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Playing the Whitney Houston Blame Game

Playing the Whitney Houston Blame Game

It’s called the “blame game,” an age-old strategy that vilifies and scapegoats anyone haplessly in the wrong place at the right time. The blame game condemns innocent suspects with a display of ugly finger pointing and “gotcha’s.” After the death of Whitney Houston, plenty of finger-pointing, scapegoating, and “gotcha’s” were making the rounds.


Whitney Houston had it all—great looks, youthful personality, and a voice that was beyond compare. She was one of the greats. In 2009, the Guinness Book of World Records cited her as the most awarded female act of all time (“Biography of,” 2015). As of 2010, her list of awards included two Emmy Awards, six Grammy Awards, thirty Billboard Music Awards, and twenty-two American Music Awards, among a total of 415 career awards. 


Unchallenged, the pop diva ruled the charts from the middle 1980s to the late 1990s, but, like Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and many other successful entertainers, Houston discovered that the price for fortune and fame was far too costly. Sadly, her regal image and majestic voice were ravaged by a tumultuous marriage to singer Bobby Brown, erratic behavior, and the kiss of the crack pipe. 


The Oprah Interview


In 2009, a brutally honest Whitney Houston consented to be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. It would be one of her final in-depth interviews. Houston spoke in a small, vulnerable voice. She admitted use of cocaine, alcohol, and prescription pills. She called her drug of choice “weed combined with rock cocaine.” The singer told of emotional and physical abuse from Brown, an abusive alcoholic. 


In the two-part appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Houston revealed that her drug use became “heavy… because I knew then we were trying to hide pain. I was trying to hide the pain” (“Whitney Houston tells,” 2009). She attempted a few comebacks in the 2000s, but continued to be the subject of many tabloid stories suggesting drug binges and anorexia. 


She died February 11, 2012, drowning in her bathtub due to heart disease and cocaine abuse. As the world struggled to make sense of this, and before she was properly eulogized and buried, Whitney Houston’s memory was sullied in another round of the blame game. 


The Blame Game


The blame game is a variation of scapegoating, a hostile social-psychological discrediting tactic by which people move blame and responsibility away from themselves and towards a target person or group. 


It is a practice where angry feelings and feelings of hostility are projected, via inappropriate accusation, towards others. The target feels wrongly persecuted and receives misplaced vilification, blame, and criticism. As a result, the target is likely to suffer rejection from those whom the perpetrator seeks to influence. Simon Crosby, founder of The Scapegoat Society, described scapegoating as “a projective defense used by both individuals and societies where responsibility is transferred from the perpetrator onto the target” (Crosby, 2003). 


Scapegoating allows the discharge of aggression, frees the perpetrator from self-dissatisfaction, and provides some narcissistic gratification. It may also relieve the perpetrator’s feelings of guilt and shame. 


Researcher Lynne Namka further argued that the practice of scapegoating causes anxiety and misery for the target group who experience exclusion, ostracism and even expulsion within their society. The target, viewed as weak and vulnerable, feels insecure and begins to develop a victim mentality with feelings of hopelessness, despondency, and anger (Namka, 2003).  


Ray J


Targeted and under attack were members of Houston’s entourage. Rather than blame the one who ultimately took her own life, it was easier to scapegoat the music industry, Bobby Brown, and Ray J.


On the Dr. Drew Pinsky show, Leolah Brown, Bobby Brown’s sister, accused Ray J, Whitney Houston’s boyfriend, of providing the singer with cocaine and being responsible for Houston’s death. 


After the interview was televised, Pinsky and CNN reconsidered, explaining that Leolah Brown’s account could not be confirmed. “I immediately noted that we could not verify the accuracy of her claims,” Pinsky said (“Dr. Drew,” 2012).  Pinsky explained that after the interview aired, “We were later contacted by representatives for Ray J., whose real name is Willie Ray Norwood, Jr., who told us none of it was true. We pulled the interview until we could learn more.” After Ray J offered a statement claiming Brown has been “out of contact with Whitney for more than a year and was nowhere near the scene on the day of her death,” Dr. Drew and Headline News decided to pull the interview (“Dr. Drew,” 2012).


