Posted on 3/26/2012 8:12 AM by Debbie Designer

Today, I feel a little spring in my step. After fashion week, I got a pretty excited about all those bright, fresh colors that don't have to hide behind a puffy black coat. It's always very interesting to see how color and pattern trends move from the runway to our living rooms and -- OH MY GOD WHITNEY HOUSTON DIED! 

That's it! She's dead. It's all over. That powerhouse voice will no longer belt love ballads into my lonely ears while I eat pint after pint of Haagen Dazs.

Sound ridiculous? Well, so did all the other coverage of Whitney Houston's actually-quite-timely death, if you ask me. 

In the days and weeks following Whitney's death, I couldn't escape the story. Everyone was talking about it, and any other news totally fell off the charts. 

Just the fact that I’m writing about it is enough to make me want to pack it all up and quit this charade, and maybe chop off an index finger our two—you know, so I can never really type that well again.

Oh, but those index fingers are the best ones for scratching behind Buster and Pebbles’ ears! No, I must go on…

The really sad thing is that many of us were buying the hype, hook, line, and sinker. The numbers are kind of astounding:

"Millions of television and Web viewers spent time Saturday afternoon watching the funeral service for Whitney Houston, the pop music icon who died a week earlier. CNN was the biggest beneficiary of the viewer vigil, according to Nielsen ratings. … The channel’s average audience peaked at 5.4 million viewers between 1:30 and 1:45 p.m. That’s nearly 10 times as many who watch CNN on a typical Saturday afternoon."

Why were so many people tuned in to watch Whitney take her final walk to the grave? She had an unquestionable effect on pop culture and our collective consciousness. I dare you not to belt out the lyrics to “I Will Always Love You” when it comes on the jukebox after your third gin and tonic.  (Thank you, lonely woman at the corner bar seat, for being on my level.)

But is that effect really stop-the-presses big? Does it warrant CNN and CNBC and MSNBC and LMNOP to dedicate an entire day of airtime to the story?

Why don’t we stop the presses when thousands of civilians are killed in political genocide? Or dozens of soldiers are killed in some poorly planned operation in a far off country?

Not to get too dark, but I think you get the point. Our focus is skewed.

To take it down a notch, what about when someone like Ray Anderson dies? Here’s a person who has had a huge impact on people’s lives, a person whose work and ideas have entered the collective consciousness, albeit in more subtle ways.

To quote some intelligent people here at Interiors and Sources, Ray Anderson, “worked tirelessly to redirect our expectations of design… made green more than a color… shifted our thinking from design for design’s sake to understanding the impact that business and industry are having on the destruction of our natural environment.”

Pretty important stuff. Here’s some more praise from the New York Times:

“Ralph Nader, who became friendly with Mr. Anderson after hearing one of his speeches several years ago, called him “the greatest educator of his peers in industry, and the most knowledgeable motivator, by example and vision, for the environmental movement.””

Why does a loss of someone as important as Anderson not enter the conversation in so loud a way?

Pop culture is drowning out the real cultural issues at play, that's why.

Last week there was a panel about the dying art of architectural critique at the Center for Architecture in NYC. This kind of death, I would not-so-humbly argue, is what we should be focusing on.

We are losing intellectual discourse for the sake of flashy headlines and glorified celebrity. We need to realign our values.

It starts with each of us spreading the message, steering conversations to issues of greater importance.

Next time you hear someone talking about the next Whitney Houston death, ask them about their thoughts on BP’s oil spill settlement or the changes to the 2012 USGBC ratings.

It is our duty as intelligent, educated people to embrace that gift. Make people think. Demand that they do. 

To end on one last quote from the Times:

“In one of his first speeches after reading Mr. Hawken’s book, Mr. Anderson told an audience of business executives: “We are all part of the continuum of humanity and life. We will have lived our brief span and either helped or hurt that continuum and the earth that sustains all life. It’s that simple. Which will it be?”” 

So… which will it be? Will it be talk about Whitney Houston dying, or something a little more important?