What Stace had to say on Monday, July 25th, 2011

Amy Winehouse died.

I’m sure you all know that. I’m sure this is only one of thousands of posts about her and her death that will be posted today, that have already been posted. But I want to say something about it; I need to say something about it, so I’m going to.

Amy’s music wasn’t the type I normally listen to, but I honestly loved Back to Black. I loved the sixties-esque, bluesy feel of it. I thought her lyrics were stunning and gritty and dark and beautiful, and her voice incredible. And today–all weekend–I’ve watched other people–other women–talk about those lyrics especially, how it felt to them like Amy really opened herself up, really exposed something of herself and how much that mattered to them, and why it mattered to them. They talk about dark times in their lives when those lyrics and that music helped them and spoke to them and made them feel not so alone. They talk about what a tragedy this is, how much they wanted another album, how deeply they identified with the troubled soul laid bare for them in song.

I’m also seeing other people–mostly men; some women, yes, but more men–talk about how they’re not surprised, how Amy deserved to die, how she was a junkie slag, how we’re all stupid if we didn’t expect this and stupid for caring to begin with. Oh, and of course there’s a healthy dose of “Kids died in Norway so how dare you people care about this when something actually important has just happened,” as if people can’t care about both, or as if no one is allowed to mourn the loss of someone who touched their lives because another tragedy with a bigger body count has taken place elsewhere. Like if your grandparent died on 9/11 you shouldn’t have cared or something. Along with that comes quite a bit of “Those kids in Norway didn’t deserve to die and Amy did” or “those kids in Norway had futures and Amy pissed hers away.”

(This post isn’t about the tragedy in Norway, and for the record I am horrified and saddened and deeply troubled by it.)

I find a number of things troubling here, and am kind of struggling to articulate all of my thoughts and feelings on it. I’m troubled at the loss of someone with talent. I’m troubled at the loss of someone who was clearly in a lot of pain. I’m troubled by the callousness of so many of the responses (just, as it must be said, I am by the callous responses many people make anytime any kind of death is reported in the news).

I find myself thinking back to when Kurt Cobain died. I personally never cared for Kurt Cobain or his music; in fact I strongly disliked both. But I remember well the way his addiction was handled in the press, and I remember that the response to it was one of sadness and concern, the response to his death one of shock and mourning. I remember how the public discourse seemed so much to be about worry and support. And now I remember the response to Amy’s addiction was scorn and disgust, and the response to her death–not everywhere, it must be said–seems to be more of the same, with a healthy dollop of “she deserved it.” I don’t remember people calling Cobain an ugly whore because of his addictions, or discussing how if he touched them they’d want to bathe with bleach, or wondering why anyone in their right minds would want to be anywhere near him. I don’t recall, when River Phoenix died, people saying he deserved it. So why the vitriol against Amy Winehouse? Is it easier to dismiss and shame her because Ladies Don’t Do Such Things? Why is it okay for talented men to be fucked up, but talented women aren’t allowed? Why are men with addiction problems forgiven and hoped for, but women are condemned?

For every person discussing what a vile person Charlie Sheen is and has become, there are many willing to pay huge amounts of money to see him ramble. And that’s now, after the shit around him finally reached an un-ignorable level. Let’s not forget that Charlie’s had addiction issues for years; let’s not forget how many women have accused him of domestic violence. How much shit did we hear about him when those incidents happened? It was a quick news story that then disappeared, and when his name came up we didn’t hear much about it. If it was mentioned it was in a cheery “Those problems were totally overblown and are behind him now” sort of way. He was called a “partier” and a “lothario.” Now how many times in the last couple of years did you see an article about Amy that didn’t focus on her addiction problems or mention the violence in her relationship with her husband in a snide and condescending manner? How many comments to those articles didn’t focus–in Charlie’s case–on how much the commenter hoped his troubles really were behind him, and how many of the comments in Amy’s case weren’t about how ugly and skanky she was? How many times was Amy’s behavior chuckled about as if it was just normal and fine, how many times was she fondly called a “party girl?”

