When we saw all the front pages similarly reflected on the web here and here about the death of Heath Ledger our initial reaction was 'What's wrong with society?' that such a talent could die at 28. My neighbour a South American guy and parent was chatting and also was shaking his head with 'People who can't handle life, so many poor people have got it much harder'. No doubt common reactions on the street everywhere and many more besides.
We got to pondering about that age bracket:
On January 24th, 2008 ecology action ... says:
This is quite an upsetting fate for this young artist. Sure it's small in the scheme of things but somehow emblematic too of how dysfunctional our world can be. Which is why the Big Media are on the money covering this to address their audience interest. It underlines too why all that lost money on the markets is not really the main game in life.
A big tragedy for a few, a small tragedy for millions, and totally irrelevant to most people in this world beyond Australia or the entertainment industry.
But I do think there is a strong message here. In our twenties we are very vulnerable to misadventure if my own experience is anything to go by.
By that stage our minds are pretty much fully grown in terms of ability, our body is a blade and seemingly indestructible, with great powers of recovery, but our memory banks are a long way from fully uploaded with hard won experiences of danger and risk. We're like a sports car revving that doesn't know what the tyres are capable of at speed. My own misadventure was an abortive approach to Mt Cook, then malaria for a week in Lae a town on the north coast of PNG after a solo trek up the Kokoda Track. Alone and nearly broke with no plane ticket and help of precious uni friends the only way out when they wired me some dough. No fun at all. It could have turned out quite badly and it was a big teacher. On return and recovery we had a crayfish dinner in Black Mountain resturaunt (towers over the city like a giant hyperdermic) Canberra to celebrate and say thankyou over and above repaying the debt - my shout.
Most of us get to survive and some don't, like that Into the Wild guy Christopher McCandless, and maybe Heath Ledger here. Like the terrible demise of the 2 spray can artists last Sunday in the storm water drain.
Some of the press are suggestive he was suffering bad sleep deprivation having gone deep into his role as The Joker, homicidal maniac character, and that his work had been inspired. That's high level acting - a frightening business of psychological maleability losing your id to the work. If I'm right it's a very dangerous business getting lost in an emotional whirlpool of your own mind to feed the entertainment and art monster ... and of course pay the bills, no doubt.
All being well in your thirties you get alot of perspective, learn alot about how to find help without losing your pride or dignity, some real wisdom and skills on sustainability, and in your forties if you avoid the drugs you can build up a profound rythym which can withstand quite a few hard knocks or disruptions a bit like a good cyclist at moderate speed whacked by the odd branch or pothole.
I find it upsetting because my guess anyone in the 20ies will recognise a bit of themselves in Heath Ledger's death, and anyone who survived probably will too. Damn and blast. It makes it worse when the victim, like some artists, already has such sensitive instrumentation they are at greater risk of being derailed. He might have become more robust with time and contributed so much in a longer life. As Pomeranz on Sydney 702 radio has said what a waste.
Condolences to his family, mother of his child, and especially his child who will hardly know him direct.
Then we contemplated the immediate specifics of his situation and herein is a strong line of inquiry (?). Indeed it reminds of last New Years Eve when I bunked off a neighbours happy soiree, people I wanted to know and impress but just didn't have the gumption for whatever reason, and the self awareness too. I went for a long walk instead (20km!). I left them a friendly card next day which worked:
On January 24th, 2008 ecology action ... says:
The Herald paper version today carries a headline suggesting he was contemplating his mortality in an interview for the Bob Dylan biopic, but that's what new parents do when they see their genetic function achieved. I think the headline on page 4 of the Herald is probably a bit misleading in this respect. [Also given the Dylan biography is very philosophical.]
I wonder what the social pressure of the G'day set piece tourism, high society function might have meant for him? The reports are that a pall of gloom descended on the event at the news of his sudden death. Clearly there was an emotional link of Heath Ledger to the crowd there - in both directions?
