Media covered Chris Cornell’s death as suspected suicide without any conformation

Not even 24 hours after the passing of Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell media has started to give out information about a suspected suicide. Since studies show the number of suicides increase after suicide news coverage, this is a problem.

The digital era has given us a lot of amazing possibilities for our work as journalists. But it also raises questions about how to deal with the new face of journalism ethically. In a time when reports from news agencies are coming in at a one-second frequency, we have to ask ourselves what is worth and right to publish.

Now a police official confirmed the following to the Mirror about the Cornell case: “We are investigating this as a suspected suicide.” “That is the line we are proceeding along.” This seemed to be enough for the Mirror itself, and afterwards the Independent, the NME, the Rolling Stone, Bild, etc. to run a little piece about it. And I ask why?

“Pressekodex”

The media and especially news journalism works by certain rules. Of course, these rules vary by region but western media works more or less similarly. In Germany media is (voluntarily) restricted by the “Pressekodex“, a bunch of regulations dealing with personal rights, discrimination and so on.

Paragraph 8.7 says that coverage about suicides commands restriction. In many cases, German media doesn’t talk about suicides at all, since also studies have shown that numbers of people killing themselves increase directly after coverage (copycat suicide or “Werther-Effekt“).

We shouldn’t write about suicide light-mindedly

So you see suicides should be dealt with a great sensitivity towards everyone involved. Up to the point where public interest overweighs one’s personal rights, which is given, for example, when it comes to people standing in the public light. Of course, Chris Cornell was a public figure and one of the most influential musicians of Grunge and 2000’s Alternative Rock.

But given the fact that up to the point of writing this text there is no confirmation yet, whether the singer killed himself or not, we should at least question these specific patterns of news coverage. We shouldn’t write about suicide light-mindedly because it kills people.

In a case like Cornell’s – when a body is found on a hotel’s bathroom floor – investigating suicide is standard procedure that shouldn’t be newsworthy. Yes, he is a public figure and the public has an interest in knowing how he died. But we should talk about publishing the story AFTER the suicide is confirmed.

Update: The cause of death has been officially confirmed. Chris Cornell killed himself by hanging.

Farewell to Idols: Leonard Cohen

Once again this year music journalists around the world write obituaries for one of pop music’s greatest.

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That horrible day my dog died. I was 15 or 16 and he was my everything. I went out on the Veranda where my Father put him and as I touched him so cold and all stiff already I burst into tears. I didn’t go to school that day. Instead, I lay down on the living room floor and listened to music. We had that very old record player and radio system from the 60s with a nice and warm tube amplifier sound. I put on “Songs of Leonard Cohen”, the first track and I was gone, off to that magical place Suzanne would take me.

Ever since I discovered this very album in the old pile of my mother’s records some afternoon spent in the basement digging and discovering some really great music aged 14, Songs of Leonard Cohen was my personal devastation soundtrack. Later on when my first depressions kicked in when I was around 17 Cohen was one of my saviours.

In love with Suzanne

Every time I was devastated and in tears wondering how long it will take and how long I would be able to stand it, he urged me on that journey with Suzanne and I went with her to this wonderful, surreal place beside the river on a late summer’s afternoon and it was just her and me and there was no time and no space. It was so surreal. A place without feeling and somehow all was numb. There was no pain.

My father didn’t like him at all and freaked out every time I put him on quoting his songs were suicidal music and driving people mad and though it’s true and I’ve never heard sounds that were more depressing than his, he still somehow comforted me in hours of despair:

“Oh the sisters of mercy // they are not departed or gone // They were waiting for me // when I thought that I just can’t go on // And they brought me their comfort // and later they brought me this song // Oh I hope you run into them // you who’ve been travelling so long”

Leonard Cohen is dead now and I wonder why I wasn’t as sad as so many times earlier this year when a lot of my idols and childhood heroes died. Was I just too angry about the fact that the US just elected a racist misogynist maniac president or have just so many people died and I grew tired of feeling it? Maybe. But not only wasn’t I just not sad, I even felt relief for him somehow. Because I know he’ll be alright and I know he was fine with it. He always was and that’s why he was able to comfort me.

Body and gender in pop music

Male pop myths: Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil to become the world´s greatest blues guitarist. Keith Richards is immortal because he was conserved by all the drugs he took and if Stairway to Heaven is played backwards satanic messages can be heard.

Female pop myths: J.Lo’s got the greatest ass of all, Beyoncé’s got the greatest ass of all and Niki Minaj´s got the greatest ass of all. Oh, and Azealia Banks has the greatest tits.

Notice something?