Googling things like “Amy Winhouse slut,” “Amy Winehouse slag,” and “Amy Winehouse disgusting” brings up millions and millions of hits all about–yes–how Amy was a slut, a slag, and disgusting. “Amy Winehouse disgusting” brought up over nine million hits, largely Facebook groups, blogs, videos, websites, whatever, devoted to how disgusting Amy is. “Charlie Sheen disgusting” brings up two million, and even on the first page you can see the difference; they’re calling his behavior disgusting, not him, or they’re quoting Denise Richards. I realize doing a few Google searches is hardly a scientific study, but I do think it’s telling.

Sure, there’s a difference. Charlie’s fame didn’t come from singing about/talking about drugs and alcohol. I know that, and I know that’s part of the response I’ll get about this post. I guess the implication there is that–my old favorite–Amy shouldn’t have mentioned it if she didn’t want to be judged, and Amy asked for it when she sang about things that had meaning for her. Of course that can’t really be argued with; every artist knows that creating art for public consumption means opening oneself up to public criticism. That’s the name of the game, and of course everyone has a right to their own reactions to things and to express those reactions. My comments or concerns aren’t about that so much as the fact that we seem to be much gentler and more forgiving when it’s a man whose problems we’re discussing rather than a woman. (It’s not just publicly either; when I asked about this online I had a girl who’d entered AA at a young age remark on how different were the reactions she got from the reactions the men she knew in recovery got. They were tortured and cool; she was a dirty slut.)

(We can say the same thing about Britney Spears, actually, a young woman who had a public breakdown while we all watched. When Britney was a sexy virgin everyone loved her; the minute she gained a few pounds and showed evidence of stress people started stoning her in the public square. Part of this is simply the way of the world these days. As I said Friday, it feels like our culture has devolved to the point where other people aren’t seen or treated as human anymore, but merely artificial constructs created for our entertainment, and we delight in going online to say whatever clever little cruelty we’ve invented in our vicious little heads, then sitting back smiling at our own pithy disregard for other people’s feelings. After all, we’re perfect, aren’t we, so obviously anyone dealing with problems we don’t ourselves deal with or not living their lives the exact same way we do are inferior in some way, and thus deserving of our scorn. I digress.)

This is getting very long, so I’m going to hold off on the second part and post it tomorrow. It’s about my own feelings about blogging and putting things out there, and all of that. So for now…that’s all.

20 comments to “Self-exposure”

  1. Betsy Dornbusch
    · July 25th, 2011 at 9:18 am · Link

    It is sad. I don’t know much about Amy Winehouse or her music. The few things I did hear or read about her were all negative: poor behavior and such.

    There’s a reason why so many artists have trouble with drugs and alcohol, and I think it’s because they’re so into digging deep into their own psyches. I certainly notice it in my own creative life. I’m writing a book centered on religion as a theme and I’ve had a drink or six after some writing sessions. It’s a hard dig into rocky ground. I think you’re making a valid point about women getting the shaft when it comes to dealing with their issues, verses men being “tortured and cool.”

  2. Crystal
    · July 25th, 2011 at 9:54 am · Link

    So true. Double standards are alive and well, and there’s nowhere to see it better than in the way we treat our celebrities. The males are forgiven most every sin whereas the women are, as you said, taken out into the square and stoned.

    Looking forward to what you have to say in your “Part 2” post.

  3. Naomi
    · July 25th, 2011 at 9:56 am · Link

    A thousand times yes to all of this. When a talented man dies through addiction, it’s a tragedy and he was a lost soul. When a talented woman dies the same way, she deserved it, she was a slut, she was weak, she was stupid. It baffles and sickens me to see people I know consider friends make stupid statements like “how dare you mention her in the same breath as Cobain/Hendrix/whoever.” Someone died. That’s tragic whether they’re male, female, addict, or not. AND if addiction in this country was treated as a disease instead of a crime, Amy might not have died. Many people, including people I’ve known and cared for, might still be alive if we changed our perceptions and attitudes towards addiction.

