Viewpoint: The spotlight’s glare


Winehouse, the White House, and “hope”

At some point, we took expectation and started calling it hope.

Singer Amy Winehouse’s recent death has spawned endless articles, editorials and general ruminations from the news media over the past week. Most of it has fallen into two main categories.

One side is slightly more sensational and even condemnatory, focusing on the mess Winehouse’s life became.

The other side laments the loss of an artist with remarkable musical talent. Both sides seem to agree, however, that Winehouse’s life and death was a case of talent squandered.

Such a consensus is understandable. With her 2007 album “Back to Black” Winehouse achieved queen-of-soul status almost overnight. Then over the next four years she seemed to fall apart before our eyes, to the point where her drug-induced death wasn’t even a surprise.

At this point, a lot of people label Winehouse’s career an  underachievement.

Such a judgment is pretty telling — not so much about Winehouse, but about our own societal mindset. And it’s a mindset that, to me, is pretty flawed.

It seems we have become remarkably quick to heap praise and expectation on those who show flashes of brilliance, but who have not yet sustained it. And then, when that brilliance is not sustained, we often label these people failures or underachievers.

I’m not just talking about music, either. I wish such a phenomenon was that isolated. It happens in sports. In politics.

Think LeBron James. Think Barack Obama. People deemed saviors in their respective fields.

But now that the hype is wearing off, they don’t seem like such saviors, do they?

Don’t get me wrong, James and Obama probably wanted some of the attention, some of the praise. And that’s probably why we justified giving it to them.

From James’ offseason antics (“The Decision,” anyone?) to Obama’s election campaign, these men put themselves in a position to receive whatever expectations were coming their way.

But what they received was just that — expectations. Not hope.

We might call it “hope.” That’s what Obama’s team called it, after all. But now, considering the public’s general disappointment — disgust, even — toward the actual results from these figures, I have to suspect what we felt for them was never really hope at all.

Hope implies a willingness to accept an outcome that is less than favorable.

“I hope my flight lands on time.”

“I hope this movie is good.”

“I hope this all works out.”

When we hope for something, there is a degree of uncertainty there, and we acknowledge the uncertainty. However, the backlash toward James  and Obama and Winehouse makes it seem like we never conceded the possibility of anything less than magnificence.

Did we really hope for their sustained brilliance? Or did we simply expect it?

If we expected it, maybe the real failure lies in our expectations and not in these peoples’ results.

This may not seem like such a big deal. But Winehouse’s demise reveals something these other examples don’t — something that merits attention and warning.

Days after Winehouse’s death, Spin Magazine’s Steve Kandell, who spent time with Winehouse for a 2007 cover story, wrote of Winehouse, “She was filling a role we needed her to fill, but it wasn’t the one she applied for.” Later on he says, ” … the message given off was hard to miss: She didn’t need any of this, and it could all go away as quickly as it came and she’d be fine. She didn’t share our excitement.”

It can be slightly foolish to put lofty expectations on someone who wants it. But to put it on someone who doesn’t want it? And to be disappointed when he or she doesn’t live up to it? That is something else entirely.

I have this gut feeling — and this is what really worries me — that society will continue doing the same thing to those in the spotlight.

We shouldn’t assume, though, that those in the spotlight put themselves there.

I really hope society will learn from such examples and not invest so crazily in people’s achievements. But that is something I hope for.

I certainly don’t expect it.


Court Mann is the campus editor for The Daily Universe. This viewpoint represents his opinion and not necessarily that of The Daily Universe, BYU, its administration or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


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