My morning routine of browsing the Daily Mail while I wait for the caffeine to kick in always feels at least a little bad—c’mon, it’s the Daily Mail–but today’s offerings were an entirely new level of startling and ghoulish: multiple articles dedicated solely to paparazzi shots of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s family, friends, partner, and young children on their way to the late actor’s wake (for obvious reasons, I’m not including a link here).
Numerous websites have published the exact same shots—the people who harassed his grieving loved ones made their money, don’t you worry!—and while the idea of involving his children is particularly horrific, it’s really just a natural progression in the lurid conversation most media outlets have been having all week. As Kristin discussed on Monday, addiction is a disease so often misunderstood that a lot of people have to be reminded to even call it a disease, rather than, say, an open-and-shut matter of choice, of the “personal responsibility” thing that seems to be working out so well for so many of us. There’ve been plenty of people invested in veiled shaming of Hoffman for his “crazy” choices or poor self control, which is about the same as telling a person in a wheelchair to “Just stand up already, idiot.”
At the same time, a parallel, equally unproductive conversation has been running alongside this one, in the rush to chronicle every gruesome detail of this man’s struggle with addiction as well as his final days on this earth. How many heroin bags were in his apartment? He took how much out of an ATM? Michelle Williams visited his grieving girlfriend? They must have so much to talk about, poor things. He had multiple drug dealers??! He looked fat, but otherwise normal. His skin sure did look bad though! (You can thank the New York Times for that last one, unfortunately).
In a generally excellent post on his Tumblr, Gabe Delahaye responded thusly: “OH DID IT? DID A HEROIN ADDICT’S SKIN LOOK BAD IN THE DAYS BEFORE HE OVERDOSED ON HEROIN?” Which is about right. Kristen Johnston, herself a public and outspoken recovering addict, has also called for a stop to this kind of treatment of addiction as sideshow, writing in the Times, “Every time someone is ostracized for being an addict, every time there’s a breathless, trumped-up, sensational headline, every time we giggle at a wasted celebrity, and every time addiction is televised as salacious entertainment, yet another addict is shamed into silence.” This clamor for the gory details of Hoffman’s death may not be quite on the level of Celebrity Rehab, but it’s not a whole lot better, either.
If we’re working off of Aaron Sorkin’s notion that a public overdose like Hoffman’s can bring with it the grim upside of saving the lives of ten other at-risk addicts, then sure, this is a prime time to look at ways we can prevent these kinds of heartbreakingly preventable deaths—safe, legal injecting spaces and harm reduction practices that’ve had real success in other countries, widespread availability of Naloxone, even the simple act of remembering that addiction is, in fact, a disease—but picking apart every detail of his life just because he was in movies we loved? It’s time we left his family alone, and let Hoffman rest in peace.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.