  4. Colleen Lindsay
    · July 25th, 2011 at 10:33 am · Link

    I could not have put this better.

    Well said, and thank you.

  5. Bronagh
    · July 25th, 2011 at 12:08 pm · Link

    Brilliant post Stacia – I agree with every word; you put it a lot more eloquently than I could!

  6. Michele Lee
    · July 25th, 2011 at 12:35 pm · Link

    Well said!

    Nearly all deaths are tragedies and even the peaceful, well-lived lives ending are still sad. Winehouse is a sad case, no doubt. She had a lovely voice.

    It’s difficult because speaking as a person who struggled to live through and thrive through an addict parent and some pretty heinous abuse in the name of his pursuit of drug (including time when he surrounded himself by enablers and shaming me as a non enabler was a very common past time) it’s really hard for me to ignore Winehouse’s blatant refusal to get help. She did eventually, but she spent a lot of time refusing, so it’s hard to not take into account that her own choices contributed to her situation.

    I HOPE the comments about “Norway is the real tragedy” is less about people and more about the the way the media commonly ignores certain stories in favor of the same celebrity mis-adventures you named.

    Still, there is no reason to make fun of Winehouse. There wasn’t in the beginning. It’s a horrible trait that’s been cultivated. South Park got it right when they said people need celebrities first to be beautiful, rich and perfect, then to persecute and drive insane. I hate that part of culture.

    • Cheryl
      · July 25th, 2011 at 2:57 pm · Link

      @Michelle I feel like people who suffered at the hands of an addict have every right to call the addict any such epithets they choose. People that know nothing about a celebrity but feel they have some kind of leg to stand on by passing their own judgments makes what they have to say quite meaningless.

      For you, I think you’ve shown that it’s not that difficult to have been on the receiving end of an addicts abusive misbehavior and carelessness and still not resort to the kind of drivel that others with zero experience in the arena have been able to muster. People most definitely suffered at the hands of AW, too. Her friends and family, I’m sure, took a lot of abuse over the years that you can relate to.

      My perspective is different because my addiction didn’t really result in that kind of overt abuse. Mine just hurt people through second hand smoke and grumpy outbursts when having a nic fit. Hardly the thing that nightmares are made of.

      Addicts don’t want to quit, even when they do try. Beating addiction is hard. Most of us don’t want to do it because it hurts. It’s easier to keep feeding the addiction than to put that amount of effort into something . Most addicts also know they are addicts. We don’t particularly like or enjoy being addicts. It just is and that’s the life we live. Many of us won’t apologize for it or tell others we hate our lives the way they are. We’d rather get defensive, tell you it’s our lives to ruin, blah, blah, blah. And at the end of it all, we still like what it does. I enjoyed smoking. I didn’t enjoy every cigarette I had or the smell, but I liked to smoke.

      Believe me when I say, most of us beat ourselves up inside just wishing life were different. And this is only coming from someone addicted to nicotine. We don’t get sad sob stories or sympathy when we’re dying of lung cancer, either, though. But until any addict is able to accept the fact that they don’t really want to quit but will anyway, they probably won’t quit.

      Just thinking about smoking makes me shiver in dread when I imagine how it must be for a junkie. It’s got to be the hardest thing to try to live with, live through and get off without dying.

      • Cheryl
        · July 25th, 2011 at 2:59 pm · Link

        Sorry I spelled your name wrong. 😳

      • Michele Lee
        · July 26th, 2011 at 7:27 pm · Link

        No worries :) Yes, I struggle with depression and PTSD myself, so I can only imagine how much worse it would be with addiction. I feel very very lucky sometimes that I seem to have avoided that kind of further complication.

        It’s difficult because I have the utmost sympathy for her and her loved ones, but I also know that I have to fight many days to function. And if you’re there you have to try to fight or you’ve already failed. I understand fighting and failing, or not being able to fight at the moment, but I don’t understand those who don’t even try.

