How Will I Know That I Shouted Out "Who Killed Whitney," When After All It Was Every Woman

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Whitney Houston's crack-addled fall from grace in the National Enquirer seems like the stuff of showbiz tragedy, but Salon's Rebecca Traister manages to find the unintentional comedy in it:

But in talking and thinking about Houston's story, walking past newsstands where her shiny, bloated face stared up from the tabloid covers, I realized that part of what's so sad about this particular pop culture tragedy is that racism and sexism and celebrity culture only went so far in destroying this woman; the rest she seems to have done herself.

Not only that, but Traister has finally deduced that Bobby Brown, our era's Mr. Norman Maine, is not the dominant figure in the star-crossed Brown/Houston union. Insights this fresh raise grand and troubling questions, among them: At this point, would anybody other than maybe Professor Leonard Jeffries be claiming that Whitney Houston is just a victim of our racist culture?

Apparently so, because—wouldn't you know—it's the "perfect storm" of life in Ronnie Raygun's Amerikkka that continues to buffet the good ship Whitney, a mere 18 years after Reagan left office:

But isn't part of the demonization of black female sexuality about our attitudes and assumptions more than it is about reality? Houston's meteoric rise, after all, had occurred during what Wisconsin professor Werner described as "an extremely chaotic period in African-American culture" during which the class-carving effects of Reaganomics dissolved black communities, the church lost its role as a centralizing organizing structure, and drug wars ripped through black neighborhoods.

In such a climate, what more could our troubled nation expect of the woman former Vibe editor Danyel Smith describes as "like the black Princess Di" (without mentioning that Whitney is, you know, still doing a little better than England's Rose)? But Traister, after some painful excogitation, concedes that it is the songbird herself who must bear primary responsibility. This is my favorite recipe for an article: You set up some fake consensus nobody actually believes, and then dare to challenge it. As it happens, Reason's Sara Rimensnyder reached this clear conclusion, in fewer words, three years ago, with her vision of a large-and-in-charge Whitney batting down pesky questions during the famous Diane Sawyer interview. Sara was also an early adopter of the obvious truth that Whitney was wearing the pants in that Atlanta manse:

Houston hubby Bobby Brown, temporarily released from the maid's quarters where Whitney undoubtedly keeps him when ABC's star interviewer is not around, joined his wife on the interrogation couch for a few minutes—covered in sweat throughout the ordeal.

But it was Reasonoid Brian Doherty who first identified the real issue. (OK, I admit it: Reason is a den of hyperventilating Whitney Houston fans.) The problem, Doherty noted long ago in Suck, isn't Whitney's superstar-befitting misbehavior, it's the clods who need to make a big deal out of it:

But it's ever thus—a man's, man's, man's world, where a woman can't show the slightest sign of slipping from the straight and narrow without being assumed an hysteric, a disaster. Fiona Apple cuts short one New York show and is snickered at as a flighty, whining quitter by critics the World Wide Web over. Rod Stewart has cancelled literally dozens of shows throughout his career because of stomach problems caused by an overdose of semen and is thought of as just "one of the boys." Sinead O'Connor tears up a picture of the Pope on national TV, gets ordained years later as a renegade Catholic priest, and is dismissed as an erratic flake. John Travolta plays straight-man to Gabe Kaplan on national TV and comes back years later to make a movie based on Scientology guru L. Ron Hubbard's unreadable science-fiction epics, yet he remains one of America's most beloved stars. Halle Berry hits one pedestrian and drives away, and the press labels her a menace, a reification of hoary and unfair jokes about female drivers. Jason Priestley drunkenly smashes into numerous objects—power poles, trash cans, a parked car—in the Hollywood Hills and is thought clever for finally disproving that canard floating around that the post-90210 hunk couldn't get arrested in Hollywood anymore. Women seem to earn a dollar for every 59 cents in public contempt and ridicule for their off-center antics.

Which leaves only one question: How do I get to that parallel universe where Whitney Houston and Cyndi Lauper have sterling 50-year careers, while Mariah Carey and Madonna turn out to be flashes in the pan—as the smart money was predicting at the start of their respective careers?

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  1. Racism and sexism contributed to Whitney’s down fall? How so?

  2. I know my prior post was without much substance, but I just wanted to have the first word for a change.

    “Halle Berry hits one pedestrian and drives away, and the press labels her a menace, a reification of hoary and unfair jokes about female drivers. Jason Priestley drunkenly smashes into numerous objects?power poles, trash cans, a parked car…”

    This is supposedly supportive of the notion that black women and treated more poorly than white men??? She hit a pedestrian, a human being, one of us, maybe even a gentle and loving democrat; Priestly (who ever he is) hit a fucking garbage can!

  3. Confession : I have no idea who Whitney Houston is.

    No TV.

  4. Tim, if you’re going to wish for a parallel universe, you ought to be more ambitious than that.

  5. “Confession : I have no idea who Whitney Houston is.”

