This column generally dwells on more politically relevant issues such as polling trends, foreign policy and what not. So for this column to foray into issues of addiction may look not quite right. It’s not a subject for newspaper op-eds, regular readers may say.
But addiction is a problem and in some countries such as the USA it’s among the major political issues. In other nations, in Latin America for instance, narcotics-related issues are definitely the main political concern because drug mafias run entire countries or parts of countries and have a major bearing on who wins elections, who gets shot and dies, and in other words who rules, and who gets ruled.
Things may not be so bad here in Sri Lanka, but addiction is a major problem and could become a bigger, more intractable issue in years to come. So no, this op-ed is not out of place.
There is a gentleman by the name of Matthew Perry who has died. Apparently he was a well known actor and starred in a TV sitcom called Friends. This writer has seen maybe a tenth of one Episode of Friends and maybe one eight of another. Don’t worry if you haven’t watched any.
Friends is entirely unwatchable and its humour so staged and cloying that it would probably make you want you puke. But nevertheless it was apparently a hit series in the US and other parts of the Anglicised world, and Matthew Perry made around US$ million a week as one of its main stars.
Then he passed away last week, having apparently drowned in a hot tub at his home. Police say that foul-play is not suspected.
In a country in which the opioid crisis is killing young people at an alarming rate, the actor’s death has given rise to a fawning media reaction. Now, anyone’s death diminishes us, to paraphrase a celebrated man of letters, and may the late actor Perry though this writer never knew or knew of him, in real life or otherwise, rest in peace.
That said, the celebration of this actor’s addiction in the media and in most of social media as well, is sickening to say the least.
Those who wrote about the late Perry in glowing terms say that he struggled all his life with addiction, and also made it his mission to help others who were addicted. But he was an addict and one who had cartloads of money.
They say he went into rehabilitation so many times and had been to thousands of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. All of this is stated as if these facts somehow martyr the man against the great un-contestable evil of alcohol and addictive substances.
But yet this is a man who did not have the willpower to kick his habit. In that sense, plainly put, he is a terribly bad example for all the people out there, especially the young and impressionable who are also addicted to various drugs and to alcohol.
To martyr the late actor at the godhead of substance abuse therefore is an abjectly irresponsible exercise, and is almost criminal.
People are dying and ruining their lives. The opioid crisis has destroyed entire communities and snuffed out so many young lives that the amount of parents left bereft and angry are countless. There are entire countries that are war-zones virtually, due to drug cartels. In some of those nations elections cannot be held without the key candidates being assassinated mid-campaign by drug lords who send their hit squads. It happened in Ecuador recently.
No respectable form of journalism can be practiced in these places as journalists are hounded out and eliminated by drug mafiosi. It’s total bedlam out there, and the fabric of normal civic life is totally destroyed for normal law-abiding citisens due to drug-related crime that’s effectively maintained by the addicts who can’t kick their habits, and it bears mention, addicts such as the late Matthew Perry.
As unwatchable as Friends was, there is no law against audiences in some countries falling in love with unwatchable sitcoms and their various characters, and those who play them. So there would no doubt be some sort of mourning for the late Matthew Perry.
What’s galling is the sub-text of all that is being said about his addictions to which he was a slave, and his apparent desire to get others to kick their habit even though he failed miserably in doing so himself. The sub-text is ‘oh what a lovely addict’ or ‘oh, wow, poor little rich addicted boy.’
But there is no such thing as a poor little rich addict. Rich people as fabulously rich as Matthew Perry, earning upwards of a million dollars a week, are in a special position to be sober. They can afford other ‘highs’ such as vacations in the world’s best vacation spots and so on that a lot of other folk can only dream of.
They can also indulge in a lot of other pursuits as distraction. They could easily set up their own businesses, for instance, and provide employment and derive satisfaction from a job well done.
If they are artistically inclined they can set up an arts foundation or something like that i.e: projects that others mostly dream about but can rarely embark on because of the lack of wherewithal.
Of course yes, addiction is compulsive behaviour and most people have no control over such compulsive behaviours and all that. No doubt we are being told all this and more with regard to Perry. He couldn’t help himself, the poor little rich bloke.
Of course he is also embodied in media as a champion, a great and kind man because he was always willing to help others kick the habit. In the first place it is rather hypocritical for anyone who doesn’t have the willpower to kick the habit to presume to help others do it.
Of course there may have been a few that were helped here and there, among those who approached him, but that makes him no champion. He was no great philanthropist. He couldn’t exorcise his own demons, so he offered to be exorcist for a few others as compensation. Nice try, but doesn’t make him anything other than a ‘loser’, to put it in the rather laconic and impolite Americanism. People are free to become losers in life if they want to — even poor little rich losers — but seriously, it’s the terrible example the man set to others as an incurable, compulsive addict that makes any celebration of his addict status, whether in sub-text or otherwise a bit of a sick joke, even considering that here was a man supposedly with some unique comedic skills.
At best, he should have received a few paragraphs in terms of an obituary, and that too about his role in Friends and his other work as an actor. He should have received zero laudatory tributes citing his recent autobiography about how he as a poor little rich boy battled addiction, and tried to battle addiction for others.
In the first place, it’s highly irresponsible to give the impression that addiction cannot be fought successfully, and that some addictions are permanent.
It may be more difficult for some to kick the habit than others, but if sufficient willpower can accomplish anything, it’s insulting to people who have done much greater things with their lives against near insurmountable odds, to suggest that a rich man with all the resources cannot kick his addiction, and is therefore to be celebrated when he is dead.
Addiction is serious, it leads to many problems, and as mapped out above, even to acute societal dysfunction and war. Those who romanticise addiction, even to portray a dead man in a good light, do massive disservice to those who want to rid the world of narcotics, and minimise the damage done to people from all walks of life due to alcohol and alcohol addiction.
Celebrating anyone — even in sub-text — such as Perry, who sort of fetishised his addiction even as an actor in an unwatchable Sitcom such as Friends, is abominable and almost criminal.