When Amy Winehouse died this past week, several things happened that typify American social media and even society as a whole. And even more disturbingly, they didn’t surprise me whatsoever.
Throughout history, infamous musicians, actors and actresses and other artists have met unfortunate (and highly publicized) fates. Kurt Kobain, Michael Jackson, and Heath Ledger, to name a few. And most recently, Amy Winehouse. Their deaths are disturbing enough, though, without the help of the vulture-like media that swoops over their unburied remains and attempts to siphon the most money off of what is hoped to be a scandalous death.
That’s step one. Step two is the backlash from people hiding behind social media avenues such as Facebook and Twitter pretending to be citizens of the world. One thing I’ve noticed in light of each of these artists’ death is this: things like “who cares if _____ died, ____ people died in _____ last week and no one is writing tabloid articles about that”
But no one is arguing that the death of Amy Winehouse is more important than, for example, the 93 people who died in Oslo, Norway this month due to a savage attack by a Christian fundamentalist consumed by the thought of a world dominated by Muslims. The Winehouse story is simply the most scantily clad in gossip and mockery. Due to the capitalist prowess of social media, it’s also the one that has the capacity to make the most money.
What happens here is the trivialization of both events. When people say/write/type such things it produces two results. That 1) Amy Winehouse (and artists or other individuals like her) either deserve to die and/or aren’t significant enough neither in life nor death to deserve any recognition other than criticism and condescension and 2) that the Oslo tragedy (and other tragedies involving more than one person) is only significant insofar as it is compared with a simultaneous, seemingly less destructive event. What ends up happening is the inception of a heirarchy of importance for various instances of death and destruction formed by comparing them to other types of tragedy. To what end, though, do these comparisons achieve any clarity? Death has and always will be one of society’s most mysterious exchanges for life and as such, we will never stop trying to make sense of it.
Perhaps that’s the reason why Amy Winehouse’s death strikes people as more warranted- it can be better understood because we’ve watched it and/or hoped for it to happen throughout her entire career. The massacre of hundreds of people (at least) on a daily basis, though, cannot be understood. And that is why comparisons result in heirarchies of importance. Events that cannot be understood are compared with events that can, or perhaps should, be explained and as such are deemed “worthy” or “unworthy” of more, or at least various types of, attention.
But shouldn’t these events hold tragic significance in their own right? In their own context, in their own isolation from the rest of what’s going on in the world? We have become so disillusioned by what is important and what isn’t based on only a few distinct criteria, mass and responsibility. The bigger the catastrophe, the more important it is. The more responsible an individual is for his or her own catastrophe, the less important it is. Do we, or should we, even possess the celestial right to distinguish between what is or isn’t important?
It seems to me that comparing such events, so seemingly different from each other, only trivialize their individual importance. It’s a shame that Winehouse died so young, and it’s a shame that she’s facing more criticism in death than she did while alive. The incident in Oslo is a disturbing tragedy that has the capacity to teach the world a lot about the current balance (or lack thereof) between politics and religion. I challenge anyone to find themselves unshaken by this event in one way or another.
The only thing these things have in common is the loss of life. But that loss shouldn’t be examined in terms of relative significance. Treating death like an ATM machine won’t teach us anything about the world or help explain why these terrible things happen because, more often than not, there is no tangible explanation. Maybe that’s what we need to get more comfortable with.
**Title taken from a song by The Ordinary Boys