Thursday, April 19, 2007

Anna's tragedy

So the results are finally out. Larry is the dad, and the other five can now go home and contemplate whether or not the month-long media circus was well worth it. Now I'm not sure if they're satisfied with the results, but am positive that, at least, we are finally going to be spared this 'virility contest' that was getting increasingly tiresome and boring.

However, much as I express my sympathy on her passing, I find it rather puzzling as to why Anna Nicole Smith's death should garner such huge publicity. It's not as if she was hugely talented or even drop dead gorgeous. Alright. The jury might still be out on that one, and I concede that a sizeable chunk of the male population are going to miss her terribly.

But I'm still hard pressed to find out what really made Anna Nicole Smith so famous that even two months after her death, Entertainment Tonight on Showtime keeps featuring the same subject over and over again. I can understand blanket coverage for the first two days, but even now? Two months later? Puzzling, to say the least.

It was, probably, her drug overdose that heightened the sympathy factor. Maybe. Drugs, drinks and fast living have had a hand in the death of many showbiz geniuses in the past, and Anna Nicole Smith has just joined this illustrious list that has included Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon, James Dean and others.

However, it does seem rather worrying that Anna Nicole Smith was even considered worthy to be included in this list, and that comparisons were drawn between her and Marilyn Monroe. I agree that most of these great dead celebrities were, somewhat, unhinged at a certain level, but it has to be made clear that not everyone in the celebrity circuit who is unhinged is a genius. Sometimes the person is just... unhinged.

Marilyn Monroe, for instance, was not just a sexy bombshell, she was, also, an extremely talented and skilled actress, and has a portfolio of work to demonstrate this fact. It's true that much attention has been given to her affairs and to her sexy allure, but all said and done, if she is still remembered for her allure even almost half a century after her death, then, it is safe to assume that she must have something in her that deserved such remembrances. There were others who were sexier but they aren't remembered with the same 'candle in the wind' fervour.

Hence, it does seem rather tad premature to compare Anna Nicole Smith with Marilyn Monroe because, for one, Anna does not have a substantial body of work that would stand the test of time. It would be silly to use her performance in the Naked Gun movies and the reality tv specials as worthy examples because they just aren't in the same league as the body of work of other dead celebrities. And two, her claim to fame, apart from being Playboy's Playmate of the Month, was her marriage to J. Howard Marshall II, the octogenarian oil tycoon who and the subsequent fight over inheritance claim with Marshall's son. So, in a sense, she has been famous for being famous like many others who populate People magazine and Hello.

So why this sudden urge to elevate Anna to such super-human status?

Now let me pause here, and say that I do feel sad that Anna had to die young and die in such a sad state. The paternity dispute over her baby, in particular, was a sorry spectacle, and no person - living or dead - should have to go through such an insult. Perhaps if she had lived longer one would have had the chance to see her in a more positive light, and perhaps, her potential would have been realised. But that was not to be, and therein lies the tragedy of Anna Nicole Smith.

But still, it does not explain the blanket coverage given to her death by news organisations and entertainment/celebrity journals. I may have to hazard a guess though, and assume that this blanket coverage said a lot about news organisations and news consumers in general than it did about Anna Nicole Smith. It clearly amplified
a craving for a heroic figure to mourn over than an actual feeling of loss over her passing. It, also, showed that in the 'newsmaker' circuit there was, hardly, anyone worth emulating and so, an almost-celebrity like Anna Nicole Smith was chosen for such 'greatness to be thrust upon her'.

Or was the reason too deeper? And was her death that much needed distraction that people needed after the continuing violence and cynicism and deception that has followed the current war in Iraq, the uncertainty over Iran's nuclear ambitions, the taliban's resurgence in Afghanistan, the doomsday scenarios of global warming unraveling itself?

It could be any reason at all, and I hope, it isn't what I suspect because, no matter who it is, no one should be mourned out of a need for distraction. Anna Nicole Smith may have been a non-entity as far as her talent goes, but she was a human being first and foremost, and because of this fact alone she deserved better. She needed to be treated as a person who died and not as a media event that had to be milked for all its worth.

