Is ‘iconicise’ a word? I can imagine the Collins concise grandly defining “a post-mortem process whereby the image of the deceased undergoes the transition from sustained tabloid ridicule into a figure of deep popular cultural import.” Don’t look it up. It won’t say that. It just should.
It’s a sorry national boast that nobody else can’ iconicise’ like us Brits. Think Diana. Think Jade. Pity Amy.
The script wrote itself and all the actors compliantly played their roles: This time it was a rock-and-roll star – talented, but tortured by her demons. The press – well, at least the redtops and glossy mags – first shifted years of copy by trading on her tragic real-life soap opera. When the inevitable end came, as always, there has to be one last frenzied orgy of schadenfreude. None of the tragic final details will be too insignificant to be passed up by Fleet Street’s ‘finest’ for our eager consumption. It’s been ever thus, “all the papers had to say was that Marilyn was found in the nude” even back when Elton was a lad.
The fans know their role too. That need for the spontaneous vigil. The teddy bears on railings, the flowers, the candles, heartfelt messages scrawled on tear-stained cards. Oh, and bottles of Malibu and packets of fags, obviously.
This ‘impromptu shrine’ stage then kick-starts the metamorphosis. In a blink, the recent object of ridicule is romanticised, often by the biggest pushers of the earlier ridicule. With premature death the good become ‘saints’, the talented elevate to ‘genius’. There will be tribute records or back-catalogue rereleases and they will fly in the charts. T-shirts will be worn by A-level students in 20 years time, just as this year’s crop of sixth-formers can be seen occasionally sporting a Cobain top. And people will bang on about the immortal ’27’ club. The iconicising will be complete.
I have a theory that our media ‘iconicise’ to assuage their guilt. We let them, and buy into it, to assuage ours. Let’s be frank, for the tabloids and glossies the tragic demise of Winehouse over the last few years has been a source of popular entertainment. The coverage of her recent gig in Serbia was pitched in most news outlets much as Victorians may have reported on the curious bearded lady at the touring circus. Yes, there was the mock hint of sympathy – but not quite enough sympathy to choose not to fill column inches giving her the focus.
I know I sound like a cold cynic. I’m not. I never met her, nor knew her. I know only from the limited bits of her work I have heard she had genuine talent, but as to whether she was smart, or without the make-up attractive, or funny, or bitchy or whatever else from the human condition pick-and-mix I have no idea. What I do know is that the pictures of her father Mitch with that raw, almost hopeless, emptiness in his eyes will resonate with anyone who has ever had ‘the phonecall’ or ‘the knock-on-the-door’ . I know from those photos that Amy was a human being who was loved. I know that when the family release a statement describing themselves as ‘bereft’ it isn’t spin or an easy soundbite. It is just the gut-wrenching way it is.
And I hate that that as we let icons become cemented through this media theatre, we almost celebrate the flaws ahead of the talent. We reinforce the idea that drink, drugs and addiction are just an inevitable part of rock-and-roll. They are not. This is a tragic loss of life. There is nothing to celebrate. Nothing to glamourize. We shouldn’t iconicise Amy. Instead, we should mourn for her.