Even in death, Winehouse is not granted privacy or respect

All that prurient poking into the singer's private life might have been part of the problem.

Amy Winehouse's sad, lonely, early death is a tragedy. It is a human tragedy for the young woman herself, and her family and friends; and a different kind of tragedy for the tabloid press who so enjoyed feasting on her misery and despair while she was alive. It will have to make do with feasting on the misery of her family, now the golden goose has gone.

It would be too much to hope that, in death, Winehouse could find the kind of privacy and respect she didn't have in life. Even from before the moment the blanket-covered body was taken away from the flat where life left it, it has been a feeding frenzy. Even when she died, the press still hounded her.

Today's Daily Mail, for example, has photos of Winehouse's tear-soaked mother and father looking at the fans' memorial that has sprung up in her street, along with a rather snippy colour piece about the apparent non-classiness of the tributes. It's not the only newspaper to be doing this. They're all feasting on the celebrity death, with varying levels of sincerity; some of the worst offenders in harassing and attacking Winehouse while she was alive are now repositioning themselves as grieving friends. It would be funny, if it weren't slightly sickening.

It's easy to sneer and make judgements on Winehouse's lifestyle, and post-Diana memorials in general; easy, too, to say "I told you so" or to think that this miserable death was a predictable thing. Because it's easy, a lot of people are doing it. It's more difficult, perhaps, to contemplate the way in which this life and death was gorged on by the writers and readers of redtops and trashy magazines alike, and wonder whether all that prurient poking into the singer's private life might have been part of the problem. That kind of question might raise uncomfortable answers; instead, it's simpler and less time-consuming to blame the addict for their "choices", and imagine that in a just world everyone is as capable as everyone else of avoiding the same destiny.

Now that Amy is dead, the paps can happily return to their well-worn perches outside Winehouse's residence, having been barred before, following a series of doorstep confrontations, photos of a tearful Winehouse outside (and inside) her home, and the usual intruding snatched shots of someone going about her daily life.

Perhaps in that gloomy street in Camden, there's a reunion of sorts going on; paparazzi are reminiscing about the time they caught Winehouse in an alleyway, or saw her bawling her eyes out in public, remembering the sky-high prices those photos made. Those glory days are gone now, of course. But how proud all those involved must be with their role in chasing a young woman struggling with addiction and personal problems, hounding her outside her home, and getting "friends" and hangers-on to dish the dirt on what was going on behind closed doors, when the lenses couldn't see.

Were we really fascinated by the stories of Amy's life, of her excesses, or her tempestuous relationships? We must have been; the photos and tales fetched high prices for those willing to do the dirtiest of dirty work, which means someone somewhere must have believed there was a strong market for them. In some small way, perhaps all of us who devoured the images and stories are in a way responsible for this most dreadful of outcomes. And all that's left is the grave, a fine and private place -- a private ceremony, and the end of a life.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media

Davide Restivo at Wikimedia Commons
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Scientists have finally said it: alcohol causes cancer

Enough of "linked" and "attributable": a new paper concludes that alcohol directly causes seven types of cancer.

I don't blame you if you switch off completely at the words "causes cancer". If you pay attention to certain publications, everything from sunbeds, to fish, to not getting enough sun, can all cause cancer. But this time, it's worth listening.

The journal Addiction has published a paper that makes a simple, yet startling, claim: 

"Evidence can support the judgement that alcohol causes cancer of the oropharynx [part of the throat], larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum and [female] breast"

So what's especially significant about this? 

First, scientists, unlike journalists, are very wary of the word "causes". It's hard to ever prove that one action directly led to another, rather than that both happened to occur within the same scenario. And yet Jennie Connor, author of the paper and professor in the Preventive and Social Medicine department at the University of Otago, New Zealand, has taken the leap.

Second, alcohol not only causes cancer of one kind – the evidence supports the claim that it causes cancer at seven different sites in our bodies. There was weaker evidence that it may also cause skin, prostate and pancreatic cancer, while the link between mouth cancers and alcohol consumption was the strongest. 

What did we know about alcohol and cancer before?

Many, many studies have "linked" cancer to alcohol, or argued that some cases may be "attributable" to alcohol consumption. 

This paper loooks back over a decade's worth of research into alcohol and cancer, and Connor concludes that all this evidence, taken together, proves that alcohol "increases the incidence of [cancer] in the population".

However, as Connor notes in her paper, "alcohol’s causal role is perceived to be more complex than tobacco's", partly because we still don't know exactly how alcohol causes cancer at these sites. Yet she argues that the evidence alone is enough to prove the cause, even if we don't know exactly how the "biologial mechanisms" work. 

Does this mean that drinking = cancer, then?

No. A causal link doesn't mean one thing always leads to the other. Also, cancer in these seven sites was shown to have what's called a "dose-response" relationship, which means the more you drink, the more you increase your chances of cancer.

On the bright side, scientists have also found that if you stop drinking altogether, you can reduce your chances back down again.

Are moderate drinkers off the hook?

Nope. Rather devastatingly, Connor notes that moderate drinkers bear a "considerable" portion of the cancer risk, and that targeting only heavy drinkers with alcohol risk reduction campaigns would have "limited" impact. 

What does this mean for public health? 

This is the tricky bit. In the paper, Connor points out that, given what we know about lung cancer and tobacco, the general advice is simply not to smoke. Now, a strong link proven over years of research may suggest the same about drinking, an activity society views as a bit risky but generally harmless.

Yet in 2012, it's estimated that alcohol-attributable cancers killed half a million people, which made up 5.8 per cent of cancer deaths worldwide. As we better understand the links between the two, it's possible that this proportion may turn out to be a lot higher. 

As she was doing the research, Connor commented:

"We've grown up with thinking cancer is very mysterious, we don't know what causes it and it's frightening, so to think that something as ordinary as drinking is associated with cancer I think is quite difficult."

What do we do now?

Drink less. The one semi-silver lining in the study is that the quantity of alcohol you consume has a real bearing on your risk of developing these cancers. 

On a wider scale, it looks like we need to recalibrate society's perspective on drinking. Drug campaigners have long pointed out that alcohol, while legal, is one of the most toxic and harmful drugs available  an argument that this study will bolster.

In January, England's chief medical officer Sally Davies introduced some of the strictest guidelines on alcohol consumption in the world, and later shocked a parliamentary hearing by saying that drinking could cause breast cancer.

"I would like people to take their choice knowing the issues," she told the hearing, "And do as I do when I reach for my glass of wine and think... do I want to raise my risk of breast cancer?"

Now, it's beginning to look like she was ahead of the curve. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.