        Furthermore, we’re given such a skewed version of these people’s lives, how do we really know if they’re getting help or not? And it’s not our business to know. So ultimately I’m sad for her love ones, but I have to admit getting famous on a song about refusing to go to rehab has given me a lackluster view of her.

  7. Cheryl
    · July 25th, 2011 at 1:00 pm · Link

    My husband and I were talking about AW yesterday morning and he was very sympathetic and couldn’t believe it.

    I have to admit that I wasn’t. I felt sadness and sympathy toward her while she was alive. Those feelings, to me, matter most when someone is breathing and you can hope they turn their lives around and get it together. I just quit smoking after 17 years of a pack a day and that was tough, I can’t imagine how hard it is to quit smack.

    In death, I have a hard time mustering anything up because I spent it on her while she was alive. We all knew the outcome would be this if she didn’t get it together, including her. We had plenty of time to prepare and come to terms with it. So when she died, unlike my husband, I did not gasp in horror. I did not need to take a seat and contemplate the loss of brilliant music we will never get to hear. I simply nodded.

    My sympathy now goes to her family and friends.

    But I don’t think that means it’s okay to call her a whore or that she deserved it. No one deserves it. No one deserves to die tragically. We have no idea what happened in her life that got her hooked on drugs. I’m sure many of us have done our fair share of partying. It could’ve easily been me, you or anyone else given the right combinations in life. It’s ridiculous that women get these awful labels while men get sadness and light.

    When Chris Farley died overweight on the floor with one of his favorite hookers and loaded with speedballs, it was with great pompe and circumstance. *He* was a tortured soul.

  8. Elisa Jankowski
    · July 25th, 2011 at 2:32 pm · Link

    The thing that frustrates me is so many people are unwilling to consider the impact of her Bipolar diagnosis on these issues. A major indicator for many who suffer from bipolar disorder is an unwillingness or hesitancy to take medications to help stabilize chemical imbalances but wind up self-medicating. I don’t know Amy Winehouse, but I’m related to wonderful people like her and I can tell you the connection between those things often takes years to accept.

    So why can’t we appreciate that she wasn’t perfect, she made some really bad decisions, and all she probably ever wanted was to feel good? Illicit drugs obviously aren’t the answer, but when people look for a quick fix… I’m heartbroken for her family, I’m so sad her talent is no more, and I’m infuriated with those who seem to expect her to have known better. If that’s the mindset, then by rights kurt cobain, etc should’ve known better too.

    She was struggling – and let’s not forget she DID go to rehab – she just failed to win her battle. And more than anything, that’s so incredibly sad.

  9. Michelle
    · July 25th, 2011 at 2:45 pm · Link

    Thank you for this post. I’ve struggled all weekend trying to articulate pretty close to the same feelings in conversations and now I can just link people here.

  10. Sara
    · July 25th, 2011 at 3:37 pm · Link

    I completely agree and just want to make an additional contribution to the discussion. I believe men and women are held to different standards. When a man messes up the reaction is “well, yeah, of course” but when a woman messes up the reaction is really boiled down to “she should know better than that!” So ultimately women are viewed as superior beings, that just makes it sadder when one falls off her pedestal.

    Or! the opposite, where women are viewed as the evil temptresses that lure men away from the shiny knights they’re supposed to be.

    I could go on and on, but I believe that’s why the responses are so varied from men (such a shame) to women (not surprised).

  11. Karen
    · July 25th, 2011 at 3:53 pm · Link

    Well said, Stacia.

    I loved Amy Winehouse’s music and was saddened by her death. I thought she was a brilliant and talented artist. And yes, she was obviously troubled, but that doesn’t make her any less of a person or beneath our respect for that talent. When I heard she’d passed, my only thought was how sad it was that she wasn’t able to find the help she needed. No one should die alone or in such emotional pain. Addiction is a dark and terrible thing, and it can happen to anyone with the right circumstances. We shouldn’t throw stones.

