I was involved in a discussion this evening where a white acquaintance spoke out about the arrest of two black men in Philadelphia, stating they were loitering and ultimately pulled the “race card.” Here’s the thing, even if the Starbucks in Philadelphia wasn’t directly racially profiling the two black men who were arrested the issue still exists – and stands firm – of an incredibly unbalanced and obvious injustice towards POC. The public attention and call to sensitivity training is speaking out not just for those two black men, not just for Starbucks, but for the teens at an IHOP in Maine who were requested to pay up front for their meals. It’s for the black man in Iowa accused of stealing his winter coat while in an Old Navy store, simply because the jacket was also from – you guessed it – Old Navy. As a white woman, I cannot know what pressures, fears, and dealings a person of color must go through each day, but I tried to relate by drawing a parallel with the claim of, “not all men,” in regards to sexual harassment and assault. “Not everyone” is not the point. We may not be all racist, but we are blatantly ignorant to the racism that is happening, and I am ashamed. Ashamed of my country, and myself. The more people who are silent to injustice the weaker we become as a nation; no problem is solved without first admitting there is, in fact, a problem. Just because our technology advances regularly doesn’t mean we as a human race is advancing along with it. We use our free will to discriminate and judge people based on appearance, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. We focus on the superficial when we should judge people based on character and integrity – selflessness and kindness – just because our phones are always expected to improve doesn’t mean we can expect to develop without actual effort and self awareness. We want better everything except better selves. We see a shiny new product but not the time and dedication spent to make it greater than before. We can’t simply be handed humility and good character and be true humanitarians without consciously trying. As a country, our views of each other individually are often deplorable. We can get better phones to take better selfies but it doesn’t change our inner ugliness. We can be distracted by flashing advertisements and fashion and sports – new diets, new fast food, new coffee are shoved in our faces and we take it willingly – but feel overwhelmed, and even angered at coming across a raw, beautiful, imperfect human. We often times feel this way because we can’t look at our raw, beautiful, imperfect selves with acceptance, so we distract ourselves. We distract ourselves from the pain, the injustice, the hate, and we lumber on hoping it may just disappear one day. “Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt.”
I recently read an article about a young musician who died of an overdose at age 21. He was highlighted for his Youtube views, and his creativity, and his influence. However, his clear and blatant addiction to opioids and other various drugs was merely mentioned. His manager was quoted from a Twitter post, citing he had “expected” this type of news for a year. People mourn this kid – yes – and it is a tragedy. I never heard of this musician until today, but what stuck with me the most from this news was how normalized and passively mentioned his addiction seemed.
Recently, the industry that involves any kind of fame or fortune seems to be reliant on social media influence at the expense of the entertainer or influencer for the benefit of the managers and puppeteers – for lack of a better term – in control of the performers. There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with fame. There is nothing wrong with those who work hard and pursue their dreams in order to spread a message or music or art to the world. However, when a manager says they “expected” to hear of an overdose of their client – someone they are responsible for – it leaves a hole in my mind of what type of message is being sent around the world.
Addiction overall – something I am very familiar with – should be de-stigmatized, and at the same time should not be normalized the way it is in the entertainment industry. My opinions are completely my own, however I feel I am not the only one with a sour taste in my mouth surrounding this current situation, especially since this isn’t the first case of an artist overdosing. My experience with addiction is with my mother, an alcoholic who died from liver poisoning. Her state and condition worsened over the course of my life and was something I had absolutely no control over. I couldn’t save her and I couldn’t sway her. Her own personal reasoning was because I was “the child” and not the parent, so I didn’t know what I was saying.
What bothers me most with addiction and death with young artists in Hollywood is that many of them are managed and influenced by older artists and individuals who have been in the business longer. These people are enabling the addictive behaviors and seemingly ignoring the problem all for the sake of views and revenue, and the expense of this seems to be the life and well-being of the artist. Since when did it become alright to inspire people through normalization of addiction? Since when did an over-consumption of prescriptions, and mixing drugs become almost expected as an artist?
As a writer and an artist myself, I watched my mother – an artist – change her outlet for her mental struggles from art and playing guitar to alcohol and silence. Watching her die in front of me left a huge scar on my being, and I walked away with anxiety issues and post traumatic stress. My outlet was alcohol and over-consumption of food for about three years, until I realized I didn’t want to live my life out like she did, and I took up writing, painting, and music as outlets. My work, generally dark, allows me to flush out bad feelings I would have otherwise drowned and have a more positive verbal and mental outlook on life.
I do not doubt an increased pressure on artists to create what the public wants to hear rather than what’s in their own heads and hearts, but as a mass population I feel giant steps need to be made to stop desensitizing ourselves to the blatant and oftentimes open addictions in Hollywood where cries for help are said through song and we are more concerned about views and popularity rather than taking care of each other. We need to stop forgetting humanity at the expense of entertainment and money, and stop feeling entitled to having artists at the mercy of the public.