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What we can learn from Whitney Houston and Lindsay Lohan

March 8, 2012 |  5:00 pm

Lindsay Lohan
As Harvey Weinstein presses on with his campaign to persuade the Motion Picture Assn. of America to lower its R rating of "Bully" to PG-13 so that more children can see and learn from the documentary's powerful message,  the media (social and otherwise) continue to remind us just how important it is to instill an anti-bullying message in children early on. Take it from someone who was bullied: Those teenage torturers don't always grow out of it.

Lindsay Lohan's recent "Saturday Night Live" appearance, for example, was widely panned by viewers and media folk alike. Panned, of course, is too gentle a word for the venom people spewed on the actress attempting to make a comeback. Sure, she's not the most sympathetic character, but where is our capacity to sympathize for someone whose life spun out of control?  

Instead, people tuned in like buzzards -- eager, it seemed, to watch the former bright star fail so that they might blast off hateful missives around the digital water cooler, as it were. This is a particularly cruel and shortsighted part of our culture.

Two recent articles about Lohan and Whitney Houston point to how we -- both the news media and people with social media accounts -- have a responsibility to set a higher bar, to look at the bigger picture, to take responsibility, to help change our culture, rather than turning a blind eye to the victims we hurt. Here are excerpts from both.

Nico Lang, who was bullied as a kid, encourages a less vitriolic culture in an article on the Huffington Post:

Although this can be read as a call to never critique anyone ever -- as was the thesis of the failed CW reality show H8R, in which Mario Lopez shamed people for, God forbid, taking issue with the effect of Jersey Shore on media representation of Italian-Americans -- we should instead see this as a call for decorum in what we say about others, famous or not.  During our current election cycle, many have criticized our political candidates for the below-the-belt jabs they've taken at each other, and we should hold ourselves to the same standard.  The politicians we elect and the celebrities we make famous are reflections of ourselves and our foibles, and if we can ever hope for a culture that doesn't highlight the worst in us, we must stop reflecting that venom and use our critical eyes responsibly and mindfully.

At a time when Whitney Houston's death showed the impact that drugs and alcohol can have on our lives (and the costs that we incur when we don't vanquish our personal demons), we must rally to help those who want to get better -- and foster a culture that rewards recovery.  If we want others to succeed, we must bring out the best in ourselves.

The Fix's Maer Roshan, a recovering alcoholic, calls on the media to look beyond the "barking dogs":

As someone who's seen the effects of alcoholism close up, I've grown increasingly frustrated by the failure of my colleagues to get beyond the superficial details of addiction, or to empathize with the lives of people who aren't regulars on Perez or Page Six. Much of the mainstream media has been lazy -- even downright derelict -- when it comes to addressing the nation's most pressing health crisis. […]

Ultimately, the torrent of coverage of the Whitneys and Winehouses of the world is little more than a distraction, a game of mirrors that deflects attention from millions of farmers, bankers and college kids who are also suffering and dying of drug-related causes at a record rate. It's easier not to have to confront the reality of our drug-slammed towns, or jails full of untreated addicts, or high school kids who swallow up to 50 Oxys a day. Entire regions of middle America have been decimated by poverty and crystal meth. America's seemingly ravenous appetite for drugs raises questions that demand deeper explanations. […]

The senseless death of one of America's most outsized talents is undoubtedly a cause for mourning. But tragic as her death may be, Houston is just another person lost to an epidemic that has also killed thousands more in just the past month. It would be a fitting coda to her impressive legacy if her death ended up providing a genuine 'teaching moment' for America: one that would encourage the media and public to look beyond the scandals and personalities to the complicated causes and consequences of this miserable disease. But that's probably wishful thinking. More likely, in a couple of weeks the hysterical pundits and satellite trucks will roll on to the scene of the next tragedy. As Truman Capote famously noted, "The dogs bark and the caravan moves on." Meanwhile the 22 million people affected by this disease will stay exactly where they are.

ALSO:

Rush Limbaugh's blind spot

'Creatocracy' and the Internet free-for-all

'8' on stage: Can George Clooney play a brilliant lawyer?

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Lindsay Lohan, center, hosted the March 3 episode of "SNL." Credit: Dana Edelson / NBC

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