it’s a preventative thing. And I want society and the media to tell the truth about drug and alcohol addiction. It’s hell. It’s a horror. Let’s stop exploiting it and start explaining it.

So what do you think? Do you think our view of celebrity addiction and addiction in general is flawed?

I’ll post more on this topic tomorrow.

« « Previous Post: Hurt | Next Post: Romanticizing Addiction, Part 2 » »

9 Responses to “Romanticizing Addiction, Part 1”

  1. James Williams February 16, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    Of course it’s flawed. For every tragic story where addictions are looked at (rightly) as destructive, there are stories like “Dazed and Confused” or that one where Johnny Depp plays Hunter S Thompson. We like to joke about how Spicolli is high more often than not. Of course, Thompson killed himself, and we romanticize that, too.

  2. Heather Sunseri February 16, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

    I think it’s near impossible to have a realistic view of addiction and the hold it can have on a person unless you’ve been through it, or know someone intimately who has.

    Our perception of most things we think we know about b/c we’ve seen it on TV is generally flawed.

    I do think the media mishandles celebrity addiction or celebrity anything, really, every single day. But this guest seemed quite naive. From my experience, Whitney Houston’s closest and dearest could have told Whitney Houston she was killing herself, and Whitney would not have listened.

    • katdish February 16, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

      Your last point is an important one. Loved ones and well meaning people can go to great lengths, sacrifice everything in an attempt to save an addict from themselves, but the decision to get sober is ultimately and solely up to the addict. And the decision to continue their substance abuse despite the pain it causes themselves and others is the topic of my follow up.

  3. Jason Stasyszen February 16, 2012 at 4:53 pm #

    I know who it is who said this and on the surface there’s a point, but I don’t really think he nor anyone else in the media could have said, “Whitney, stop it” and made a difference. The idea of an intervention is made up family and friends who talk about how a person’s addiction has affected them or their relationship. Making a statement that she had been killing herself slowly is not really that shocking, but going deeper and deeper with it becomes exploitative itself. Very interesting though, Kat.

    • katdish February 16, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

      Agreed, Jason. If the solution to addiction was as simple as lots of people urging you to stop, I don’t think addiction would be much of a problem. I do think the media does (as the guest suggested) treat celebrity addiction as a bit of a sideshow act. Late night comedians tell jokes at their expense, Gossip magazines put unflattering pictures of drunk celebrities on the cover of their magazines and the public eats it up. And guess what? The celebrity gets their mug on the cover of a magazine. It may not be flattering attention, but it is attention, and for some celebrities who are desperately insecure and fragile, that attention isn’t all together a bad thing in their minds.

  4. James Williams February 16, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    I know this is is a tangent, but …this post reminds me that I was recently bummed to see someone cases of people romanticizing suicide. It’s related to this Houston story in the sense that it’s still about self-destruction. One thing which set it off last week was when I heard, for the first time in a long time, the song “Vincent”, by Don Mclean. It’s about Vincent Van Gogh, and the first line is “Starry starry night”. Anyway, at one point in the song, he refers to Van Gogh’s suicide by saying “You took your life, as lovers often do.”

    That line saddens me. Suicide is a very selfish act, not a romantic one.

    Anyway, my digression/soap box is over now. As you all were.

    • katdish February 16, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

      No argument here. Suicide says “My pain is more important than the people who love me. I’m going to end my pain and not worry about the mess everyone else has to deal with when I’m gone.” I know that sounds harsh, and it’s probably not as black and white as that, but I hate when suicide is made to be something noble and romantic.

  5. Megan Willome February 18, 2012 at 5:20 am #

    Oh, yeah. It’s schadenfreude, all right.


  1. Romanticizing Addiction, Part 2 | - February 17, 2012

    […] Yesterday I posted a conversation between two well known news commentators about the addictions whic… […]

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