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Some dude has the time of his life with a Nicki Minaj figure in Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. Image via Twitter

Exploitation of the physical

Pop culture is a history of myths. They start with the performative, bodily with the creation of an artist´s image and – with the consumption of the recipient would transform into a specific narrative. An example: When lumberjack shirts became fashionable in the early 90s due to Kurt Cobain, bands like Guns ‘n’ Roses or Metallica have been still very influential. With all their glam and black leather jackets and wide stance performances, many misfit kids would feel alienated by this plain, artificial chauvinism and overcompensated display of masculinity. So in boycotting not only the typical style of rock music (the lone cowboy) but just any kind of style, Grunge fans would see wearing their lumberjack shirts and their old pair of jeans as a direct opposition to what rock music had become at that time: classic and reactionary (I mean, just think of Bon Jovi or Axl Rose for instance and you know what I mean). So with their non-style becoming a fashion statement, they created a typical punk narrative. That means that now the lumberjack shirt is not connected to one’s physical appearance anymore (for which you´d get bullied in school) but directly linked to your personality. Keep that in mind, for it will be important now:

In every area of socio-cultural interaction, of course, men find their way a lot easier in this world, so why should pop music be an exception when it comes to sexism? While men have no problem at all to leave the level of the physical for their narrative (you remember transcending into the spheres of the mystical like Robert Johnson or Led Zep or even freeing the body from earthly finiteness at all like Keith Richards), women mostly don´t leave this level. While the male body can have a function as a symbol for a greater idea, women often stay mere fetishes.

Fetishism, Exotism, Racism, Colonialism… all the -isms in the world

And this didn´t only start with Josephine Baker´s Banana Dance in the 20s that even combined fetishism with a racist exotism for a white, western audience in times of late colonialism, when they would see a black woman on the biggest stages of the US and Europe, dressed in a skirt made of bananas, shaking it out. I don´t think I have to give much more examples since it´s quite common knowledge that the female body in society is objectified and reduced to its sexual attraction. Therefore there´s something quite logical in it when the most powerful women in nowaday´s pop business, Beyoncé, Rihanna or Azealia Banks define their version of feminism over the physical in just using their bodies: using their self-expression in order to reclaim interpretational sovereignty and power of control over their own bodies.

Where the Banana Dance was created to please exotic male desires, the staged promiscuity of an Azealia Banks today is to be seen as empowerment. She does it because she wants it but don’t you ever think you could have her if she doesn´t allow it. In a way, this is an expression of power. And if not Banks, surely nobody ever tells Beyoncé what to do except she would ask you for your advice. So shaking all of her body parts in front of you actually is not to fulfil your deepest desires but actually to make you understand, that you cannot have her unless she wants you to. And nobody can tell me that she is in any kind of need to do so, because I – like almost anybody who understands a little bit of pop music – know, that she is one of today’s most important and relevant artists in the very sense of the word.

Female body, black body

And it´s no coincidence that all of the pop queens mentioned above engaging with this strategy are black women from the United States, since US history, if not to speak of the whole American Dream bullshit is mostly built on the destruction and exploitation of the black body to this very day, when we just take a look at the historical record of slavery, racial segregation and the epidemical killings of black people by the US Police like Ferguson in 2014 (german pop culture magazine SPEX published a very readable analysis about exactly that in their No 366 issue in January this year).

Pop culture always was an inherent materialist matter. It influences the bodies of its consumers as well as the bodies of its producers, interpreters and artists. Because pop functions through myths every protagonist acts necessarily performative and therefore through the body. While the male body always was an autarchic acting one, the history of the female body since the development of pop is that of a treated one. It is necessary to know, that especially femaleness in pop culture is necessarily physical, to understand, that also empowerment of women in the business works through the reconquest of the body.

 

 

 

Women can be dicks, too. But when they are, everyone goes nuts

It is shockingly simple for women to confuse men. All they have to do is blowing something up.

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RAF members Ulrike Meinhof, Brigitte Monhaupt, Gudrun Ensslin

There is an infamous german columnist, Franz Josef Wagner, who has a very particular idea of what a woman is like and what actually can be considered as female behaviour. Last year he published an article sharing his thoughts on the question: “How can evil be a woman?” He raised this question shortly after Hasna Ait Boulahcen – cousin to the organiser of the Paris attacks Abdelhamid Abaaoud, supposedly having blown herself up as a suicide bomber during a police operation. As we know now she didn´t do it herself but apparently Wagner wasn’t aware of that at the time, so Boulahcen to him clearly was a female terrorist. A woman. And he just couldn´t handle the fact.

To him, he wrote, a woman symbolises the ultimate good. It´s completely incomprehensible to him a woman could possibly be evil if she “gave you life”. Wagner is confused because in the past women were loving mothers, but now they had gained the “equality to kill just like men”. The fact of a woman being a terrorist represents such a crack in Wagner´s logic, that the only way to preserve his definition of femaleness is to actually deny these violent women had any kind of femaleness left. So he concludes: “It´s women who aren´t women anymore.”

This short text could have been published just like that in the seventies already when RAF terrorists Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin were at the peak of their popularity and Germany tried to understand what could possibly drive a woman to commit such crimes.