    Do you have a radio? She’s a singer, not particularly a TV actress. Very big in the late 1980s to early 1990s. Hits include: “I’m Every Woman”, “Greatest Love Of All”, “Didn’t We Almost Have It All”, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”.

  6. I’m not a big city musicologist, but probably her biggest impact was popularizing the now-ubiquitous Urban Yodeling style of singing, where between the notes in the melody, you in throw in a middle eastern scale or three and a maybe an indian one for good measure. You now how they turn four syllables into 47 notes.

  7. It’s amusing that someone would play the race card, as Houston is arguably the most soul-less celebrity of color on the scene since…well, since O.J. Simpson…

  8. “…racism and sexism and celebrity culture…”

    Ergh, I know one can’t much help being a black female (unless one is fortunate enough to have the fawning and constant counsel of Michael Jackson’s yachtfuls of plastic surgeons), but one can damned well not participate in “celebrity culture” if one chooses.

    Sexism? Has anyone treated her worse, on ‘count of her gender, than her own husband? Puhleez.

    Rebecca Traister is a useless twat anyway, don’t expect much from her. I subscribed to Salon until end of last year, when she and a small handful of other self-important Manhattanite Carrie-Bradshaw-Barbies decided that instead of good leftie muckraking, Salon should really be about the decidedly trivial woes of upper-crust stay-home mommies. Hmmm, should I get a Bugaboo or an Inglesina? Should I enroll them in toddler Pilates, Suzuki-method piano, or yoga? Is my nanny cooler than I am? Is my high-earning husband an abusive lout because (shocker!), it turns out he enjoys his fast-lane career more than he enjoys domestic drudgery and mind-numbing, child-oriented culture? Is my employer an evil tool of the patriarchy for not subsidizing my personal choice to spawn, and not paying me/advancing my career like a full-time employee, in exchange for sporadic or part-time work? Oh, yes! Yes, my employer is an evil tool of the patriarchy! Sing it loud, girls!

    Anyway, you get my point.

    Rod Stewart has cancelled literally dozens of shows throughout his career because of stomach problems caused by an overdose of semen…

    ROFLMFAO. A first-rate burn.

  9. Must have been a slow day at Reason. However, this post did remind of a very funny skit on “Mad TV” in which B-Brown and Houston try to make a musical comeback by singing “99 Luftballoons” on American Idol. Debra Wilson had Whitney’s number years before Mr. Cavanaugh et al …

    In other important news, Britney Spears learns that a baby’s head is not as thick as her’s ….

  10. I don’t get the racism and sexism part either. Whitney looks just like a white girl. Because of this she was about the most unthreatening black woman imaginable. She sang the blandest most unblack music she could. In short, she did everything to play to guilty white middle America as the friendly black girl next door we could all get behind. If anything she benifited from people being racist and looking for a way to soothe their guilt over it by listening to an acceptably white looking and acting black singer. For that reason I always thought she was a phony and although I know its wrong part of me can’t help but laugh at the fact the she turned out to be a crack whore.

  11. Did “racism and sexism” play in role in all those photos of a bloated, drug-addled Elizabeth Taylor/Liza Minelli that have appeared on tabloid covers over the years? Don’t think so. Instead, it’s our mindless adoration of celebrities.

  12. The promo ads highlight the headline of the current issue: “Drug Crazed Whitney’s Secret Gay Life”. Oi.

  13. >Courtney Love, an addled and unwell figure who has been pilloried even more brutally than Houston, but who has managed to retain a claim on some fuzzy corner of our hearts.

    On whose hearts? Why does Traister presume to speak for “us?” She made this up right out of her own head.

    Brian:

    >probably her biggest impact was popularizing the now-ubiquitous Urban Yodeling style of singing

    For which crack addiction and her fall from grace can be considered just punishment.

  14. Tim, if you’re going to wish for a parallel universe, you ought to be more ambitious than that.

    So I guess I should forget my counterfactual perfect world where Bill Paxton is actually Bill Pullman, and vice versa!

    The promo ads highlight the headline of the current issue: “Drug Crazed Whitney’s Secret Gay Life”. Oi.

    Yeah, a forgotten side story in these fall-of-Whitney stories is that before all the crack scuttlebutt there was a decade worth of lesbo scuttlebutt. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)

    No TV.

    People still brag about not having a TV? What’s next: Jokes about Ike’s golf game?

  15. “The Greatest Love of All” played on the radio every five minutes when I was working at my most unbearably miserable job. This is a small amount of cosmic payback for that horrid bit of audio torture.

  16. God, Karen, you should have filed a complaint with OSHAA over that one and probably a workman’s comp claim while you were at it.

  17. I think they should do a reality show based on “Sunset Strip” except the William Holden character accidentally picks Whitney’s mansion to hide in.

    Hollywood, are you listening?

