The ‘great depression’

The ‘great depression’

Of Dante Alighieri, very few individuals have come across to understand exactly what it is he meant in the crafting of the masterpiece The Divine Comedy. One can safely guess, perhaps the disease of the mind that renders many catatonic had crept upon this master of the plume and the parchment, the word and the verse.
Stuck between fame and the basic need to find some peace and quiet, Dante the poet must have reached a certain point of dilemma, trying to understand the ramifications of the world through the expression of the physical and mental experiences of the individual in a narrative epic poem. Declaring or telling the story of the individual, the poet begins the descent with the words (Translated from Italian):

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita (In the middle of the way of our life)
Mi ritrovai per una selva oscura (I found myself in a murky woodland)
Ché la diritta via era smaritta (Because the right road was lost)

What the events of the recent past are beginning to reveal in the form of the passing on of famous figures in a lot of ways sounds familiar to the declaration by the figure in the first three lines of the poem.
There have been many cases where one hears of a famous figure succumbing to the pressures of the moment, and the following question becomes that of the moment: what is eating at these good people?

The passing on of the South African rap and hip-hop artist, HHP, set a series of questions going on in one’s head. The general point of contention was based on the simple fact as famous people, the assumed expectation is that they are stronger than Superman, forgetting the simple fact that they too are simply human, simple men and women who feel the pains of the world as we ordinary ones do.

Some of them actually had to draw a lot of courage from deep within their selves to attain the status that they reach in the course of their careers of fame.
It takes a lot of courage to stay famous and maintain it if some of the basic needs of humanity are not fulfilled on time and in time; fame naturally takes up a lot of one’s time because there are engagements to meet, appointments to honour, and schedules to follow that have to be adhered to that there is little time for other activities that are equally significant for the sustenance of one’s sanity to render one competently functional in the normal sense that the world around him or her terms.

The famous sacrifice a lot of self for the sake of the mirth and the merriment of the others around them, and this must draw a lot out of the psyche of one not strong enough to find remedies that ease the burden of pressure of the other individuals around one as a famous figure with a large following.
When Chris Cornell, lead singer of the famous rock band Audioslave sings the words to the song Like a stone, one begins to understand the exact abysmal depth of the mental condition termed as depression; a deep state of melancholia where the individual begins to question the purpose of their existence.
The questions do not come in that moment of inebriation where the humours have been aroused by some type of speech or deed, whether it is at a show or performance one attended or actually engaged in.

The questions on the verity of life and the essence of the truths about virtues come in those private moments, in those ‘me times’ a lot of psychiatric experts recommend to maintain proper levels of sanity. So, like everyone else, the famous celebrity needs this sort of moments to recharge the wells of energy required in the entertainment of fellow individuals that form part of the following one garners over the years. So when Chris sings the words:

On a cobweb afternoon
In a room full of emptiness
By a freeway I confess
I was lost in the pages
Of a book full of death
Reading how we’ll die alone
And if we are good, we’ll lay to rest
Anywhere we wanna go

The chorus to this fine track reaches climax with the declaration of fortitude, that one should remain rooted to the cause at all costs. Some adopt this obstinate outlook and manage to stand their ground despite the challenges in the current and prevalent circumstances. These ones can chin it on regardless of the brevity or longevity of the unpleasant experience they are at a certain point faced with.
There are however those others who cannot bear the brunt of the experience and have to go out to seek relief that temporarily eases the weight that they are feeling physically, psychologically, and emotionally.
These types of individuals actually need to believe in something, and some are actually deeply religious, for religion and belief in something actually sustains the levels of mental comfort that prevent the individual from taking any irrational decisions.
It is said HHP actually spoke of the Messiah a lot of times, in fact, from as far back as 2001 he had begun to show signs of deep-sat melancholy and would make references to the life of Jesus Christ when the going was hard.

HHP’s friends actually speak of him as a generous figure and character who could sacrifice his last penny to help a friend out of the doldrums of the maladies of poverty, unemployment, and disease that are highly prevalent in our society.

If one could give so much of himself at any one time for the sake of another other than himself or his immediate family but was still found to be lonely at the end of the day, then it means that there is one aspect of the celebrity figure that we need to address but often tend to overlook: the need for privacy that each and every individual is entitled to at given moments in the course of their life.
Measured in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months, the individual’s life is not one haphazard affair; for there is the need to do a given activity in its given season and time. If the God of the Bible rested on a given day in the course of the week during His process of creation, so does the individual who is the creation and image of God Himself. The average celebrity cannot find the needed moments of repose necessary to recharge the levels of energy required to maintain the given career in the spotlight.

