What's a four-letter word for spoiled rotten and above the law? "Diva." One of America's self-proclaimed divas, pop star and actress Whitney Houston, demonstrates how celebrity women exploit their fame and gender to escape responsibility for inexcusable conduct.
This week, an attorney for Houston won dismissal of a drug possession case against the singer. She was stopped in Hawaii 10 months ago after airport officials found 15.2 grams of marijuana in her purse. When airport staff tried to detain her until police arrived, Houston ditched her handbag and hustled onto a plane headed for San Francisco to escape arrest. If any average citizen had attempted to do the same, he or she would have been charged with drug possession, smuggling, and obstruction of justice -- and would have faced at least 30 days in jail along with a $1,000 fine. Houston didn't even have to show up for the hearing.
Roughly 600,000 people were arrested for marijuana-related offenses nationwide in 1995 alone. In 15 states, mandatory minimum laws actually require life sentences for certain nonviolent marijuana offenses. "What happens time and time again in the drug war is that big shots are treated differently from other people," noted Hoover Institution fellow Joseph McNamara in an interview about the Houston case with Salon.com. "This goes on all the time with relatives of congressmen and senators where rules that are mandatory for others don't seem to apply."
Houston faces no consequences for breaking the law. She must simply complete "a probation-like program." Her attorney promises that she will exhibit good behavior. But that is something she seems congenitally incapable of doing.
The six-time Grammy Award winner started her career as a gospel singer, but shows little reverence these days for anything other than her own image and indulgence. A recent profile in Jane magazine featured a fax from Houston's management team demanding food required at her photo shoot, starting with "Deer Park Water, at room temperature" and ending with "Gummy bears." She once threw a tantrum and held up a music video production for four hours over a "completely inadequate" dressing room chair.
"The greatest love of all," proclaimed one of Houston's first hit songs, "is learning to love yourself." Who knew she'd take the melodic cult of self-esteem to such excessive heights?
"I'm not exactly sure what the exact definition of a diva is," wrote the reporter for Jane magazine who interviewed Houston. "My guess is it's an artist who initially agrees to let you into her home to do an interview and then changes her mind. Maybe it's a woman who invites you out to dinner then cancels an hour before. I'm a hundred percent sure that a diva is also a woman who shows up for a photo shoot four hours late."
Houston has a penchant for being tardy, canceling concerts, and skipping out of public engagements. She bailed out of her own father's 80th birthday party, but found time to attend demagogue Louis Farrakhan's "Million Family March" last month in Washington, D.C., with her husband, recording artist Bobby Brown (a convicted drunk driver and playboy who has fathered at least four children with three different women). Houston seems to share Farrakhan's anti-Semitic leanings. She referred in a profanity-laced media interview to a jeweler as "this Jew guy on Diamond Row in New York," but has yet to receive any John Rocker-style sensitivity training from her record label.
For some inexplicable reason, Whitney Houston remains a popular role model. In a recent interview with Ebony magazine, she shared her parenting advice: "As a mother you try to give your child the best that you can," she said, "and the best thing I can give (to my daughter) is the love of God, and to teach her the way I was taught. Whatever you do, train a child up in the way of God, no matter what."
Before she gives other mothers advice, Houston would do well to grow up and relearn some basic lessons in doing unto others and leading by example. Living by a diva double standard is no way to teach a child right from wrong.