Ray J was featured on a TV reality show called For The Love of Ray J, and a smitten Whitney Houston fell for Ray J’s well-practiced delivery and bad-boy appeal. The Whitney Houston-Ray J relationship was high profile and defined by its on-again/off-again drama—much like Houston’s relationship with Bobby Brown. And, as in all celebrity-watcher scenerios, the more intense the drama, the more intense the paparazzi scrutiny. 


On February 3, 2012, the tabloids reported a sighting of the pair at Le Petit Four on Sunset Boulevard, prophetically draped in celebrity romance and finality. Whitney Houston died eight-days after this dinner engagement. Ray J was initially reported to have been in Houston’s room and the one who discovered the accident, but he strongly denied those accounts. 


Chaka Khan


Many mourned the singer’s death, while others, espousing anger and intolerance, criticized Houston and those surrounding her. Few were spared from the rage. 


Houston’s supporters were livid after singer Chaka Khan, calling herself a recovering addict, revealed to Pierce Morgan that one of her fondest moments was when Khan, Bobby, and Whitney “got high” in Florida (Kurtz, 2012). Many questioned Khan’s need to break confidences and disclose revelations of drug use during a time of grieving. 


Khan’s disclosure soon exploded into a no-holds-barred rant, castigating Clive Davis and the “demonic” industry that made him among the wealthiest producers in music. Referring to Houston as her “little sister,” Khan said the troubled singer’s death could have been prevented if someone would have kept Houston away from the drugs. 


Bobby Brown


It was easy to paint Bobby Brown as the scapegoat. Brown was vilified and viewed in the same hateful gaze as other high profile relationships such as the violent Ike Turner and his demeaning relationship with wife Tina, and “Wall of Sound” music producer Phil Spector, whose relationship with wife Veronica “Ronnie” Spector was more akin to jailer and prisoner.


Bobby Brown forged a reputation as dark, edgy, and criminal. A former member of New Edition, Brown’s credentials included a lengthy rap sheet and numerous DUIs. Sentenced to three years’ probation in Los Angeles County jail, Brown pleaded “no contest” to misdemeanor driving while under the influence. His arrest came four days after the Los Angeles County coroner’s office released the results of the autopsy of Brown’s exwife.


On the 2005 Bravo TV reality show Being Bobby Brown, a troubled relationship began to publicly unravel. The ten-episode reality series presented family conflict and substance abuse as blood-sport entertainment. It was equally pathetic and painful to watch, as the once lovely Whitney Houston, layer by layer, was dissected—her vulnerable and troubled self splayed open in a vulgar display. America watched an individual defining addiction in stark, personal terms. 


Underneath the chaos and argumentation, Brown and Houston presented a veiled cry for help. During a face-to-face interview on NBC’s Today Show, Brown confided to Matt Lauer that the show was a wake-up call about the couple’s acknowledged drug use that should have been heeded. Brown says it was the family’s short-lived time in front of the cameras that showed the negative impact drugs had had on their marriage (Stanhope, 2012). 


Some blamed Brown for Houston’s death, claiming he introduced her to hard drugs. But Bobby Brown, tired of being used as everyone’s “whipping boy,” refused to take the fall. Brown told Lauer that he wasn’t to blame for Houston’s drug addiction and after their divorce “didn’t know she was struggling with it still” (Stanhope, 2012). Brown attempted to downplay his past recreational drug use. He said, “I didn’t get high before I met Whitney. I smoked weed, I drank the beer, but no, I wasn’t the one that got Whitney on drugs at all.” Brown told Lauer that Houston had been using drugs before the two had met. 


