“Starin’ at the boob tube, turnin’ on the big knob, tryin’ to find some life in the wasteland ... Obnoxious Joe comes on the scene, along with his guest Selfrighteous Sam, and one more guy, who doesn’t count, his hair and clothes are far out ...”
—John Kay and Steppenwolf
For some reason, those lines from an old Steppenwolf song were rotating through my brain as I observed a well known Hollywood self proclaimed guru of the mind and his parade of experts, or what passes for experts, flagellating the untimely death of Whitney Houston.
John Kay is still actively performing, and Steppenwolf played together as recently as 2010. Maybe it’s time to revisit the idea behind that collection of lines, in the context of reality- and star-obsessed TV.
This is not to denigrate the value of learning from tragic events, nor honest mourning and grief, as was witnessed in the funeral services for Ms. Houston. Ghoulish fascination, on the other hand, seems to feed into a certain aspect of the United States mindset and become a whirlpool of morbidity, swirling through the field of questionable experts who have only come to light, I think, since cable TV and its offshoot, reality TV.
I teach a generation who have a hard time remembering — no, even understanding — that this fascination was not always present. They asked me if, during the Vietnam War, there were any movie stars who died and took the focus off of the war for extended weeks. Good question. Since I was a kid myself, younger than they, I couldn’t remember a real answer. Judging from the intro to the above Steppenwolf song, a Vietnam era tune, it would seem that there were, even then, those who considered much that rides the airwaves to be a large waste of time.
On to the latest big thing, it seems. When, where, why, how, what did Bobby do, yada yada yada. Lost in all the disection seems to be the idea that this was someone’s daughter, someone’s mom, someone’s sister. That, I think, was what made the memorial service so different, so authentic.
Those who long for fame, whether long term or instantly won and lost, whould realize that millions on millions of viewers who obviously have no life will find their every sneeze fascinating.Yes, and money will be made covering it.
Don’t mistake me. I was a Whitney Houston fan — who could not be, with a voice and yes, a presence, like hers. I was not a Whitney Houston worshipper, and certainly would not be a Whitney ghoul. I have discovered that, for my granddaughter who loves to sing, exposure to her music is no doubt a good thing.
But it goes deeper — into the ennui which must occupy many in our society. I am not at all a Paris Hilton fan — but I feel badly for her that, no matter what she does, it is scrutinized on the airwaves.
Does the phrase “ Get a life” carry any weight?
Clyde Davis is a Presbyterian pastor and teacher at Clovis Christian High School. He can be contacted at: