Earlier this month two celebrities killed themselves, as did way more normal people. The first celebrity was Kate Spade, fashion designer and sister-in-law of the least funny guy in Benchwarmers. Then there was guy who traveled everywhere Anthony Bourdain, who reached the apogee of cultural appropriation with the death ritual he practiced on the final day of the shooting of his TV show.
As with all people who pass, I said a little prayer for their friends and family, but if I am being honest I was made more sad by just following the aftermath. Cindi Lieve said of Spade: “If you put a pulse into it and every fiber of your being, people are going to respond. Now, that’s kind of a given. Everybody wants to create their own personal lifestyle brand.” That just seems sad. And sort of spooky to say about someone who hung themselves by the very same shit they were peddling. ‘Never use the product’ should apply not only to meth but to the far more sinister world of fashion under global capitalism.
Then there was Bourdain, whose passing was mourned over by a variety of sources, including The Wall Street Journal and Breitbart. Both shameless publications touted his legacy as one that condemned the concept of cultural appropriation. Now the question of whether Bourdain was some unique genius or just another appropriator is pretty stupid when we consider that Trump officials were just blasted by the liberal media for eating at Mexican restaurants in the midst of Trump somehow escalating the war on immigrants.
I am certainly of the opinion that no one should have to bake a cake for anyone associated with Trump but quite frankly the question about Bourdain or Trump enjoying tacos is not so much cultural appropriation (for this seems like the battleground for yuppies, both for and against) but more so a question of colonialism. If there was one thing I learned from spending four months in Ghana last year it was that I probably shouldn’t have gone. Tourism is almost always superficial, exploitive and fetishized. Perhaps the most important lesson for every tourist is that people are nice to you so they can get your money (which you have embarrassingly more of) and that whatever culture a tourist seeks to find, whatever hidden window into the world’s soul we seek to conquer, it should come at a price that acknowledges how ironic this quest for truth really is. One has to ask in all seriousness who is worse the anti-immigrant isolationist or the liberal colonialist? Sadly in the White House, we don’t have to choose, we most always get both.
Perhaps it is not surprising that both of these very modern figures ended up taking their own lives. Neither could find out who they really were, no matter how many people of the world they exploited. Toss these cases aside for a moment though, for I found the greatest tragedy of Bourdain’s death not to be in South Africa, but on CNN, where a marathon Bourdain session ran on Father’s Day. You will be missed became you can’t be missed.
But like I said, a lot of people who are original on their own committed suicide on their own. And these rates are rising. I have never found the practice of diagnosing a person’s reason for suicide to be a helpful exercise. The one thing we know is that they chose to be away from us and our judgements about them. At least let them have the last word.
I would venture to say though that committing suicide, especially in an era as pointless as our current neoliberal one, is not such a crazy idea. There is a point in every sane person’s life, where we make a choice about whether to engage with such a world or not. Some of the most admirable Americans ever chose not to engage with such a world. Martin Luther King was in essence, a suicidal person. Now he took down some bad boys on the way out, but he fought to the death. Protestors of all shapes and stripes are in a way suicidal, risking their quality, if not longevity of life. One has to truly be crazy to accept the world we live in. There is no doubt about that.
The only worthy investigation into the subject of suicide is Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s “Can The Subaltern Speak?”, which brings up the suicide of the Calcuttan woman Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri seemingly to only prove the misinterpretation of the act. Such humility is rare for anyone, especially a scholar, and especially on subjects they do not understand. With the risk of being horribly postmodern and ghastly liberal it may be safe to say that there is no such thing as an expert on suicide, just as there is no such thing as an expert on dead cancer patients.
The craziest thing to be in a cruel society is well-adjusted. This is why all of those on the outskirts, in the underclass, all of them seem to be the most true and the most worthy of admiration. A broken clock is said to strike right twice a day. But a clock working perfectly well that is not in tune with the present time is never right. Such is the case with all of us who have become well-adjusted, whether that be neoliberal schmucks or conservative reductionists.
The need for an explanation after suicide is in its own way a form of colonialism. Every point of difference must be adjusted in order to fit the perceived norm. Never could a functioning person imagine that perhaps it wasn’t the suicidal person who got it wrong, but the society that they no longer wanted to be a part of.
This sort of dynamic happens all the time, whether that be in prisoner rehabilitation facilities, civilizing missions to The Third World or blaming of people who don’t vote for the Democrats. No one stops to say hey maybe it’s not the people who are the problem, but the system.
This is why reading headlines like “suicide is never necessary” is enormously frustrating. What about “hunger is never necessary” or “prison is never necessary” or “poverty is never necessary”? As long as the world continues to hand out meaningless and painful lives for the masses while ensuring ridiculously lavish (yet even more meaningless) lives for the 1% we will continue to have a world where suicide is necessary. We will continue to have a world where suicide is a rational, if not a radically sane, response.
This is not to make anyone a hero, or to even deny that suicide is a rather awful thing to inflict on those who love you. This is merely to say that it just is. If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. If life gives you rocks, tie them to your ankles. There is no shame in killing one’s self. There is only shame in a world where it makes sense to. The job for those of us alive is not only to make this world a better place but to stop trying to make everyone just like us. Suicide is a message. A message people die for. We would do well to listen.