Half-staff flags should represent heroism, not celebrity deaths


    Since having a TV in the living room became the norm for Americans, famous politicians and public figures’ funerals have been televised. For people like John F. Kennedy, it makes sense.

    After such a tragic and sudden death of the president, it is only fair that Americans would be able to take part in the ceremony to help deal with the death of their country’s leader. 

    But what about celebrities? What about Whitney Houston’s funeral? Should that be televised? Should she be treated like a fallen hero?

    Decisions regarding funeral arrangements should be, and usually are, left to the person’s closest family and friends. If the deceased is a famous figure and there are millions of Americans who would like to witness the funeral, and those family and close friends wish to share the funeral through broadcasting it on TV, than that is ultimately their decision. It then becomes a question of whether the broadcasters are interested enough to pick it up. 

    If they do, so be it. That is how television and current events broadcasting happens.

    It only happens, though, because of the sheer amount of attention Americans give to celebrities, which is clearly illustrated in the level of publicity people give to their deaths.

    Whitney Houston was an unbelievably talented singer. She sold millions of records, inspired many people and made significant influences not only on the music world, but on the African American community as well. But let’s get things in perspective: She was a singer. 

    She did not discover a cure for cancer. She did not lose her life in a faraway, hostile land fighting for our freedom. She did not die a firefighter in a burning building rescuing a sleeping child. She did not give a lung or a kidney to a stranger. 

    Our land is full of unsung heroes who contribute to the richness of our society, most of whom are never discovered except by their own loved ones.

    Does a singer’s passing deserve so much attention? More specifically, does she deserve to be accorded the level the heroism associated with the lowering of flags to half staff?

    I believe the answer is no, and lowering the flags could be even construed as an insult to the millions of unsung heroes who do not enjoy such recognition.

    This skewed reverence for media stars is largely our own fault. We fall for media marketing, we buy huge amounts of music and video titles and we are hooked in by the PR machine that causes us to revere stars who actually do little more than sing and act.

    Sure, they are often talented, they donate huge sums of money to charity, and they can be very nice people. But in the end, they are still just people doing relatively ordinary things.  

    Through our purchasing decisions, we can let them make thousands of times as much money as those who are working hard to teach future generations. It is arguably our fault that their relationship statuses cover front pages of newspapers or magazines. 

    These things are consequences of our market-driven consumerism. But it takes the act of a public official to give them the honor of flying flags at half mast – a symbol often reserved for heroes, such as the men and women who die protecting America’s democracy and freedom. And this is just plain wrong.

    One CNN writer seems to agree – “Giving this honor to Houston seems to illustrate what psychologists Zeno Franco and Philip Zimbardo have called our increasingly ‘watered down’ view of heroism…We lose sight of the strong moral qualities that should define heroism, and we lose touch with what is takes to nurture more demanding forms of heroism.”

    It’s vital that we remember the true heroes and true acts of heroism that occur everyday, which often never receive the recognition they deserve. In doing so, we should understand that those heroes need us to support them with a values system that does not promote people who sing and act above the truly valiant and selfless. 

    I believe that if Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey fully understood this, the flags would not have been lowered for a singing celebrity.

    Booey Mittelstadt is a freshman film-television-digital media and political science double major from Chattanooga, Tenn.