Here’s the thing, people can be great at a lot of things, like really, really great, like so great that they set records other people can’t beat or they create music no one else can improve upon or they just have a shit ton of money that other people can’t have and so they’re able to do things other people can’t do. So here are those people, the great, the creative, the rich, and sometimes they are also amazingly decent people, as human beings. And that’s amazing and wonderful and we all fall all over ourselves, “how can they be so normal when they’re so above us?” But when these people, these great or creative or rich people, do something absolutely atrocious, something heinous, illegal and immoral and socially unacceptable, we still fall all over ourselves to forgive them or ignore the transgressions or, and this completely baffles me, make excuses for why they did what they did.
How is that Michael Jackson can mentally, emotionally, and sexually abuse children and Cirque du Soleil makes a show honoring him and saying how he was just so confused and had demons and was (essentially) persecuted. I used to love Michael Jackson’s music, I was a huge fan, would crank up the radio anytime one of his songs came on, didn’t care if it was the old Jackson Five stuff or the newer stuff, I listened to it as loud as it would go and I sang along. I was not above learning the dance steps to Thriller. I knew which of his songs was my mom’s favorite. I was all over it. I was on the bandwagon of “isn’t it messed up that people would go after him for his money, that poor man, he has so many problems.”
All the law suits were always dropped. I figured they were all BS. And then Leaving Neverland came out. You can’t tell me those kids weren’t abused. You can’t tell me it was “okay” because he was a talented musician. You can’t tell me it was “okay” because he was suffering from his own childhood trauma. It is not okay. Is it sad that his family lost a brother and a father? Absolutely, yes. Is it sad that a pedophile died? Nope. And when a Michael Jackson song comes on the radio, you better believe I turn that shit off immediately. It doesn’t matter if it’s an old Jackson Five song either, yes, that was before he was a pedophile, but no, it doesn’t change the fact that I can’t condone his actions by supporting his music.
What about the rich guys sexually harassing all the men and women and getting away with it? Remember all the people the #metoo movement brought to light? All the people who had finally had enough, had finally felt like maybe they’d be heard now, all the people who were ready to tell their stories. Weinstein, Cosby, Freeman, Spacey. All these big name entertainers. And what did people do? Call foul. Refuse to believe. In the case of Morgan Freeman there have been literally zero repercussions.
And now the latest: Kobe Bryant. Kobe Bryant raped a woman. He was a rapist. He was also an unbelievable basketball player. So. Fucking. What. There are TONS of unbelievably excellent basketball players who are not rapists. Why are we celebrating this one? Why was he able to keep playing? Why are people who didn’t even know this rapist mourning his death? And why are people calling for the renaming of Staples Center as the Koby Bryant Center? That is some serious bullshit.
We all idolize someone (Bruce Springsteen). We all have our heroes/heroines (Maya Angelou), the people we look up to (Beyonce Knowles) or long to be (Pam Houston) or wish we could be besties with (Heather Havrilesky). It’s healthy, like setting goals, looking up to people helps you make sure you’re on your best path, too. Like all those people sporting WWJD bracelets. But here’s the thing: when your idol does something horrifically wrong, it’s time to get a new idol.
Stop defending people in the wrong just because they make more money than you do or have more talent. Money and talent do not absolve a person of their transgressions. Yes, we are all human, yes, we all make mistakes, and yes, to err is human. But there’s a reason we remember Hitler as a bad man even though he loved his mother, was a vegetarian, a failed artist, and a billionaire. You scoff, “Hitler is a bit extreme” you say. Is it?
Public figures remain public because we make it so. People in power remain in power because we make it so. People are immortalized as good or bad because we determine it.
If you read about an adult who brainwashed families, made children watch porn and masturbate in front of them, forced children to have oral sex, bought children rings and performed “marriage ceremonies” with them. If you read about this adult would they be your hero? Would you want to give your time and money and voice to defending and supporting them? What about if the adult also happens to be a really great singer, songwriter, and performer? Now is it okay?
If you read about an adult accused of rape with a bruises, vaginal tears, and blood to back it up. If you read about this adult would they be your hero? Would you want to give your time and money and voice to defending and supporting them? What about if the adult also happens to be a really great basketball player who has won Olympic gold medals? Now is it okay?
The question here is: where do you draw your line in the sand? What are you willing to ignore so you can enjoy a song or a basketball game or a movie or a television show? Does someones private life not affect your pleasure of their professional life? What if it was your kid being abused? What if it was your sister being raped?
We are responsible for whether or not a celebrity remains a celebrity. We are responsible for whether or not a person is remembered for their evil or their good. We can absolutely mourn the loss of our heroes, the loss of peoples families, and friends, and we can do so without forgetting that these people were not infallible. We can let go of our heroes when they do something we can’t condone. We can stand up to the whitewashing that occurs when they die. We can be the voice who says, yes, they were excellent at x but they also did y, and that is why I cannot continue to hold them up as an idol.
~~~That’s one hour~~~
I’m getting a huge response via email and comments about this, and rather than publish them all and respond individually, I’m going to update the post itself. Sadly, people are asking me why this matters. When I’m limited by time and familial duties I often have to accept that my posts have typos and errors and are very much unfinished, but this one can’t be treated that way. It’s too important. Here’s why it matters.
When people grow up knowing that celebrities are above the law they not only expect and condone the atrocities celebrities commit but they also begin to root for them. For example, Martha Stewart broke the law and people were shocked when she actually got convicted. Why? She broke the law. Why are we shocked that she was convicted? Because she’s a celebrity. Celebrities are supposed to get away with it. And she served time, although not the kind of time you or I would serve, and we accept that, too.
Before marijuana became legal in half the country, people cheered when Snoop would talk openly about smoking (me included, the whole idea of criminalizing marijuana is ridiculous, but that’s a tangent). The point is, people loved that he broke the law and got away with it. They encouraged it.
We love the idea that celebrities can get away with things we can’t. And that’s dangerous.
When we grow up knowing celebrities can get away with stuff and rooting for them to get away with stuff we end up with a president who is a criminal. When we grow up knowing celebrities can get away with stuff and rooting for them to get away with stuff we end up with a criminal president who may not get impeached. A criminal president who may not get impeached and who may run for re-election. A criminal president who may not get impeached, may run for re-election, and here’s the scary part folks, may very well win.
Rapists can’t be heroes. Pedophiles can’t be celebrated. Criminals can’t be president.