Louise O'Neill: Sometimes people who are struggling can behave in ways that are hard to understand. What do we do when we are confronted by that?

The news that a documentary on Back to Black, Amy Winehouse’s seminal album, is due out next month was so exciting that I immediately started listening to her music on repeat.

Louise O'Neill: Sometimes people who are struggling can behave in ways that are hard to understand. What do we do when we are confronted by that?

After that, I fell down a rabbit hole of interviews, and I somehow came across an article from 2008 about the difficulties Amy’s neighbours were having with her “chaotic” lifestyle and their efforts to have her evicted.

I scrolled down to the comment section (I know, I know). “She’s dead to me... I’m going ahead and making her dead to me so it won’t be such a shock when she really is dead,” wrote one person.

The way Amy Winehouse was treated during that period was shameful. We stood by and watched as an addict died in front of us, while we dressed up as her for Halloween, complete with blood-stained ballet slippers and oversized beehive.

It was the same with Britney Spears’s breakdown in 2006 and the photos of Whitney Houston’s “crack den” splashed across the front of the tabloids; both were presented to us as entertainment.

There seemed to be so little understanding around the intersection of addiction and mental health and trauma, as if wealth and fame and talent should have been enough to negate their pain.

Maybe there was a part of us that enjoyed the fact all the money in the world couldn’t protect these celebrities.

We certainly seemed to enjoy watching the spectacle unfold.

In some ways, you would imagine the world has moved on since the mid-2000s.

Ostensibly, we know so much more about mental health now but if anything, things appear to have worsened. This is especially true for anyone in the public eye.

We insist our proclaimed heroes be perfect; God forbid they make any mistakes. But then... an old tweet is discovered from ten years ago that seems out of character, or a question is answered awkwardly in an interview.

Then we decide our idols must be burned on a pyre for daring to be flawed.

Those of us — and I include myself in this, unfortunately — who have found ourselves swept up by this Cancelled Culture often have good reasons for doing so.

Kanye West’s comments on slavery being a ‘choice’ were indefensible and the outcry that followed was completely understandable. His support of Donald Trump is baffling, and hurtful to the many people who have been further marginalised in Trump’s America.

Yet this is a man who has been very open about the fact he has bipolar disorder and has allegedly been erratic about taking his medication.

Should that be taken into consideration? Or, in doing so, are we simply further stigmatising those with mental health issues by assuming such behaviour must be linked to their illness? Likewise, there is no question that Roxanne Palette falsely accusing a fellow Big Brother contestant of hitting her was an appalling act.

It must have been traumatic for Ryan Thomas, the innocent man in question, and furthermore, the incident did immeasurable damage to the conversation around domestic violence. However, the reaction was unsettling.

This is a woman who seems extremely vulnerable, and we were salivating over the prospect of her annihilation.

I wondered how we would feel if our actions drove her to take desperate measures. Would we have blood on our collective hands? Is it ever ethical to simply cancel another human being?

This is a tricky subject because after a year of #MeToo stories, there has been talk about the importance of forgiveness.

Live and let live, ladies. Haven’t these rich, powerful men suffered enough? Hollywood does love a good comeback story, after all.

It can be difficult to stomach the attempts to rehabilitate men who used their positions of power to abuse women, often ruining their promising careers to boot.

So while I say that I feel uneasy with Cancelled Culture, I also believe these predators committed serious crimes and they should be adequately punished for that, not given a ‘time out’ until the dust settles.

#MeToo has been one of the most important feminist movements in recent history, and it is entirely different to a cycle of outrage surrounding a reality TV contestant who was clearly too fragile to be there in the first place.

It makes me wonder about how cruel our culture has become when we eagerly denounce others as ‘trash’, as if that person is utterly disposable and can be thrown away when we tire of them.

This feels extra poignant when someone is in a delicate emotional state.

We pay lip-service to the notion that we think mental health is important, that we want to destigmatise the issue, opining that it’s important to show kindness to those who are struggling.

Yet those same struggles can present themselves in myriad ways — there isn’t a ‘typical’ sufferer.

Sometimes people who are struggling can behave in ways that are hard to understand.

What do we do when we are confronted by that? When we see the messiness and unpleasantness of that pain up close, how do we react? Do we turn away? Do we show any kind of empathy or understanding? Or do we take to Twitter and say ‘Cancelled’?

Louise says...

READ: Sarah Perry’s second novel, The Essex Serpent, was a massive hit . Melmoth, her follow-up, is another extraordinary novel. I was floored by its brilliance, originality, and flair.

BUY: Trainwreck by Sady Doyle. This is a non-fiction novel examining the “trainwreck” — ie, “the women we love to hate, mock, and fear”. Moving from Mary Wollstonecraft to Charlotte Bronte, through Britney Spears to Lindsay Lohan, it is entertaining, sharp, and very


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