Our merciless society
Writer: Lee Lian Kong
Published: Fri, 29 Jul 2011
Amy Winehouse was a soul singer from a town called Camden in England. Her powerful voice was first discovered by Simon Fuller, found critical acclaim in her first album Frank and phenomenal worldwide success in her breakthrough album Back to Black.
Her voice was described as the best Britain has heard in years. She catalysed the growth of future female British singer songwriters. With spunk and style so distinctive, Karl Lagerfeld called her his muse.
But Winehouse was young, talented and troubled. Last Saturday, on July 23, she died from what police believe to be a drug overdose, after her long battle with weight, alcohol and drug addiction.
This isn’t her story alone. It’s the story of troubled youths everywhere.
Our youth’s demographic does not entirely consist of well-to-do college kids sipping sangrias in La Bodega. Society forgets the children growing up in DBKL flats and ghettos. Our education system sidelines them by focusing only on As, not attributes. Our media demonises them with phrases like “sampah masyarakat” (scum of society) and “pembuat maksiat” (sinners). Judgment is dished out as fast as a McDonald’s burger but understanding is always late, if it appears at all.
We mourn Winehouse’s death and failure to maximise her full potential. Imagine the potential of all the artists, musicians, writers and leaders among our troubled youths that we could have gained from but lost to substance abuse and death. Like it or not, our society is a merciless one.
Some overcome and become stronger, while others aren’t as lucky or as steely. Their demons are bigger and scarier. And so they find a reprieve, expressing themselves through music and fashion. Some more destructively, in Ecstasy, pills, alcohol, physical flagellation or suicide. Sometimes they find solace and peace.
Sometimes the happiness is only temporary, and so they spiral into addiction, like Winehouse did. ‘‘The more insecure I feel, the more I’d drink. The more insecure I feel, the bigger my hair has to be,” she’d said. The priority of any addict is to anaesthetise the pain of living to ease the passage of the day with some purchased relief.
Our merciless society has no place for addicts. Addiction is not treated as a disease for which we have to find a cure, but a crime for which we punish by putting them in jails, mental institutions or homes.
And we love it. Tabloids and gossip magazines fly off the shelves, feeding our daily dose for hypocrisy. Voyeurs that we are, we glorify scandals and horrors (remember Datuk Sosilawati?). Teoh Beng Hock is now a business where parties promote his t-shirts and the Royal Commission of Inquest’s report is being sold in bookstores nationwide.
A quick run through Tumblr, today’s social media most representative of young people aged 12 to 25, saw their sympathies and condolences. Some were cruel with their jokes, e.g. “The person who will miss Amy the most is her drug dealer”; “She brought it onto herself”; “She had it coming”. Others called for privacy, for ending our obsession with gossip and for understanding addicts.
Which begs this question: if these young people are capable of such compassion and channelling it creatively and thus, effectively, why not our government and NGOs? Really, is it that hard to figure out how and where to help troubled youths?
Governments and NGOs are looking at all the wrong places and implementing all the outdated methods. It’s always too late.
Where education could be used, it isn’t. Textbooks teach us how a nuclear reactor works but they don’t tell us how to use it responsibly. They show diagrams of a cigarette and the chemical composition of alcohol, but not how they are to be used as enjoyment, not dependence. They tell us the wordy definition of “kasih sayang” and make us memorise it, but don’t teach us that a relationship is born out of mutual respect.
None of the governments or NGOs are exploiting Facebook, Tumblr and the internet to keep up with today’s youths. Repeating the same methods is self defeating. It’s exasperating time and again to see one failed campaign after another. Either the governments/NGOs are doing this on purpose to give the illusion of a caring party, or they are really oblivious to it all.
Either way, save us your holier-than-thou attitude. Save shifting all the blame on youths, save your “sampah masyarakat” dogma, save us your alphabet soups, save us all your crackdowns and clampdowns, save us all your mockery.
Who are you fooling?