  18. “Rod Stewart has cancelled literally dozens of shows throughout his career because of stomach problems caused by an overdose of semen…”

    I heard something similar about Stewart over twenty years ago, but I always put it down as an urban myth. Matter of fact,…I thought the guy was straight. Not so?

  19. I think Vanessa Williams got hit with the “racism/sexism” freight train a lot harder than Whitney Houston did and she didn’t descend into crackwhoredom. Houston, after all, appeared as Kevin Costner’s love interest in “The Bodyguard.” You don’t get much more mainstream than that.

    Vanessa got publicly whipped and humiliated at the very beginning of her career but now she puts on a soccer-mom sweater and hawks skin cream on late-night TV. That’s a show business survivor…you gotta respect that.

  20. “I think Vanessa Williams got hit with the “racism/sexism” freight train…”

    Give me a break. VW was vilified because she posed nude with another woman and somebody narced her out to the Miss America drones. You are supposed to be virginal if you are selected for Miss America. SHe is my all-time favorite Miss America precisely because she did those pictures. There was no racism/sexism involved. I am the only one who gets annoyed by all this racism/sexism/oh-poor-meism bullshit?

  21. Tim Cavanaugh,

    You can’t blame Lauper for getting cancer. Nor is it fair to criticize her for her desire to eschew work which she didn’t want to do anymore – that is the creation of hit pop songs. Indeed, her career has gone past music and she’s blossomed into a well liked and acclaimed actress (with at least one emmy under her belt). Indeed, I have to say that comparing her to Whitney Houston is pretty damn uninformed.

    For your edification see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyndi_Lauper

  22. I heard something similar about Stewart over twenty years ago, but I always put it down as an urban myth. Matter of fact,…I thought the guy was straight. Not so?

    I think his being gay was just a vicious rumor that got started when he hitched his wagon to the glam-rock train. He’s actually burned through a long series of Britt Eklund-types over the years, and these days they’re all about half his age.

    I’m sure in his heart though he’s a very sad and lonely man.

  23. Is this Traister chick the one who had the huge whinge (troll?) over Tom Ford’s Vanity Fair issue recently? Pretty girls make me cry and all that.

  24. Mariah Carey and Madonna turn out to be flashes in the pan?as the smart money was predicting

    Mariah has a trained voice and is genuinely talented. I don’t know who the “smart money” is, but at the start of her career all I could hear about is how she was going to revolutionize pop music and live forever.

    I personally can’t stand to listen to her because I think what she chooses to sing is pure dreck. It makes me weep to hear her voice wasted like that. If she ever follows Rod Stewart’s lead and starts recording jazz standards I’ll be first in line to buy them. OK I’ll eventually get around to downloading them off P2P, but the point is . . . well there isn’t any point but I hope she does it anyway.


  25. Whitney Houston’s crack-addled fall from grace

    Didn’t anybody tell her that crack is for po-folk?

  26. “Reason is a den of hyperventilating Whitney Houston fans.”

    This is bad news, Tim, very bad. Are you guys also taking turns dressing up as Ayn Rand and giving each other a spanking?

  27. It’s amusing that someone would play the race card, as Houston is arguably the most soul-less celebrity of color on the scene since…well, since O.J. Simpson…

    You forget Lenny Kravitz.

  28. Timothy,

    Kravitz is half white so at least he has an excuse.

  29. Since it reads differently ripped from context, re: the Rod Stewart joke—deadpan absurdities were an accepted if not key part of the Suck style. I assure all readers, Mr. Stewart, his lawyers, and all the kids who told me that rumor in junior high that I was just kidding about the show cancellations.

  30. Racism and sexism contributed to Whitney’s down fall? How so?
    ‘Tis standard issue boilerplate for professional victims.

    Confession : I have no idea who Whitney Houston is.
    I’m pretty sure she’s one of those people you see on magazine covers at the grocery store’s checkout line.

  31. vanessa williams didn’t just pose naked with another woman. she posed naked with her tongue on another woman’s clitoris.

  32. I’m not understanding this. According to other posters here that go unchallenged, conservatives are rascist.

    Yet Whitney didn’t suffer from the effects of rascim.

    Whitney didn’t have to interact with any conservatives (or, the horror, even a NEOCONSERVATIVE!!!)?

  33. Mariah has a trained voice and is genuinely talented.

    Um, were you raised on a diet of Little Debbie cakes and bubblegum?

    I don’t understand how making your voice into a megaphone has somehow become equated with ‘talent.’ If singers in the past had been subjected to these kinds of standards we’d never have been able to listen to the likes of Billie Holiday or Julie London, just to name a couple of soft-voiced singers who were decent artists.

  34. Whitney Houston? Is it just me or is there getting to be more of this kind of stuff around here?

    If I want to read about life styles of the rich and famous, there’s lots of places to go find it. There aren’t so many places to go read about libertarian issues, which is why I subscribe to Reason in the first place.

    Call me confused. I guess everybody else is having a great time here.

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