The mainstream media are superbly good at kicking people when they are down. This is apparent on a daily basis when magazines and magazines of cruel comments and vicious rumours line the shelves and television hosts slur snide, harsh remarks only to humour their audiences.
The “Amy” documentary depicting the life and death of the late Amy Winehouse left a sour taste in my mouth as the role the media played in her downfall played through my mind. The documentary emphasised the toxic effect that fame can have on a person.
The world treated her hit “Rehab” as an anthem of rebellion, singing it back with a positive energy that matched the tempo, and refusing to notice the troubling subtext that whispered a story of denial and a lack of support. Asif Kapadia’s documentary reveals information deeper into these stories, of how her management and family weren’t able to give her the support she needed and her father didn’t see the need for her going to rehab.
Paparazzi take to celebrities like flies take to carcasses and Amy Winehouse was a corpse they fed from far too often. Each tiny fall from grace was broadcast across our tabloids and plastered the front pages of every Internet feed, their footage feeding the reports that we as an audience consumed, and we indulged in the media’s obsession with a falling star. It’s difficult to imagine that such predatory behaviour, such an invasion of privacy, is legal.
The tabloids were not the only media outlet to sink their teeth into Winehouse, the documentary highlights some of the ways in which respected personalities publicly ridiculed the singer.
The treatment of Amy Winehouse in the media, and even, to an extent, the way that she is portrayed within the documentary, has caused an uproar in the way that females are represented within the media, especially in regards to substance abuse and post-death. It raises the issue, yet again, regarding gender roles – women are expected to maintain composure and class and are ridiculed by the media the moment that they fail to meet these expectations. Presented as “embarrassing train wrecks”, women are portrayed as trashy and deserving of any punishment that they might receive yet men who succumb to alcohol or drugs are seen as normal.
Montage of Heck is a prime comparative. The documentary about Kurt Cobain, whilst it touches on his drug use, dedicates most of the narrative to his development as an artist and the depth of the person he was whereas Winehouse’s musical influences are only just touched upon with Amy, with the majority of the film focused on her decline.
One of the saddest parts of Winehouse’s story is almost the fact that she was a person who didn’t want fame. She knew that it was poison and all she wanted to do was play her music in front of crowds of people she knew would appreciate it, in pubs and jazz clubs. At the end of Amy, Andrew Morris – Winehouse’s bodyguard – recalls some of Amy’s words on the last night of her life: “If I could give it back just to walk down that street with no hassle, I would.”