Cerebral Decanting

Music Reviews every Wednesday .....

Art/Lit (& Politics) other days......

by Jason Gubbels

Kill Yr Idols: Mass Culpability And Whitney Houston

1.   In this century, Houston became an emblem of decline — of the human toll taken by drugs, and of the shifting nature of pop, whose stars now act much more like trick ponies than thoroughbreds. Houston made more music and won more accolades (according to the Guinness Book of World Records, she holds more trophies than any other pop star) and did manage to occasionally appear in public. But her comeback never solidified. The most obvious testimony to the greatness of her gift is that, even when she was most down, the butt of comedians’ jokes and gossip columnists sneers, her fellow artists only spoke of her in admiration and love.”

"That Houston died mere steps from that stage, only to be discovered by her bodyguard in one of the thousand hotel rooms where she’d laid her head, is strange poetry. I’ve long thought that someone should write an opera about this brash, brilliant woman, born a child of soul and raised to womanhood within the heart of crossover pop. She broke hearts, and was herself broken. She suffered, but not in her music, which even at its saddest was grounded in a sense of dignity and the determination to transcend. She defined a style that so many would adopt, yet her talent was unique."

"At the beginning of her book Opera, Or the Undoing Of Women, the French theorist Catherine Clement turns to various arias to embellish her argument about how music symbolizes and enacts the pain women must endure. “A prima donna is a column broken in two that bleeds from top to bottom,” sings the diva in Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann. This reprisal reveals what we listeners crave: gorgeous suffering, self-exposure a show of power. Clement quotes another aria, from Jean Cocteau’s text forCantate, that makes me think of Whitney Houston, as I hope to always think of her. As an aerialist: “See see how I can fly / I can stay up alone / Detach myself from earth / Spin and rise / Rise wingless, wingless / Climb into the air the way you fall / Gently / In a whirl.”

- Ann Powers, “Whitney Houston: Her Life Played Out Like An Opera,” NPR (The Record), Feb. 11 2012

2.  "Opera is not forbidden to women. That is true. Women are its jewels, you say, the ornament indispensable for every festival. No prima donna, no opera. But the role of jewel, a decorative object, is not the deciding role; and on the opera stage women perpetually sing their eternal undoing. The emotion is never more poignant than at the moment when the voice is lifted to die. Look at these heroines. With their voices they flap their wings, their arms writhe, and then there they are, dead, on the ground. Look at these women who fill the theater, accompanied by penguins in uniform that scarcely vary; they are present, they are decorative. They are present for the dispatch of women like themselves. And when the curtain closes to let the singers take the last bow, there are the women kneeling in a curtsy, their arms filled with flowers; and there, beside them, the producer, the conductor, the set designer. Occasionally, a…..But you wouldn’t know how to say it: a produceress? A conductress? Not many women have access to the great masculine scheme surrounding this spectacle thought up to adore, and also to kill, the feminine character."

- Catherine Clement, “Opera, or, the Undoing of Women,” 1979

3.   "I feel physically disgusted after watching several episodes in a row of the now-cancelled reality TV show The Swan. I often don’t like my appearance, but I generally don’t consider these deficits humiliating. The women who opt to appear on The Swan, however, who sign up for plastic surgery and undergo the procedure and the recovery on camera, who elect to receive tummy tucks and cheek implants and brow lifts so that they might compete in a beauty pageant against the other renovated “ugly ducklings” - these women feel humiliated by their bodies.”

"These disturbed women ask to be humiliated on television so that they might end up beautiful - but after surgery’s purgatory they end up resembling Jocelyn Wildenstein, a tabloid curiosity, a compromise between lynx and socialite. The deeper the delusion, the more entertaining the show.The woman’s self-disgust is a prized commodity; we’re supposed to be amused by her disconnection from reality, amused - or riveted with horrified fascination - by her self-destructive search for chimerical, surgically achieved equilibrium."

"And so why do I feel sick watching this show? TV in general makes me queasy: I’m revolted by how transparently the contestants and emcees, on game shows and other "reality" fare, seem consoled and cocooned by the attention the camera (and the studio audience) gives them[…]. To understand why viewers are excited or moved by seeing the parade of humiliation, we’d need to look beyond psychology; we’d need to examine the flow of capital."

- Wayne Koestenbaum, “Humiliation,” Picador, 2011

4.   Despite almost universally dreadful reviews  (the Hollywood Reporter called it ”undoubtedly the most disgusting and execrable series ever to ooze its way onto television”) the new reality series Being Bobby Brown has emerged as one of the biggest new shows in Bravo’s 25-year history. Why do so many people want to watch a ’90s R & B has-been and his haggard, drug-addicted pop-star wife (Whitney Houston checked into rehab shortly after the series was filmed) shamble from jailhouse to courtroom to luxury resort, all for the benefit of a camera crew? Do you really need to ask?”

"There’s something pitiable yet endearing about how much Bobby Brown enjoys being famous. He just likes it, every minute of it. He reveals his identity to two strangers in a restaurant (“you might not recognize me without the orange jumpsuit”), and enjoys being interrupted by gushing fans during a family dinner. His wife is clearly more ambivalent about public display (though she was evidently exhibitionist enough to agree to this series and seems to enjoy serenading the cameramen with snatches of song). In a typical scene, as Whitney and the kids take a dip in a hotel pool that’s been closed to the public for their privacy, Bobby lingers outside the hotel to schmooze and pose for pictures with rubberneckers (some of whom mistake him for Usher or Puff Daddy). He helpfully explains to the camera crew: “Me, I got into the business for people. But not my wife, man. She got into it to sing. So, you want a picture with me? Cool. You want a picture with her? I doubt it.”

"Draped in headscarves and brandishing a cigarette, the skeletal Houston seems constantly on the edge of a ghetto-diva breakdown; she snaps at fans to leave her alone ("Ma’am, I’m eating. Do you see me eating?") and bursts into tears at the mere mention of her late father’s name. But it’s hard to feel sorry for Whitney, with her raunchy mouth and throaty, cackling laugh; she comes off as a show-business survivor, and to gauge by recent headlines, she and Bobby are ready to go forth and procreate once more.”

- Dana Stevens, “The Greatest Love Of All,” Slate, July 8 2005

5.   One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.”

-Kurt Vonnegut