Recently I read this article on The Guardian about the death of 26 year old radio presenter Lee Halpin. Having applied for an investigative journalism scheme run by Channel 4 he was embarking on spending a week immersing himself in the lives of the homeless community in his home city Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Essentially he was planning to live as if homeless for the week in order to show his fearlessness in committing to the seeking of a story – a documentary on this experience being his proposed project for his Channel 4 scheme entry.
Three days after embarking on the project Halpin was found dead in a derelict hospital, suspected to be caused by hypothermia. Did this act show a fearless commitment to the story/the art that is praiseworthy or is putting yourself in such a situation is just plain stupid? Let me be clear, the death of Lee Halpin is a terrible tragedy, what I’m looking at here is the extrapolated issue of total commitment to your art and a story – to a cause even and where this can get you.
Does putting your own life in danger for this sort of project where you aren’t directly going to be helping those you’re dealing with make sense? True, people seeing the documentary that Halpin planned to make may well have been exposed to the true circumstances of the homeless and possibly moved to take action. Let’s face it though, they wouldn’t have mobilised a whole movement to rid Britain of homelessness – a movement that would require the whole restructuring of our government system.
It’s sad, but true. So what we have here is a very sad story that illustrates an individual’s commitment to a cause, to their art, to finding stories and the truth that then raises the question – is it worth it? The world is full of stories of such individuals suffering and putting their lives in danger and many, as in this case, losing their lives. The question becomes this: is the crusade of the individual worth it, will it in the long run mobilise much larger crusades made up of a significant number of people that is larger enough to possibly make a difference?
The answer I’m sure is yes, unfortunately (or fortunately depending on which way you look at it) the often ill-fated crusade of the individual is worth it to make anything radical and history-changing happen. It is from the committed individual that, eventually, change can be brought about.