the national treasure that happened to reside within her
July 16, 2021 10:34 AM   Subscribe

Why America embraced Whitney Houston, and how it destroyed her. What happens when you stop being America's sweetheart? And who does your voice belong to? Constance Grady for Vox's The Purity Chronicles. posted by Hypatia (13 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
One of Whitney's first recordings: "Memories," with Archie Shepp and Material.
posted by box at 10:53 AM on July 16 [6 favorites]

Great article- we were just talking about this very topic recently. Thanks for posting.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 10:56 AM on July 16

It's blasphemy but there is something about America's treatment of its best and brightest. Legalize drugs, ban assault weapons. And stop killing people.
posted by kfholy at 12:24 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]

Interesting and thoughtful article. Made me angry (not due to the writing, due to what it was about).
posted by Lexica at 12:28 PM on July 16

I never embraced her but my tolerance of pop candy is extremely low, no matter what the decade. It's still a goddamn tragedy.
posted by Ber at 1:00 PM on July 16

FTA: Houston was allowed to be America’s Black sweetheart, but only if she followed the rules laid out by white America. Be Black, but just enough. Be virginal, but also sexy, and also straight. Be thin. Be sweet. Be rich. Don’t ever do anything with your body that we don’t want you to do.

When Houston began to break those rules, in ways both good and bad, the brutal logic underpinning them became clear.

America might have forgiven Houston anything, any misbehavior, as long as she kept making the incredible physical force of her body available to the public. When she stopped, when her body began to break down, America revealed the truth: It never believed that Houston’s body belonged to her. It believed her body belonged to the country. Whitney was allowed to stand for America, to be Miss Black America, to be America’s sweetheart, because her body was America’s property.

Fuck me, that's fucking 100% accurate and fucking 100% horrible. What the fuck is wrong with us? (Rhetorical question, the answer is "racism.")
posted by soundguy99 at 1:01 PM on July 16 [23 favorites]

Thanks for posting - I've really been liking Constance Grady's work with the Vox Book Club - her analysis of the work is so well-researched and she's an excellent interviewer - so I'm excited to check this out.
posted by rogerroger at 1:16 PM on July 16

Whitney Houston was America, and she was also Black. She was the Black America’s sweetheart, the Black Miss America, the Black all-American girl.

Only one of these assertions are true.

On the long list of women it was okay to mock with outright cruelty in the 2000s

Rhymes with Whitney. It's funny how Diane Sawyer is cited early in the article 'crack is whack'. A decade later Diane would ask 23yo Britney if she's a virgin on national tv.

Al Sharpton called her “Whitey Whitney” and called for a boycott

et tu Al? I hoped you were better than this.

I have to scroll back for the most revealing quote;

Salon described her, past tense, as ... “the Black Princess Di.”

Except the only way they were alike was how the media abused them. Abused them, these were both victims.

Britney too. I've seen the same thing happen to Lorde, Miley, Taylor, just this week Olivia Rodrigo. Olivia, who I've honestly never heard of before, became political, and now Q weirdos are saying she's... you may imagine.

Fuck gossip journalism. It's a peculiarly American and UK disease. That's how you got a national leader from reality tv. How did this happen? I can only think it's a lack of dignity and respect. You can't take away her dignity? I think Diane did, a well groomed white woman, not a habit she'd break. And if it's okay for her then it's okay for TMZ.
posted by adept256 at 1:44 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]

I think that Diane Sawyer Britney interview happened around the same time as the Whitney one. The early aughts were an extra blacklash-y time for women.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 2:23 PM on July 16 [5 favorites]

Eek I see my typo. But yes, Whitney had extra shit to deal with as a black woman.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:59 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]

One of Whitney's first recordings: "Memories," with Archie Shepp and Material.

That is an interesting mix of artists. Shepp's squawking solo sounds quite strange contrasted with Houston's smooth voice.
posted by Saxon Kane at 4:23 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]

Mod note: One deleted. Drive-by, contentless, terse "this is dumb" type remarks are basically the thread equivalent of throwing feces to express displeasure / get attention. Don't be that feces-thrower. Thank you. (Guidelines, Content Policy)
posted by taz (staff) at 11:52 PM on July 16 [6 favorites]

“Anything that was too Black-sounding was sent back to the studio,” Arista’s former head of promotion Kenneth Reynolds explains in the 2018 documentary Whitney: Can I Be Me. “To say, ‘Black-sounding,’ in case you have a problem with that: it’s to say that it’s too George Clinton. It’s too Funkadelic. It’s too R&B. We want Joni Mitchell. We want Mariah Carey. We want Barbra Streisand. We want to achieve that sound more than we want to achieve other R&B sounds. We don’t want a female James Brown.”

Whitney debuted five years before Mariah, so I'm confused by this. If anything, Mariah's label followed the whitewashing script Whitney's label had already done.
posted by nakedmolerats at 4:38 PM on July 17

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