Why talking about Amy Winehouse’s death is important

The other day on facebook, I saw perhaps one of the most abhorrent status updates I have ever read.
‘REALITY CHECK FOLKS!!!!! On the 18th July a true british hero was killed fighting for our country. Did you know this? Do you know his name? Do you care? A crackhead addicted to drugs and alcohol dies and it’s all over the news, facebook and twitter in minutes!!!! RIP Corporal Mark Anthony Palin from 1st battalion the rifles! Will you put this as your status??’

Well, no, I will not be putting this up as my status. In fact, my first instinct was to remove the person who had put this up as their status from my friends list, but then I reasoned I would be acting on an irrational impulse in much the same way as they did posting it up in the first place.

You see, I don’t think they meant any malice towards Amy Winehouse, aside from the use of the word ‘crackhead’, I guess, but even then all they have done is cut and paste. They were just making the point that the media is obsessed with celebrities despite their flaws whilst true heroes, true stars, like Corporal Palin are constantly being ignored.

People are entitled to express their opinion – that is, after all, a major part of social networking – but the trouble with then daring people to put it up as their status for all their friends to see is that their opinion, their take on a situation, will soon become fact in too many people’s eyes. Within an hour, seven people had ‘liked’ my friend’s status.

And, quite frankly, this so-called ‘reality check’ could not be further from the truth.

Now I mean absolutely no disrespect or disregard to the memory of Corporal Palin here. As part of a team recovering bomb components in Afghanistan, killed in an explosion while carrying out this duty, he died a true hero, sacrificing his life for his comrades and his country. But, on the contrary, I think facebookers are actually treating his memory with disrespect and disregard by using him as ammunition against the country’s apparent obsession with the death of Amy Winehouse.

Corporal Palin was a dad. He had a young son and, even more sadly, another child, a daughter, on the way that he’ll never meet. And I am sure, had he have been here, he would have been able to do what I now ask all parents of young children to do.

Try fast forwarding 20 years for a moment. Try imagining if you will that your daughter – or son – is in a similar situation to Amy Winehouse, as perceived by the media. Addicted to drugs, addicted to drink, apparently no hope. Now how do you feel about the importance of her life, compared to someone serving in the military? Are you so quick to say ‘oh, she brought it on herself, she doesn’t deserve the attention.’

I am afraid the ‘choice’ argument doesn’t cut it. Oh, Amy Winehouse had a choice about the lifestyle she entered into. She didn’t have to be a celebrity who took drugs and drank far too much alcohol. When she did that, she knew what she was letting herself in for.

Well, going back to the facebookers’ example – and again absolutely no disrespect intended here – Corporal Palin also had a choice about his lifestyle. He could have opted for a civilian life and become something far less dangerous like a baker or a supermarket manager. When he signed up to serve his country, he must have known what he was letting himself in for. Hats off to him for making that decision, but it’s not like anyone can say what has happened was not what he signed up for because, unfortunately, it was always going to be one of the hazards of the job.

If anything there is a war closer to the home front that continues to rage and continues to see the enemy in an advantageous position. What has happened to Amy Winehouse is proof of that and it is why the publicity and outbreak of grief surrounding her death is so so important. The facebookers would have more of a case had she have just been hit by a bus or died in a freak bungee-jumping accident.

Of course, we don’t know the official cause of her death yet, but the chances are high that it will be related in some way to her ongoing problems with drink and drugs. Too easily blurted out in the same sentence, they are actually two very different types of addiction, but it’s the drugs aspect that concerns me here.

Yes, Amy would have had a choice when she was offered her first ever taste of heroin. She could – and should – have said no. But consider all the forces behind her, not just peer pressure and the carefree attitude of youth, but the people supplying the drugs, making a fortune on the back of getting people like Amy dependent on them.

Over a decade ago I was working on a women’s weekly magazine and we highlighted the awful practice of drug dealers who prey on kids outside school, handing them free packets of ‘sweets’, in other words samples of drugs to get them hooked. Oh yes, this sort of thing did go on and I daresay it still does. Where they get caught out doing one thing, these dealers just think up other even more despicable ways to sell their wares. They are continually upping their game with little fear of reprisal because they are often one step ahead of the people who are out to get them.

And they’re expanding their market. Part of the reason why my facebook friend so flippantly put up that status is because Cornwall has so far been largely unaffected by a widespread drugs problem. But the leeches are coming. Well, they’re already here in small pockets, but you can be sure that they are looking to grow.

As recently as June, an all-party parliamentary group revealed that up to 250 million people worldwide are using drugs and the trade in illegal drugs is making around £200 billion a year for criminals and terrorists. Two hundred billion!

Why? Because all the media in general seem to want to do is say how the war on drugs has failed, throw in a few anonymous case studies and then move onto the next former Big Brother contestant who has had a boob job. What do the majority of readers then go and chat about around the watercooler – not ‘what are we to do about these hideous drug dealers’, but rather ‘seen the size of that Imogen Thomas’ bust then?’

Which is why we should be thankful, in spite of the tragedy of it all, that Amy Winehouse’s death is generating so much press coverage.

Miles of column inches have been given over the last few years to the fate of our troops. Charities such as Help For Heroes have been set up to aid survivors cope with their afflicitons. Long may this continue as it is something that should never be too far from our minds.

But please don’t use this as an excuse to dismiss the story of Amy Winehouse. The celebrity aspect, the undoubted musical talent, is irrelevant. She was somebody’s daughter, she could have been anybody’s daughter. In fact, every day drugs claim the life of someone like Amy, somebody’s son or daughter. And playing a big part in their downfall are these criminal gangs making millions on the back of their addiction.

I don’t know how we stop them, but I do know the issue needs to stay high up on the agenda. When their grief eases, I am sure Amy Winehouse’s family will do something worthwhile in her memory with the proceeds of her estate and there is already talk of them setting up a charity to help other young people escape the trappings of drugs.

As for the rest of us, when we hear ‘Back In Black’ or her cover of ‘Valerie’, we should at the very least take a moment to reflect on what is being done to fight the cause of these trappings and pray that some day soon someone listening will have the answer.





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