walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Flameouts and Choice Rhetoric

Recently, Amy Winehouse died. She was 27. She had a brief but impressive career as a singer-songwriter, did an uncertain number of stints in rehab of an uncertain length, was diagnosed bipolar but was apparently untreated and attracted significant criticism over a period of years for erratic behavior, as well as for the content of some of her songs (notably, "Rehab", which as music was widely admired, critically and commercially).

Reactions to her death were varied, if predictable: the sadness and tragedy, the similarity to certain other artists (musical and otherwise), and that she had made bad choices.

A friend sent me a link to a public post by someone she admires and was interested in my reaction. I was going to post a response to it friends-only, but I was able to find an unrelated post that covered some of the same ground, so I'll respond to that article here and the unshared part of the commentary in a locked post.


Essentially: anyone who hasn't had Ms. Winehouse's life path is in no position to judge her or even be able to tell whether what she did was the result of a "choice". Dermody does not appear to believe that someone was coercing Ms. Winehouse, rather, this is an assertion of the limitations of the rhetorical construct "choice". The balance of the post is noting tragic things that might lead to substance abuse.

Dermody's construction of the term "choice" is absurd (that is, even more so than "choice" usually is): "I doubt as a young child, that any of them thought, "I want to become a drug addict or an alcoholic.""

The description I supplied of the circumstances in question was intended to highlight both the validity and the problems of Dermody's argument: yes, Ms. Winehouse had been quoted in the press over a period of years as being diagnosed manic depressive -- but she was also described as refusing treatment for same. And everything about her story indicates she had access to significant help in beating and/or managing her addiction but generally refused to do so.

R. accepts a lot more of the AA rhetorical structure than I do (I doubt he thinks of it as rhetorical structure; I think he really believes in it). I asked him if he thought the massive monetary and other rewards Ms. Winehouse received for her very, very, very public misbehavior had anything to do with her life arc. He doesn't. He thinks she could have had the same extremely out of control path in complete obscurity. I'm inclined to agree -- altho I would sort of prefer to blame the peanut gallery for being so entertained by her flaming out repeatedly, I don't think it's actually justified. If anything, the peanut gallery was just trying to hold the line for impressionable folk who might think of emulating her. To the extent they could be convinced to NOT, that's a good thing.

I've been trying to figure out how to say what I mean for hours now, but I'll try a quick sum-up, since even I can tell the above is very obscure:

Choice Rhetoric is risible, but serves an important purpose: it stops Us As A Group from Preventing Us As Individuals from doing unusual things. Choice is highly constrained in general. However, Ms. Winehouse's conspicuous refusal to pursue treatment for bipolar and/or substance problems require us to respect that Ms. Winehouse may have actually chosen to do what she did. And as sad and tragic as the whole arc has been, I think it might be worse to suggest that she was somehow completely powerless.

Also, there's a really good chance it was just a stupid accident (for suitable definitions of accident), and all of us can suffer from those, even if our "choices" are generally considered much wiser than hers.

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