Whitney Houston died last night, leaving behind a very public and very complicated legacy. As with all celebrities, she represents different things to different people - an angelic singer, an example of the ravages and wear that drug use can inflict on humans, the butt of a joke, the recipient of a pure gift from God. We are all as complicated and flawed as Whitney Houston was. Most of us are lucky enough to live out those complications and flaws without direct scrutiny every day of our lives.
As I've said before, I'm all over the internet, all the time, as are many of you. The news of Whitney's death came moments after its discovery, the tweets and posts and status updates flooded in immediately after that. Some wept, some joked, some chastised others for how they reacted. Her death was a big blank screen, as are all celebrity passings, for us to interpret and digest however we will. People get sad and angry and irreverent, all based on what the death means to them. Then the cycle continues, and comments beget comments, which brings more anger or sadness or irreverence.
There's an easy way to break the cycle, actually. As with all grief, there's not much that can be done from the outside other than to listen with compassion and empathy. If someone is saddened by a celebrity death, that's their right. If it triggers "inappropriate" humor elsewhere, that person also has a perfect right to that reaction. If you want to add anything at times like these, add a little love, either actively or by simply letting things go in the heat of the moment.
Here's the thing, though... If in the course of these comments you see, or jokes you hear, someone truly offends you or says something hurtful about people you love, or perpetuates bigotry or injustice, it is certainly your right to tell them so. Your emotions and your reactions are your only real truth. How you express them is your decision. But, so many times, those things have already been said, and avoiding the pileup is helpful in the long run.
As for Whitney Houston, my condolences to her family and friends and everyone reached by her amazing talents. If you're one of them, my condolences to you as well.