The Fix


Writing in his Daily Telegraph blog about the death of Whitney Houston, Damian Thompson noted that crack cocaine addiction destroyed her career. Thompson felt it was unlikely that she would have been able to recover from this addiction.Thompson wrote, “My argument is that millions of ordinary people, not just celebrities, drunks or junkies, feel the need to ‘fix’ their moods in response to a deadly combination of accelerating work pressure and accelerating temptation. The world around us is actually changing our brain” (McCann, 2012).


Thompson, author of The Fix, a book about the spread of addiction in society, warned not to judge the singer too quickly. He stated, 


I don’t believe that addiction is a “disease” in the true sense of the word. But make no mistake about it: the chemistry of Whitney’s brain will have been profoundly changed by years of smoking crack. The “wanting” pathway in her reward circuitry will have been stimulated in a way that our bodies are not built to withstand. She will have experienced an intensity of temptation that only fellow crack addicts will understand. For any experienced user of crack or crystal meth (the most deadly dopamine stimulant of all), it’s not a question of just saying no: there’s no “just” about it. A crack-addicted brain has been physically changed: it sends out a screaming loud message to its owner that it needs a hit. Bear that in mind before you rush to judgment about Whitney Houston (McCann, 2012). 


Bobbi Kristina Brown, Whitney Houston’s daughter and greatest love, was also her biggest heartbreak. Bobbi, about to turn twenty-two, was found face-down and unresponsive in a bathtub on January 31, 2015. Police are investigating the incident as a criminal case, but so far have not released any information regarding the cause of the near drowning. Speculations have included attempted murder, suicide, and drug use (“Godfather of,” 2015).


She was on a respirator and placed in a medically induced coma before the accusations started. Fingers were pointed at Bobbi’s boyfriend, Nick Gordon, alleging drug use and a possible cover-up to remove evidence from the crime scene.


It is happening all over again—the anger, accusations and one more round of the blame game. Same game. Different face. 




“Biography of Whitney Houston.” (2015). Retrieved from http://www.africansuccess.org/visuFicheCoeur.php?id=1050&lang=en
Crosby, S. (2003). Scapegoating research & remedies. Retrieved from http://www.scapegoat.demon.co.uk/
Daw, R. (2012). Bobby Brown’s ‘Today’ interview with Matt Lauer about Whitney Houston. Retrieved from http://www.idolator.com/6425131/bobby-brown-today-matt-lauer-whitney-houston-part-2
“Dr. Drew, CNN regret airing Leolah Brown interview.” (2012). Retrieved from http://www.examiner.com/article/dr-drew-cnn-regret-airing-leolah-brown-interview
“Godfather of Bobbi Kristina Brown: ‘We believe in miracles.’” (2015). Retrieved from http://www.inquisitr.com/1960754/godfather-of-bobbi-kristina-brown-we-believe-in-miracles/
Kurtz, J. (2012). Chaka Khan on Clive Davis’ party in the wake of Whitney Houston’s passing: “I don’t understand how that party went on.” CNN. Retrieved from http://piersmorgan.blogs.cnn.com/2012/02/13/chaka-khan-on-clive-davis-party-in-the-wake-of-whitney-houstons-passing-i-dont-understand-how-that-party-went-on/
McCann, D. (2012). Damian Thompson – the fix. Retrieved from http://www.castlecraig.co.uk/blog/02/2012/damian-thompson-fix
Namka, L. (2003). Scapegoating – An insidious family pattern of blame and shame on one family member. Retrieved at http://www.angriesout.com/grown19.htm
Stanhope, K. (2012). Bobby Brown: I wasn’t the one who turned Whitney Houston onto drugs. Retrieved from http://www.tvguide.com/news/bobby-brown-whitney-houston-drugs-1046791/
“Whitney Houston died in Beverly Hills hotel room.” (2012). Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/whitney-houston-died-in-beverly-hills-hotel-room/
“Whitney Houston tells all.” (2009). Retrieved from http://www.oprah.com/entertainment/Oprahs-Exclusive-Interview-with-Whitney-Houston