Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Whitney Houston - Who Really Deserves Flag Honors Anyway?

In case you haven't heard, singing legend Whitney Houston passed away on 11 Feb 2012, and she was laid to rest on Sat. the 18th. The outpouring of love an grief has been so great that I almost missed the coverage about one less than overwhelmed dad, John Burri. He was already in mourning for the death of his son Eric Burri, who lost his life in 2005 to an IED while serving in the Middle East.

According to reports, John Burri burned a New Jersey state flag "...to show Gov. Christie how offensive it was," that the flags in his state were lowered to half-staff in honor of the passing of Whitney.

I thought that was a very curious reaction, but it did get me to think. Who do we value, why and how much? To a lesser degree there is also a question letting bygones be bygones. In other words, is it still appropriate to honor someone who has fallen from grace.

Jumping right in to that last question first... if someone has disgraced themselves does it wash away all of their previous good work? As disgraced stars go, the sins of Whitney Houston are pretty mild. Yes she arguably chose poorly in marriage, she developed a nasty drug habit, and she performed poorly at some of her later concerts. Bobbi Christina might disagree, but from the view in penny seats, her crimes were of the self-destructive variety. It's a familiar but sad shadow that hangs over the arts in our culture. Not all succumb, but there is no doubt that it is dangerous to live an artistic life in our society, especially a very public one. So maybe we need to remember her as a cautionary tale rather than a role model. Plenty of other greats in the military, politics and business fit the same mold or worse. Kennedy anyone?  For me, no harm, no foul. She paid the price for her mistakes in life, I can forgive her in death.  Her artistic achievements though...where do they fit?.

I don't think there is any question that every soldier who has worn a uniform, and certainly all who died in one, each has elevated themselves to a new plane of altruism. We have two holidays, Vetrans day and Memorial day to honor the special place they have in the world. We have countless monuments, not just for various wars, but also for the soldiers themselves. As we should. It is unquestionable that these actions have value, and so do the people willing to perform them. Anyone who risks their life for the benefit of another is a true hero.

But what about art? Does art, and the artists who create it have value? It is a dangerous occupation as we know. But what the heck even is art? Tolstoy believed that art was a form of communication where an emotional link is created between the artist and the viewer. If that's true Whitney Houston's work speaks for itself. After all these years I still can't listen to "I Will Always Love You" or "The Star Spangled Banner" without getting choked up. I don't think I'm the only one either. This is empathy sent through the air and it can reach you anywhere you have a radio, even in space. It won't shield you from a bullet or feed the kids (unless you are Bobbi Christina) or keep you safe from the dark places in your own heart. But it just might provide that hint of connection that gives you hope. Art can even speak when all other voices have been silenced. I believe that has value.

I don't think that everyone should get a day off work to grill hotdogs and honor her memory. I don't think that she should get a statue down on the National Mall, or battleship named after her. But fly the flags of New Jersey at half-staff to honor a fallen woman from their state who once lifted our hearts all the way to heaven? With all due respect, I'm ok with that.

And I can't help but wonder, with a small quiet whisper in my mind, with all the other troubled entertainers we have laid to rest with no fuss over the honor, Clarence Clemons or Michael Jackson or Frank Sinatra or Elvis. Are we having this conversation because she's female? What do you think?


  1. Our society places too much respect on celebs. I am a huge Whitney Houston fan. But I do not believe that flags should be lowered in a celebs honor.

    1. Fair enough. Who would you save that honor for and why?