I have written many blogs complaining about primitivism, racism, and the decline of American civilization. (see http://clarespark.com/2010/04/08/racism-modernity-modernism/.) I am so disturbed by the mindless media frenzy following Whitney Houston’s not-so-sudden death on Feb.11, 2012, that I am incapable of more than an outline.
1. The main lesson for everyone: don’t mix alcohol with xanax or other sedatives. If you need anti-anxiety drugs, beware of addiction and read the warning label.
2. Her deterioration became a spectacle; where were her friends and physicians?
3. The Grammies celebrate a drug culture common to the music industry and its fans; the latest casualties appear to have died from mixing booze with anti-anxiety drugs. Before that, cocaine was understood to be factored into the cost of hip pop music record production.
4. (On The Grammies) From 1960s-70s light shows to the current sports-inflected pop culture world, there is barely a gap. Only the technology, athleticism, and virtuosity have advanced. The audience remains high and hypnotized by flashing lights and gaudy colors and glitter, including the clothes worn by black and brown performers of both sexes. Barbaric ornament is in, republican simplicity is out and associated with Victorian battle-axes who marched for abolition, then temperance, then urban uplift of fallen women.
5. With respect to culture, the South won the Civil War and later these organic conservatives may have stopped the civil rights movement cold by its condemnation of [New England] “puritanism,” supposedly the force behind the mechanized slaughter and the materialistic, divisive culture that followed the conflict. The mystical white Left and counter-culture helped out by separating black culture from an integrated American history. They also shook their booties (sp?) and went primitive. 19th century blackface minstrel shows, once considered racist, are now celebrated by some folklorists as populist and satirical.
6. The plundering, vicious, modernizing “North” of the 1860s, in some cases, may return as monsters and vampires in popular films and comics of today.* Universities call for conferences on this mysterious phenomenon, while ignoring the growing public expression of antisemitism. Some cool black entrepreneurs (starting with Spike Lee?) blame Jewish money managers for stealing the money earned by superstars in the music industry. Part of the Southern patrician legacy is responsible for this complaint, for New England=fanatical abolitionist=puritan killjoy=Sherman’s march through Georgia=predatory Yankee- Jewish commerce/filthy lucre, now famously controlling all of mass media and destroying all “communities.”
7. Whitney Houston will always be good because she sang the national anthem better than anybody, also (Dolly Parton’s) “I Will Always Love You,” attaching unconditional love to objects of dubious worth to herself, i.e. “bad boy” Bobby Brown and her entourage. The blending of the demonic with art-making is an old Romantic tic that should be recognized and condemned. See http://clarespark.com/2010/11/16/good-jews-bad-jews-and-wandering-jews/. The same with sadomasochism, no longer a symptom to be identified and treated, or, more judgmentally, as a perversion, but an acceptable, even fashionable form of sexuality. Even a cursory examination of this culture will find a fountain of misogyny and hatred of moral mothers–the mothers who replaced male authority in the teaching of religion and other “civilizing” functions after patriarchs left the household for work in offices, factories, etc.
8. I am horrified by those doctors and hangers-on who not only failed to help Whitney Houston, but by those in the tabloids who have profited from her spectacular public deterioration. Equally, I am disappointed by those activists who oppose public health measures or the teaching of human biology/hygiene at the earliest possible age in our schools.
9. [Added 2-14-12] I have not mentioned the cost of celebrity; the loss of privacy; the pressure to perform in order to support others; the internal pressure not to lose skill and/or fire; the fear of aging; performance anxiety. This goes for opera singers and all public performers who impersonate others. Who was Whitney Houston impersonating? What was her relationship with her singer mother? Did she adhere to the myth of the tragic mulatto? How did she respond to her own motherhood? Journalists invested in the reproduction of “celebrity” will not ask these very obvious questions, for the answers would shorten the distance between audience and performer, and would raise the troubling issue of race and stardom. [Added 2-17-12: I wrote this blog a week ago. I saw the funeral service. Nowhere in all the media coverage has there been the mention of a strong, nurturing father in her family of origin. Presumably Clive Davis tried to fill that function, but why the silence about her biological father, John Russell Houston, Jr. (d. 2003)? Thanks to my daughter Jennifer Loeb Chocron for pointing this out to me.]
*Monsters and vampires are not limited to the rampaging “North”, but may represent “the return of the repressed,” i.e., images of forbidden rage against authoritarian, abusive/negligent parents or other illegitimate authority.
Recommended reading. Daniel Aaron, The Unwritten War: American Writers and the Civil War (N.Y.: Knopf, 1973). This pathbreaking book in American Studies faulted most American authors as mostly patricians unable to share in the experience of ordinary soldiers, and who also ignored the centrality of slaves and free blacks in their fiction and poetry. Those who did best were Melville, Whitman, De Forest, Bierce, Mark Twain, and Faulkner. Highly readable and beautifully written.