    (I still mourn Kurt Cobain’s death. I thought he was incredibly talented, too. Nirvana’s Unplugged album is one of my favorites to listen to when I’m feeling emo.)

  12. Dawn G
    · July 26th, 2011 at 11:44 am · Link

    What happened with Amy Winehouse was a tragedy, not disgusting. Her life, and death, are a cause for sadness not vitriol. I didn’t care for her music, but she was a very talented songwriter. She burned so very brightly for so short a period of time.

    As a person who knows about addiction to drugs and alcohol first hand, I have to say that every time Ms. Winehouse went into rehab it was with the deep-down, intense feeling that this time it would work. This time is the time she would beat her demons. Unfortunately for her, there wasn’t enough time.

    My thoughts go out to her parents, they are the ones living with the nasty remarks and rude comments and judgments on their daughter’s life.

  13. BernardL
    · July 26th, 2011 at 12:37 pm · Link

    You make a good point. There are certainly a long list of men who traveled down that substance abuse road past the point of no return. They did get sympathetic treatment from the general populace Amy Winehouse will not be getting. Kurt Cobain and John Belushi definitely tanked in a very public way but have practically been canonized since their deaths. If Charlie Sheen keeps dying in public he will probably be heralded in much the same way in spite of his incredibly poor life choices. You’re on to something. I don’t know why there’s a difference in treatment between celebrity men and women who end their lives due to substance abuse, but there is. I don’t know that there is any other way to think of them at all other than with consternation and sadness that they had so much and yet could take no pleasure in it.

  14. Mardel
    · July 28th, 2011 at 1:35 am · Link

    It is a little scary how close we still are to the old-fashioned mindsets that led to women being stoned, put in stocks, etc. This has been going on for a long time, this double standard. Women are vilified for the very same things that men are forgiven so easily for, sometimes even getting the old pats on the back.

    It’s shameful how snide and mean people get with these celebrities. I wonder how much of the public negativity added to the chances of Spears having a breakdown, or how much contributed to Winehouses difficulties with maintaining her sobriety. Imagine how hard it is for us “regular” folks to maintain our sanity or stay clean with our daily stresses. These celebrities have to do this in the public eye with many judgements and comments, most of them mean, nasty and cruel.

    The whole situation is sad and a little heartbreaking. It’s also frustrating as hell when you factor in the double standards.

  15. Lorie Stevens
    · July 29th, 2011 at 6:06 am · Link

    Thank you for your sensitive and insightful commentary on Amy. I was feeling exactly the same way, but couldn’t have been nearly as articulate, nor do I have much of a venue (although I’ve been squawking to all and sundry who’d listen to me!). It’s evident to me the way you portray Chess and no doubt your other characters, that you have a deeply compassionate nature coupled with what I can only describe as a lust for justice and equality and I appreciate that so much. I stumbled upon your work last year, and am captivated by it. Your principles are clearly conveyed there. While I know that the internet can be a venue for anonymous intolerance and hatred, I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your comments, sense of justice and voice in the wilderness for Amy and all like her. Illegitimi non carborundum

  16. Kat
    · August 4th, 2011 at 3:24 pm · Link

    Well I have to say I have not experienced the same negativity towards Amy Winehouse’s death as you. In my circle and the news I have read and listened to, I have only encountered feelings of sadness for her and how tortured she must have been. I am sorry to hear about the bashing of her character. We all have our ways of coping with the trials of life…and hers seems to have been drugs. Unfortunately her addiction was not very functional, and society has lost a talented young artist.

  17. Jinxie_G
    · September 21st, 2011 at 1:29 am · Link

    I love her songs Back to Black and You Know I’m No Good, and I agree with what you’re saying here and thank you for doing so. She was a real person with real problems and why should that be any damn different than the rest of us? I’ve found myself in the position of working with some celebrities now and I do not envy their lives one bit when every part of it is out in the open. If anything, I feel sad for them.

    Again, thank you for writing this.

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