Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Celebrity and unhappiness

I've written on this general topic before, but anyway...

I noted a couple of posts back that I knew little of George Michael's private life, but obviously, those gaps are being filled in now by the media attention following his death.

He really seems a prime example of how celebrity and happiness are so often strangers to each other, and how hard it is to know which way the causation flows in any individual case.  Does the personality type that makes public performance in any field an attractive career mean they are already primed for future depression?  (That seems an especially likely scenario for modern comedians who base their act - as so many do now - on "confessional" comedy about their problematic personal lives.   Older style comedians, who didn't rely on milking their own family or failed relationships, don't give the impression of having been so prone to being unhappy in real life.)

Or is it that financial success and celebrity attention exacerbates any dissatisfaction in relationships and life to such an extent that someone who otherwise might not have developed depression gets it anyway?  One obvious contributing factor to that is the ease with which money gives access to drugs (and the popularity of their use within the entertainment industry.)   Michael apparently had a very big marijuana habit, and also took "party drugs"; but as a means of "self medication" for depression, it seems even pro-cannabis websites are very cautious about it being a good idea. 

As for relationships and sex:  of course, The Guardian's gay writer Owen Jones thinks he shouldn't be criticised for only "coming out" after an arrest made it more or less inevitable, and also notes the rather shameful media reaction to it, which just shows how far England has changed; and this is fair enough.   Yet Jones also seems to think there is something admirable about Michael subsequently reacting by wearing anonymous sex and having open relationships on his sleeve as a honest advertisement for gay people being able to chose to live however they want.

Yet, oddly, Jones doesn't mention perhaps the most problematic thing Michael even said about his sex life, namely that had given up being tested for HIV because he was afraid of the results.  This was in 2007 in an interview that Stephen Fry was going to use in a documentary, but which Michael subsequently asked not to be used.  (It got into the media anyway.)

Now, he apparently said he had stopped being tested since "at least 2004", and his gay partner had died of AIDS long before that, so it appears he did not catch HIV from him.   It would indicate that he had a fear of catching HIV from his promiscuous sex life after that boyfriend's death.

Of course, this seems a very irresponsible attitude, but there are a couple of ways of mitigating it, I suppose:  first, he did have depression for a long time, it seems, and that alone can affect judgement.  Secondly, although I think this is pulling a long bow:  a person who is scrupulous about safe sex might feel their status is irrelevant if they are always going to only engage in the safest sex activities.  But really, how likely is it a drug taking depressive is going to be that careful during every sexual encounter?

And more generally:  Michael's defiant attitude to gay promiscuity is very close to the view expressed by Freddie Mercury, who nonetheless made sad comments towards the end of his life that being surrounded by people all the time does not mean you can't be lonely.  I always found it hard to read that as anything other than an admission that throwing yourself completely into sexual hedonism is not a reliable path to happiness, but it seems a particularly hard lesson for some gay men to accept.

And no, I am not convinced of this attitude being a case of "straight" hypocrisy - you know, the sort of argument that people think a man who sleeps with scores of women over a few years is just a "lad" having fun, whereas the same thing in a gay man is disgusting irresponsibility.   First, I think many people do draw a mental line as to how responsible it is for straight men to bed a different woman every week or two.  But also, in many cases, I think there is a bias, but one which is hypocritical in the other direction - that people don't criticise cases of gay promiscuity when they would if it were straight encounters.   It's the attitude of "well, that must be what's good about being gay - men know men can have casual encounters with no emotional baggage, so why wouldn't they have lots and lots of sex?  I would."

But don't cases like Michael and Mercury indicate the dubious credibility of that?   Sure, it is understandable that gay men think differently about casual sex, but let's be real and admit that excessive hedonism of any kind is probably not good for the emotional life of anyone, and is nothing to be admired....

Update:  of course, to be fair, it appears he was pretty generous with charitable donations, and there are many people speaking well of him.   I'm not trying to paint him as a bad man, but he was certainly a troubled one who openly admitted to having a "self destructive" impulse.

1 comment:

not trampis said...

hedonism is the very height of selfishness. it is never thinking about anyone else but only of yourself.

The irony is it means more loneliness not less. Now wonder he got depressed.