It's well known he reacted adversely to social conflict with the entertainment press, still growing that thick skin I would say, as you tend to do in politics as well.
Could the quandary of not attending the G'day event, and all the history of conflict here in Sydney with the paparazzi have raised big problems for him? Not their fault so much as the private hell of a compatriot?
Should he go, where ostensibly he belongs in the mileau of successful Aussies, yet knowing it would be hell to be in the crowd with the paparazzi insecure at how they might treat him? Or how he might behave?
There's nothing quite like a party that you can't face going to, with all those 'happy folks' already reported in the media, of his kind of people Aussie Americans, to cause emotional strife, worry, sleeping pills? The confusion of wanting/not wanting to go. Ashamed or fearful of his own unhappiness in the Brideshead Revisited sense?
Death by emotional anguish? An Australian Abroad who was taking water, who'd lost the ability to swim in a brewing sea, no one close by with the life belt and he wasn't even waving the arm for help? Damn and blast.
Postscript #1 25th January 2008
And so Heath Ledger 'got the chills' and goes 'ramblin on' as this great old song of folk bard Pete Seeger made famous, a song recalling the very tough 1930ies depression times of such as Woody Guthrie:
And by the same artist Pete Seeger captures the current situation with great acuity back in 1963 re the death of Marilyn Monroe, so very strong in the singing too, unfortunately not on YouTube:
WHO KILLED NORMA JEAN
Who killed Norma Jean?
I, said the City, as a civic duty,
I killed Norma Jean.
Who saw her die?
I, said the Night, and a bedroom light,
We saw her die.
Who'll catch her blood?
I, said the Fan, with my little pan,
I'll catch her blood.
Who'll make her shroud?
I, said the Lover, my guilt to cover,
I'll make her shroud.
Who'll dig her grave?
The tourist will come and join in the fun,
He'll dig her grave.
Who'll be chief mourners?
We who represent, and lose our ten percent.
We'll be the chief mourners.
Who'll bear the pall?
We, said the Press, in pain and distress,
We'll bear the pall.
Who'll toll the bell?
I, screamed the mother, locked in her tower,
I'll pull the bell.
Who'll soon forget?
I, said the Page, beginning to fade,
I'll be the first to forget.
Words by Norman Rosten
Music by Pete Seeger
TRO (c) 1963 (renewed) and 1964 (renewed) Ludlow Music, NY
Ledger was on Enough Rope in late March 2003, speaking out against the Iraq War soon after 250-500,000 marched against the war in Feb 2003 in downtown Sydney, perhaps emboldened to take the peace position into the public domain 'contra mundum' ie 'against the world', at least the big business world of 2003 who controlled his professional life out of the USA or News Ltd here.
The paparazzi are generally sub-contracted out like organised crime from the Big Media, doing stuff to get content the corporations would never openly authorise their retained staff to do, so they can sneakily buy in the often ill gotten images. The sneaking around windows, the photos over fences, the constant stalking. Pathetic stuff.
Nicole Kidman has been 'fair game' in much the same way with movies like The Interpreter boosting the stature of the United Nations at a sensitive time in geo politik in 2005 also against the Iraq War and effectively W Bush presidency.
This is why Ledger ended up using a similar tactic to what we like, carrying a camera and clicking the grubs doing the dirty stalking work indirectly for the Big Media, to meet their arrogant harrassment. We strongly suspect the sub text in Ledger's case was News Ltd green lighting harrassment for a political position in favour of the Iraq war.
Certainly it's a whole new experience for the self aggrandising paparazzi wankers getting their picture taken. Money can't save them then. It's publicity discipline on PR thugs. Just as the journos don't really like their work being reported on sharply, without fear or favour. There's power in being behind the camera, and I know they don't like their picture taken, the same way I prefer to not be in the frame for my own privacy.
And so the battle of perception moves on. RIP Heath Ledger.