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Arguing on Facebook is a losing game

Personal blog post, see here for original.

Between Tramlines bands, fun and beer (ah, that last one may explain a lot!) I’ve spent more time than I should have done this weekend “debating” with friends, and friends of friends, on Facebook about the death of Amy Winehouse. (Warning, swearing may follow…).

I’m not exactly a massive fan of Amy Winehouse’s music, but her story’s a tragic one. An addictive personality who couldn’t handle fame, and was hounded mercilessly by the press  at a time when she should have been left alone to sort her demons, her death was as predictable as it was tragic. She was also, before she lost it, a very talented singer, although I’d argue someone’s level of talent doesn’t increase or decrease the level of tragedy (Stephen Gateley’s death was no less tragic because he was in fucking Boyzone).

Arguments seem to generally follow four particular strands. Firstly the “she was a smackhead who deserved to die and doesn’t deserve sympathy” line. My namby pamby liberal sensibilities don’t like this argument. As I’ve said above, the whole sorry saga is a tragic one, and loss of young life is always sad. Yes she was stupid for taking up drugs, and seems to have had many chances to get off them, but I’m not comfortable at armchair pundits looking at her life through the lens of the press and making judgements on whether she deserved to die. I don’t believe I have that right.

Secondly there’s the withering “oh god, I can’t believe all you people’s ridiculous outpouring of grief over a celebrity”, which was completely out of scale with most people’s “Amy Winehouse is dead. That’s quite sad” comments. I’m not a fan of the whole grieving for celebrities you don’t know thing either, and I agree press coverage after celebrity deaths can get a little overpowering, but to condemn anyone merely making a passing mention that it’s a shame is a bit high and mighty.

Thirdly there’s the too-cool-for-school “yeah, well I don’t give a shit about her death, yeah?”. It’s as if because her life was played out as a tawdry tabloid soap opera, caring about a 27-year old woman dying is akin to getting upset at the events of Eastenders, or crying when your favourite X-Factor contestant gets voted off. People don’t really see the irony of logging on to Facebook purely to express faux-indifference. A shit has been given, even if it’s a negative shit.

The fourth one deserves a longer examination, because it’s hard to argue against completely, but fails to fully appreciate the nature of social networking. It is – “90+ innocent kids have just been killed in horrific events in Norway, why is everyone banging on about one self-destructive woman in Camden?”.

I must admit I didn’t post anything about Oslo, even though the news reports genuinely horrified and chilled me. I did post a Winehouse RIP. It’s a very good question to ask why. I think firstly condemning a terrorist atrocity is almost stating the obvious, and I don’t know anyone in Norway to pass messages of support and condolences to, and so there would be nothing I could add than “this is awful”.

Rightly or wrongly celebrity death is gossip, which is more akin to the often meaningless tittle tattle that spreads around Facebook. With a controversial character as Winehouse it acts as a “I’m taking the side of finding this quite sad” message, but less nobly, even though it’s genuinely tragic, it’s also a “oooh, have you heard!” snippet. As much as we try to piously rise above it, none of us escape the fact it seems to be human nature to care about celebrities, especially the drama of their death. In the 21st Century we don’t know our neighbours well enough to gossip about them over the washing line; instead this part of our psyche plays out with celebrities and on Facebook walls.

So, ironically, it’s probable the main reason why more people may be discussing Winehouse than Oslo on Facebook is that her death doesn’t bother us as much deep down, and we don’t see that it’s anywhere as important – we feel more comfortable wittering on about it among the usual flippancy of our social network as a piece of tragic gossip, than we do discussing horrific and chilling atrocities. Facebook is an indication of what we want to talk about, which is not necessarily the same thing as what we think is most important.

The fourth argument also gets a bit silly. Whatever news story you’re talking about there’s almost always something worse going on. Even those using the Oslo massacre as the story that should be eradicating all trace of Winehouse-related sorrow are forgetting the ongoing and bitter famine in East Africa. But that would get ridiculous – are people really suggesting we should only care about the biggest story of the day? The largest death toll? The most innocent victims? We have room to give a shit about as many, or as trivial, stories as we want.

But after my long piece of waffle above, the bottom line is a well-known and talented 27 year old woman has died after a long battle with drugs, booze and depression. The world will keep turning, but it’s a shame. Amy Winehouse RIP.


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This entry was posted on July 25, 2011 by in Blog posts, Music, Rants and tagged , , .
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