When a celebrity says “I’m sorry” about some real or perceived misdoing, a lot of peculiar stuff happens. Immediately, people seem to split into two camps – those who accept the apology as resolution, and those who don’t (there’s of course a third group which is perhaps the largest in number – those who don’t know about it, and don’t care one way or the other). But that’s just the immediate reaction. Then, the discussions and arguments kick in – about who deserves forgiveness, and (when you start to get down into the weeds), what offenses are unforgiveable… and even about the nature and meaning of forgiveness.
What got me thinking about it this time around was this Governor of Virginia kerfluffle - His medical school yearbook page was revealed to contain a picture of him and a companion wearing blackface and a KKK costume. As a black man all my adult life, my immediate reaction meshed smoothly with those whose answer was “Not no, but HELL no – he must resign!” After two days of constant media coverage, my reaction stays mostly the same… Although I’m not proud to say that I had to factor in a purely political consideration – if they let this go, my Democratic Party will lose the moral bonifides to call out the racism of 45, Steve King, and all the other wildly racist occupiers of the Republican party.
But I also thought about things like what’s the statute of limitations on racist or misogynist or homophobic acts? Remember Robert Byrd, longtime Democratic Senator from West Virginia? Well, somehow the Democrats found it in their pea-pickin’ hearts to overlook the troublesome fact that Byrd had been a proud Exalted Cyclops in a KKK chapter. Byrd was an avowed racist who said things like “I shall never fight in the armed forces with a negro by my side…”and used terms like “race mongrels”. So, that’s forgivable, but not a depiction of racist memes from a yearbook in the early 80s? Is 40 years too soon for public absolution?
We (the American mass-media consuming public) seem to be very picky about who gets to go on with their lives after a past wrong is found out, and who doesn’t. Joy Reid, the beloved MSNBC personality, was found to have some clearly homophobic and intolerant commentary in her blogs from the early 2000s. She is still a prominent host of her own show on weekends and many guest appearances on other shows throughout the week. There was a small buzz about how those found comments were completely to her progressive, everybody-welcome-at-the-cookout persona, but it was quickly drowned out by more praise for what a great broadcaster, person and co-worker Joy is. Case closed. Why was she so easily let off the hook?
These days we have celebrities like Louis CK, R. Kelly, Kevin Spacey and Les Moonves all accused of a vast spectrum of sex-related offenses. Roseanne Barr, Mel Gibson and Paula Deen were caught being racist. Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and Kevin Hart have been recorded saying things considered to be homophobic. We seem to crucify some and cuddle others. There doesn’t seem to be any method to the madness of which ones get the virtual public stoning and which get to carry on earning a living unscathed.
Who gets to decide which apologies count?
How does this putatively majority – Christian nation justify their clear fascination with crucifying some in social media?
Why do I think I can get a decent discussion going on A2K about this?