Commentary by Bill Buchanan
Last week, Gov. Chris Christie signed an executive order to fly U.S. and New Jersey flags at half-staff in honor of New Jersey native Whitney Houston. What has he been smoking? Christie received a lot of criticism for the action, much of it centering on the fact that the singer would be honored in the same way as distinguished government officials and armed services members who gave their life for their country. The only combat the late Ms. Houston ever saw was during her tumultuous marriage to her equally troubled husband, Bobby Brown. Christie tried to deflect some of the criticism by pointing out that he had issued similar orders to honor all New Jersey soldiers and police officers who had died during his tenure. The governor’s order calls Houston “a gifted singer, remarkable performer, and iconic figure who left an indelible mark upon the popular music landscape in the State of New Jersey and across our nation” and that she “left a legacy in this state that will be cherished for many years.” Despite that, the criticism is justified. Houston was an extremely talented entertainer. While I was not a fan, I readily acknowledge her amazing voice. Unfortunately she lost her voice, her talent, her reputation, much of her fortune, and possibly her very life due to a celebrated drug and alcohol habit. Flying the flag at half-staff is a somber memorial recognizing and honoring a brave soldier or a police officer who gives his or her life in the line of duty. It is flown to honor the passing of a public official who has distinguished themselves in service to their country. It is done as a way to recognize heroism, bravery and patriotism. To honor someone simply because they are a famous celebrity makes a mockery of the honor. It cheapens the gesture for those who deserve it most. Our culture is celebrity-obsessed enough without adding additional recognition — especially recognition that has been traditionally reserved for special service. Last weekend, Houston was honored at a memorial service at the New Hope Baptist Church in a four-hour long “private” funeral extravaganza attended by over 1,000 people and it was covered on cable television. That was appropriate; it was the way her friends and family chose to remember her. Flying both the state flag and the American flag at half-staff is not. It trivializes the memorial. If you really want to honor the life of Whitney Houston, request that her record company (Sony) donate a portion of the tremendous windfall profits they are raking in from her posthumous record sales (the prices of which they jacked up about 60 percent immediately after her death) and fund a documentary about how a beautiful, talented entertainer lost everything because of alcohol and drug abuse. Make it available for viewing by school kids across the nation to serve as a cautionary tale. That would not only be a fitting tribute, it might actually help someone.