Acting as a conduit to all of the emotions in society, the popular figure unwittingly (but rather logically) deals not only with their own problems alone but those of the people they come across in the course of their careers.
The natural result to this process of encountering and gathering leads to the figure gaining ‘excess baggage’ in terms of experiences they come across, ending up weighed emotionally and otherwise.

To the public, one celebrity may seem fine, showing a brave face for the sake of appearances; for this is one of the demands of the profession: that one should be the superhero at all times, a role model for the children, and a hero for the oppressed.
The weight is not often shared but is experienced in those private moments when one is alone, when ‘me time’ is the time, and the full brunt of the pains one has seen, heard of, felt, tasted, or smelt comes full force.

The strong chin it on, but even them could easily succumb to the feelings of despair if there are no support structures in their immediate environments to buoy them through the dark oceans of emotional distress as a result of current or recurrent experiences in their line of work.
The world has a strange way of idolising its heroes, putting them up on pedestals where they seem invincible and superhuman. This deification robs the individual celebrity of the simple but salient need; the need for one to feel ‘normal’ and not to live and to bask in the perpertual state of awe and wonder from the ‘fans’ on a constant basis.

There is the need to retreat from the travail from time to time lest it become drudgery that numbs not only the physiological aspects of one but also the psychological capabilities of the individual in terms of drawing the right conclusions and making fair judgements.

These two qualities are necessary in the vital process of appropriate decision-making, which in its behest requires that the individual be granted adequate moments of engagement and solitude when the situation so demands.  But the hero of the moment does not have the luxury of repose more often than less; surrounded by crowds of supporters vying for his or her attention and at his beck and call at all moments of the day. Perhaps the celebrities of old draw their longevity from the fact that theirs was not a world of multimedia the modern celebrity is faced with.

It is a dark forest of personal encounters at concerts and public appearances, interview sessions and meets, endless followings and tweets, charity functions and parties. At all of these occasions, the celebrity is the figure in the spotlight, and I guess to a large extent, the world at this point does not understand that there comes a point in the life of any individual where the need to be alone counts for the maintenance of one’s sanity.

In short, one could say that the average individual sometimes needs to shut out the crowd and to live in within the confines of their inner circle. Those celebrities that succumb to the weight of the attention often die alone, perhaps in a last ditch effort to find some moment of solitude to escape the cacophony the attention of their celebrity status comes with.
It is not only in the case with HHP that one begins to realise that our one moment in the spotlight may spell disaster for one if the crowd is not periodically kept in check. Such is the plight of the celebrity, constant humdrum of cacophony that leaves the individual out of touch with not only himself or herself but also with the world around them that soon becomes bland.

The lure of modern media (and perhaps even the old type of media) is exposure to the world, and having been taught in the tenets of popularity, most of us find ourselves on the quest to be ‘the’ figure of the moment, that is, an individual so popular that their face is instantly recognisable wherever one is. It is taught on the silver screen, in the magazines, and in other forms of media that it is a noble pursuit to want to be famous, even if it is for the day.

After the lesson is done, one is left with the one reality that looms; one’s popularity comes with responsibilities and some of them cannot be fulfilled, and this leads to the celebrity not coping with the demands of the status. The chunky fake gold chains in the music videos do not exactly mean that the wearer (the celebrity) is thriving and swimming in wads of cash.
Far often than less, they just get by due to a lack in endorsements or are managed by shady and unscrupulous figures that pay less than one can survive on. And so the mental pressure of lack weighs like a lodestone on the mind of one to the point where suicide seems the only way out.

From Trevor Noah to Bonnie Mbuli, Kurt Cobain to Chris Cornell, Janis Joplin to Robin Williams, Jimi Hendrix to Brenda Fassie, Edgar Allan Poe to Sylvia Plath, there has always been the dark undercurrent of deep-sat melancholy that finds its expression in the suicide or drug-induced death of some celebrity.
This year began with the death of a brilliant academic Dr Bongani Mayosi, it reaches its second last month with the passing of HHP, the man who flaunted his weight and garnered throngs of fans with classic ‘Motswako’ masterpieces that include the quintessential Tswaka and Bosso ke Mang?

It would seem he was the happiest man in the music videos, but the realities of the ghosts he met in the private moments must have got the better of him.
He was a brother who spread mirth and merriment as a farmer would sow seeds that feed entire nations, but he was not happy, and this led to his death.
The great depression of the age sounds in a lot of ways like that one sees in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, a classic tale set in The Great Depression of the 1930’s.
We are faced with a world filled with mounting challenges, and without any dose of respite in sight; some of us will succumb to the effects of depression that are in fact on the rise and there is no seeming cure in sight.

We shall perish as a human race, unless we face the leviathan of depression that is running rampant among us. We need to believe in the cure: communication of that which is egging us (to someone) before it is too late.

By:Tšepiso S Mothibi

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