Who’s Ready to Tweet Lindsay Lohan’s Funeral? #SoSad
I don’t know if you heard, but Whitney Houston died. If by chance your response to that statement was, “No, I hadn’t heard,” please let me know how the cave decorating is going. Because there can be no other reason other than a primitive domicile far away from the civilized world that would explain how one avoided the avalanche of public mourning for the pop diva, who turned up dead in a bathtub in Beverly Hills a week and a half ago and was buried, with considerable pomp and circumstance, in New Jersey this week.
I had, ironically, just arrived in a hotel in Beverly Hills when the news raced through the Internet like a forest fire. I have to say my reaction was one of both sadness and expectancy. Sadness, because like many people of my generation (I am Whitney’s age), the soundtrack of my twenties was filled with songs from the wailing Whitney canon. My cousin Diane no doubt vividly recalls my spirited rendition of “How Will I Know?,” delivered at our annual family reunion in 1985 with suitable verve and greased by a fair amount of vodka, which ended not with suitable thrushiness but, alas, increasingly wild hand gestures that knocked over a tabletop of glassware, sending various alcoholic liquids sloshing all over the place.
Expectancy because, really: Of course we knew she was going to die young. Anyone with any passing pop culture exposure knew of Whitney’s up-and-down (and subsequently down and downer) battle with drugs, her occasional rambling protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. (“Crack is whack” quickly became a catchphrase with a life of its own.) Let’s be honest: We may have been bummed she died, sure, but no one was actually surprised. Just as we won’t be surprised when the dirge plays for Lindsay Lohan sooner rather than later, or Charlie Sheen. (Though Keith Richards, whose funeral I would have laid money on, remains a freak of nature.)
And yet the Internet just can’t help itself when such events rear their pathos-laden heads. Within an hour the “RIP, Whitney”s on Facebook piled up like an Interstate traffic jam, some embellished with personal remembrances of an autograph, a meaningful song heard in the car, the stunning cinematic achievement that was The Bodyguard. As Nick Catucci noted in his blog post, provocatively titled, “Meta-Mourning: Were We Truly Grieving Whitney Houston?,” “by the time the Grammys rolled around, there was a whole universe, from black holes to inhabitable planets, of Houston sharing.” As the day of the formal farewell in Newark arrived, the hysteria and accompanying digital wailing only got worse, videos of Kevin Costner’s “moving tribute” and the dour blatherings of an endless parade of others, some of whom knew the deceased only cursorily, posted for public consumption. At least three of my Facebook friends live-blogged the funeral.
Oh, dear. I would truly like to believe—really, I would—that all of this was real and grounded in something sane, that people were expressing genuine emotion and tapped into the worldwide sharing outlet we now have that allows for it. But there is a raw vanity to the Whitneypalooza. As Liel Liebovitz, writing for the online Jewish magazine Tablet, so eloquently put it: “Death excites us to comment, publicly and immediately, even if what we have to say is not a howl or horror but a muted murmur, drained of warmth and meaning.”
There are two issues here. The first is that the Internet, while now serving as the new town hall edition of the Associated Press, allows us to share news faster than ever, it also foments a false sense of intimacy with one another, and even more egregious, allows an easy route for people to co-opt events for themselves, to indulge their own egos under the guise of shared mourning. It’s so typical of the “Isn’t what I have to say fascinating?” mentality too many of us walk around with anymore, a beast constantly fed by social media’s faux ego-stroking, turning even the most inane ditherer into Peggy Noonan. It’s the equivalent of hearing a house has burned down, killing its occupants, and overhearing someone remark, “You know, my aunt was once at a birthday party at that house.” Or when there is a heinous car crash on the Interstate, and the first thing you read online are an arm’s-length roster of comments about how “I was JUST driving on that.”
We just can’t seem to help wanting to be in the thick of things, be part of it all, be heard, even when we have nothing cogent to say. The Internet, in its entrenchment as populist sounding board, has fomented an entire legion of people perched at the ready to jump on any buzz of the news ticker, however far removed from their own lives, and weigh in. One can only wonder at what’s coming when one of those ghastly Real Housewives inevitably makes an early exit. (“Your fabulosity will live on, NeNe.”)
All of this draping of digital crepe also covers up something not discussed in the case of Whitney Houston’s death: the fact that it was highly preventable. In all of the fawning funeral coverage and gnashing of teeth forthwith, there has been nary a mention of the fact that Whitney probably died simply because she took too many pills, as she had taken too much of other dicey substances over the years. In the end people who do such things die, and die young. No doubt there will be remonstrations to this effect when the autopsy results are certified, though I hold scant hope that the reaction from Facebook Nation will be close to thought-provoking, a chance to open a badly needed national dialogue (“Why do we continue to fail too many people battling drug addiction?”). I suspect instead we’ll get even more faux tears of unfelt grief (a posting of “So, so sad,” followed by an update on the dog’s new trick, replete with photo).
Yes, it’s sad Whitney Houston died. But it’s sadder that we don’t have anything better to say about it than a breezy “Whitney, R.I.P.”