ROTTERDAM – Now that I’ve seen the well-received documentary “AMY“, her lyrics on how they are trying to make her go to rehab (and she said “no, no, no”) got a well-deserved and slightly different spin to it.
This wonderful yet quite depressing film about the life of jazz singer Amy Winehouse, who met her untimely death in 2011 at the infamous age of 27 (thereby joining the “27 club“), essentially describes, with visual aid, her slow and almost seemingly inevitable descent into drugs and alcohol.
Besides a wondrous impression imprinted upon me of her talent in both singing and the lyrical arts, I was left wondering about responsibility. The documentary-makers went out of their way assigning said responsibility to anyone, really.
Not her ex-husband, who got her into cocaine and heroine; not her father, who said she shouldn’t go to rehab when her manager suggested it; not the directors of the music studios and companies that got her a quarter of a million contract when she was 16; not her manager who pushed her to go on tour. They were a bit harsh on the paparazzi who followed her everyone, but no real responsibility was assigned.
“Ah”, one director wondered, “if you’re being followed by those people all day every day, you’re not really leading a full life, are you?” [not a literal quote, but this is how I remember it].
No, people like that probably don’t quite live a “full life”. But the people that got her famous are not the ones that should be musing on the downfall of celebrities and the worship culture surrounding them.
However, neither did they put the blame on her. It was really just a tragic but coincidental collection of circumstance that led to her death.
I feel like we are having those circumstances everywhere nowadays. The promise of individualism is showing some cracks.We are living in an increasingly polarised world, both within nations and between nations. We long lost most control over the global economy since it seems to be going places with us helplessly standing there and watching it happen. Or maybe it’s the economic version of the bystander effect where everyone expects everyone else to do something.
But like you, everyone else is too busy with their own lives. After all, the full responsibility of it rests squarely on your shoulders. Which means, that around my age, you should be working through your quarterlife crisis in search for career that’ll allow you to get yourself a nice mortgage and your future children a trustfund (after all, that’s what you need nowadays for anyone to get anywhere in life).
Maybe we’re panicking a bit after all those pseudo-scientific books and articles written by neuroscientists or people pretending to be neuroscientists on how free will doesn’t exist and how everything is decided for you in that part of your brain that you are not quite aware of.
Free will must exist for civilisation to function at all. The concept of responsibility, be it collective or individual, lies at the very heart of collective action. And if it shouldn’t exist, then I suppose we just tell ourselves it does or end up like Tom Cruise in the Minority Report.
Society is divided to the bone on how to conceptualise personal responsibility. How deep the cut depends on the country. Naturally, the U.S. has slightly more than a flesh wound when republicans quite literally want to abolish every redistribution of wealth or resources. From now on, you’re on your own. Make yourself. And if you’re poor, then that’s your own fucking fault.
We don’t have debates like that in my country. Ours are a bit more along the lines of: you are being spoiled by the government, and you are not in charge of your own life. Let’s give students less money.
Culturally, we’ve traveled further down a similar argument: if you are depressed or just unhappy, it’s your own fault. You have all the ingredients for happiness, don’t you? So why aren’t you happy? The people in those Coca Cola commercials are happy as fuck, and if you can’t “open happiness” whenever you consume 22 sugar cubes in liquid format then that’s your own fault, too.
The alternative to poignantly pointing at other people because everyone is fucking up their life is to see life for what you think it truly is: a tragic but coincidental collection of circumstance. After all, it either is someone’s fault, or nobody’s fault. And the fact that you are an underpriviliged child from a low socio-economic segment of a modernist individualist society doesn’t quite sell that well if you want to talk about responsibility.
In Amy’s case, we can be like the documentary makers and simply not make a judgment. Remain casual observers to a trainwreck of a person, and walk away with a sorry expression on your face. It happened. Someone died. Let’s not point fingers but just agree that the world has lost a great talent, and to some people, a great person, friend, or daughter.
But isn’t that what we do outside of the movie theatre, too? Let’s all just agree that what is happening to the Syrian refugees on the Mediterranean is absolutely horrific. Tragic. Devastating. Let’s also call that a coincidental collection of circumstance. Any other conclusion leaves a bitter aftertaste: it’s the fault of those Syrians themselves. You don’t see us fucking up our country the way they did. Or; it is our fault. Colonial history and capitalist exploitation of Oriental countries. Maybe it’s the fault of those religious folks with their conversion drifts. Or maybe Iran just destabilised the entire fucking region.
No, it’s almost soothing to think that like Amy’s death, the global refugee crisis is just a tragic coincidental collection of circumstance.