Mac Miller, Ariana Grande and Our Addiction to Pointing the Finger

Mac Miller and Ariana Grande in the video for their 2016 collaboration, 'My Favorite Part'.

On Friday morning, Mac Miller was found dead of an apparent overdose, after years of openly struggling with addiction. One of Miller's most endearing qualities as an artist was his willingness to share his vulnerabilities and fears around his own struggles with sobriety. "I'm hoping not to join the 27 club," he rapped on "Brand Name." In the end, tragically, Mac Miller only made it to 26.

Miller's fame—and the amount of public scrutiny he was put under—grew when he got into a relationship with Ariana Grande in September 2016. When the longtime friends and collaborators officially split last May, and Grande went public about her whirlwind romance with Pete Davidson just a couple of weeks later, Miller fans weren't happy. Some were quick to blame Grande for Miller's addiction issues, to the degree that she felt obligated to hit back on Twitter:

For his part, Miller publicly stated that he was fine with the break-up and his ex-girlfriend's new relationship. At the end of July, in an interview with Zane Lowe, he said "I was in love with somebody. We were together for two years. We worked through good times, bad times, stress and everything else. And then it came to an end and we both moved on. And it's that simple, you know?" On Instagram, Grande stated, "This is one of my best friends in the whole world and favorite people on the planet. I respect and adore him endlessly.”

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Still, on Friday, as the horrifying news broke, Grande was not left to grieve in peace. Instead, her Instagram page became a battleground between Miller fans pointing the finger and Grande fans rushing to her defense. There were multiple fans who pleaded with her to "turn off the comments" hours before she finally did. By that time, the damage was already done.

Comments posted to Ariana Grande's Instagram account on Friday, September 7, 2018.

At the time of publication, Grande has yet to speak publicly about the death of Miller, though she did post a touching photo of him to her Instagram account over the weekend.

The public attack on Grande is horrible but in no way surprising. It's not even the first time in the last few weeks that a woman has been blamed for a famous man's own longterm, personal struggles. Ben Affleck's current girlfriend, model Shauna Sexton, was accused of landing the 46-year-old actor back in rehab late last month after she posted a photo of herself enjoying a glass of wine. Admittedly, her timing wasn't great; the pic went up just three days after Affleck's ex-wife, Jennifer Garner, staged an intervention.

When accusations started flying in the comments, Sexton quickly and directly pointed out that her boyfriend's ability to stay sober had little to do with her. Sexton wrote:

"I love to drink and party! Absolutely dude. Most 22 year olds do… [Does it] mean i would disrespect someone’s hard earned sobriety by drinking with them or in front of them? Hell no… Ben is a grown ass man, baby. He makes his own decisions. Blaming a 22 year old for someone’s 3rd time in rehab is just ridiculous...He is human. I am human. You are human. We all are going to f**k up it’s just a matter of learning from it. Don’t be so quick to throw shade on people. Take a step back, accept that we are all on our own journey, and be a little less critical."

So where does the compulsion come from, to hold responsible anyone other than the dead celebrity in question? The root of it is in the public's great sense of personal attachment to famous people, especially musicians. Pointing the finger at someone else means propelling our own sadness out and away from us. Therapist Patrick Wanis told Shape magazine that: “We grieve them … because we feel they can no longer continue to contribute to our lives—we have lost out on their next musical creation.”

The other factor is an unwillingness to blame the deceased person themselves, for being gone too soon. No one wishes to speak ill of the dead, so we absolve them of responsibility and shift blame to the next nearest living person.

What the blame game ignores, of course, is just how complex addiction is. The causes of drug and alcohol dependency differ wildly depending on the individual. As the Center on Addiction points out: "Addiction disrupts regions of the brain that are responsible for reward, motivation, learning, judgment and memory." Relapses can be caused by anything and nothing. And for partners living with an addict, there is no perfect way of dealing with it. If they exercise tough love and leave, they are accused of abandonment. If they stay, they are accused of enabling. It's a no-win position to be in.

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One thing to keep in mind is that the only person that can keep an addict sober is the addict themselves. Assistance can come from sponsors, organizations and, yes, partners. But if it feels too uncomfortable to pass judgment on the addict, it should feel just as unjust to direct it at their loved ones. In the end, Mac Miller didn't die because Ariana Grande broke up with him; Mac Miller died because he had a disease.

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