In a few months time, the media will have forgotten her, but her loved ones will remember her and miss her for a long, long time. But the media won't care how they cope with this loss because the media will have gone searching for the next big sorry victim to gloss over.

This is the way it goes, and it's a pity that there will be many more Anna Nicole Smiths for us to read about, talk about, feel sorry for, and agonise over. Ad infinitum ad nauseum

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Fencing off suicide

Is it possible to suicide-proof a bridge?

City councillors are faced with this dilemma after two people jumped off a footbridge in downtown Manama in a space of just three months. They are concerned because this footbridge is in the very heart of Manama’s business district, and close to the upcoming Bahrain Financial Harbour, and right over the King Faisal Highway that takes you to the Seef district, Muharraq, and the Diplomatic Area.

So it is quite understandable that they wouldn’t want such a high profile area to acquire this level of notoriety. It wouldn’t make sound business sense to work next to or even purchase property next to a popular ‘suicide point.’ Hence, the suggestion going around is that some sort of fence be erected around the bridge, or if possible, even spikes are put around the railings to prevent anyone from jumping off the bridge.

On the face of it, the suggestions couldn’t have come at a better time, and the two suicides have shed light on safety issues and the need to make buildings and bridges as much suicide-proof as possible.

However, I’m bothered by a few of these suggestions. I find it ridiculous to assume that just by erecting a fence around THIS bridge, we’re going to prevent people from jumping to their deaths. If suicides can be prevented merely by incorporating thoughtful architectural touches like fences or spikes, then, we’d be looking at a decidedly stress-free world.

But we know that reality presents a completely different picture. Those who want to kill themselves will find a way to do so no matter what hurdles are placed in their way. If this bridge is fenced, then, they might find another bridge or the nearest tall building, or walk in front of a car or even hang themselves in their room. They’ll kill themselves anyway, and won’t be bothered with niceties like, will my death spoil the image of the neighbourhood?

Obviously, 41 year old Indian painter Ashokan Vamoora and 47 year old Indian salesman didn’t think about the market value of downtown Manama when they plunged to their deaths. We don’t know what was the underlying problem that forced them to take their own lives. We can only make assumptions, and arrive at conclusions that will only scratch the surface of this problem.

They are not the first Asian workers to kill themselves, and probably, wont be the last. Soon they’ll be part of a statistic that aid workers will use to justify some theory or the other.

Point is, fences or spikes are not going to stop this trail of death because they can never do so. The problems are much deeper, and solutions, if at all, require something much more substantial than these cosmetic treatments to structures. Perhaps, better working and living conditions could be a start, maybe putting an end to the exploitative free-visa system, maybe enforcing minimum wage to everyone across the board irrespective of nationality, maybe debt counseling would help, maybe… well, there are so many ‘maybes’ that can be considered and even contemplated, but it’d be a start, I think.

Actually, debt counseling would be a good place to start because most of these workers have accumulated huge debts just to land themselves here in Bahrain and the Gulf, and it takes them a lifetime just to pay back their debts because the salaries are miniscule, to say the least.

And most importantly, ‘hope’ must be restored in their lives because that’s what they sorely lack and that’s what makes them regard life with such pessimism. It may not solve all their problems, but it’d be a start, I think.

In fact, hope will be the best place to start… and a much more effective suicide-deterrent than any fence or spike.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Spring cleaning

I've been rather busy with work for the past few weeks, and today, I finally sat down to clean up the mess accummulated in my bedroom. For some reason, bedrooms are usually the place that suck in books, magazines, notepads and other sundry written materials, and somehow, in the process, I discovered this poem I'd written last year. I dont know why I wrote it but I thought it was such a coincidence that the poem talked about the very thing that I was doing this evening.


let me clean the wardrobe today
and retrieve the lost innocence
of my boyhood days:
the t-shirts and jeans
that saw my youth fade
like the fabric itself
and the jacket
that made a man
out of me.