Positive sexism or poop smelling like perfume

But it was published in 2015. Therefore it is an example of how the public still has massive problems to simply recognise women as active players. Benevolently one could say this statement is a stupid case of an elder´s positive sexism, that sees women as noble and pure creatures (positive is not used as an eligible term here because positive sexism also caused the male disgust for menstruation because men would believe women poop flowers and smell like perfume).

But actually this simple answer Wagner gives on how it is possible that evil is a woman – namely it is not – reveals views considered to be sexist today (and rightfully so) still existing in public debate on female players, that are based in western antiquity already, giving history a strong variable of continuity. And it is revealed especially when it comes to topics like violence.

Because the concepts of both “woman” and “violence” just don´t seem to fit. While male violence in most cases is not questioned or reflected at all, seeming to be an integral part of his nature (which funnily is just as sexist), you always have to find very specific reasons for every single woman to explain this supposed exceptional case.

Female players in terrorism are not a new phenomenon

And so journalists would often start to psychologize, easily finding out the respective woman had daddy issues or difficult relationships with difficult men or she had a troubled relationship with her own sexuality or it´s simply feminism´s fault. Simply put, this is exotism because it reduces the active role of women and is declared an exception, an anomaly, committed by a woman driven by external circumstances.

Yet female terrorists are not a phenomenon of the post-9-11-era. At the turn of the 20th century, referred to by many as the age of anarchistic terrorism, there have been female assassins and bombers already and like I said before with Gudrun Ensslin, Ulrike Meinhof and Brigitte Monhaupt in the seventies, German history faced its most prominent and famous, even pop culturally adapted representatives.

But still nobody seems to consider the idea, that all these women could actually be autonomous, active individuals, who are able to politicise and radicalise themselves without beeing misled, influenced or manipulated by something or someone.

You know, Mr Wagner, I don´t think it´s far-fetched to suppose a woman can make her own decisions today. But this also means that she can decide to blow herself up in the middle of a crowded square every now and then. You might believe that women tend to be good and men tend to be evil. But reality shows that women are perfectly capable of being just the same assholes as well. And this is not due to supposedly perverted forms of feminism. It is because nobody ever considered women to be able to actively adopt evil.

 

When childhood heroes die – Goodbye to Bud Spencer

This year has taken from us many important personalities in pop culture. But the death of Bud Spencer feels different.

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Spencer in Berlin 2015. Quelle: Wikipedia

This morning my daily cup of coffee had a very bitter taste, for only moments before I had learned that Carlo Pedersoli – the man known to and loved by the world as Bud Spencer – died just the day before at the age of 86 years. According to his son Giuseppe Pedersoli he wasn´t in pain and died calmly, surrounded by his family and loved ones, with his final words said to be “thank you”.

Not only am I said because with Bowie, Lemmy, Ali, Prince, Eco, Lee, Willemsen, Rickman and much more, the year 2016 has cost us a hell of a lot of beautiful people already. I am sad because yesterday, after Rock Music died, Pop Music died, Modern Literature died and Intellect died, it wasn´t just another great actor who finally took off with all the people above, but also the emotional bond to my childhood came to an end somehow and now I know that I´m never gonna be 10 again. I could see that coming already after the death of Peter Lustig earlier this year, a german host of the TV-show “Löwenzahn”, who filled the hearts of generations of children in Germany with joy, knowledge, and excitement. But then I thought there´s still good old Bud, plus I can watch Indiana Jones anytime I want. Besides my parents, who gave me a wonderful childhood, these three personas had their influence on my happy, innocent days as well; they embody my personal Holy Trinity of childhood heroes.

No talk about Harrison Ford

Since yesterday this Holy Trinity is not anymore. While Indiana Jones is unable to die (I know I´m not consistent here, since it´s not Harrison Ford I´m talking about but the actual figure instead, but it is how it is, I can´t change it) I see now – clearer than before – that there actually is something like death in pop culture. Of course, all of them will live on on the small screen forever but this time it really feels different.

The reason why this feels so real this time is, because I always felt a deep personal connection through Bud Spencer with my long gone grandfather. All my life I only had this one grandparent, so clearly he meant the world to me. He was my very first best friend. These endless nights when I was visiting him and was allowed to stay up as long as I wanted watching all the great late night stuff on TV with him, is something I will never forget. There, my love for trash- and B-movies started. Finally, at some point he would ask “shall we see if we can find some Bud Spencer beating up people?” and we switched channels until we found one of the certainly screened Bud Spencer flicks. Sometimes they would have a Spencer and Hill tribute night so we could binge the whole night long.

Of course, there were other things that tied this little soul of mine to my kind and loving Opa. It´s just that Spencer always impersonated this secret, conspiracy-like bond we unsaid felt in those nights when my parents thought I´d already be in bed for hours. I guess what I´m trying to say with all this talk about you´re-kind-of-triggering-memories-of-my-dead-grandfather is: thank you.