Never Meet Your Heroes (Or Better Yet: Don’t Have Heroes)
Making sense of the Internet Rage Machine
After a number of women in Hollywood shared their stories of Harvey Weinstein’s unsolicited sexual advances, basically anybody in a position of power was thrust into the spotlight. The Internet Rage Machine was at it again, chastising celebrities who’ve helped perpetuate rape culture, digging up tweets and videos from years ago to feed its anger.
The machine had to eat.
President Trump’s infamous ‘grab them by the Billy Bush’ tape. Ben Affleck’s multiple televised gropings that were somehow okay when they happened. A clip of Game of Thrones alum/Aquaman star Jason Momoa joking about rape on a panel.
This latest IRM feeding session has sparked an interesting debate: What is the point of no return?
In 2017, we seem very eager to write people off or dig up dirt on someone and immediately declare, “Oh I don’t fucks with that person anymore.” People have done it for all different reasons — from Bill Maher saying the ‘n’-word to former comedy sweetheart Kevin Hart being a cheater to NBA champion Kevin Durant pettily defending himself from a secret Twitter account.
And while completely dismissing someone is often the easiest route, it may not be the most productive. After all, the overarching goal behind all of these movements and social justice trends is progress. The key to achieving equality for minority groups — women, blacks, LGBTQIA, everybody — is encouraging growth and open-mindedness. And part of that is giving people the chance to grow and change.
Progress happens one mindset, one person at a time. When enough people are given the motivation, tools, and time to grow, society improves as a whole.
Do I think a rapist should get a second chance? After prison, maybe. But there is no rehabilitation for saying a racial slur on your ‘comedy’ program. (I say ‘comedy’ because I don’t think Bill Maher is funny.) There is no rehabilitation for rape jokes. Or infidelity. Or phony Twitter accounts.
So, where is the line? Right now, it seems like we jump at any opportunity to write people off. Although, we did recently elect an oft-accused sexual assaulter as President of the United States.
There has to be a line that, when someone crosses, s/he is no longer afforded time to change nor entitled to forgiveness. When the sin is too terrible to be overlooked. How far are we willing to let people go — whether they’re in the public eye or not — before forgiveness is off the table?
Maybe it’s conditional. Does it depend on how famous a person is? Or what s/he is famous for? Does it depend on that person’s body of work? How about some sentimental value we’ve assigned to a specific movie/song/show/moment that person was involved in, often somewhat arbitrarily? Does it depend on what that person means to us on an individual basis?
Say, for instance, Betty White were to get caught pinching an up-and-coming male actor’s butt. Is that okay? How about if a video surfaced of her calling an Indian-American crew member a ‘terrorist’?
If Ellen propositioned Zac Efron for a threesome on her show, would we be cool with that? The audience would eat it up, for sure. What if we found an old joke of hers about how she doesn’t date Jewish women?
Let’s try something
Think of your favorite actor, athlete, host, musician/band, TV personality, etc.
If you’re blanking, here are some good ones:
- The Rock
- Barack Obama
- Ryan Gosling
- Amy Adams
- Kate McKinnon
- Donald Glover
- Issa Rae
- Bruce Springsteen
- Weezer (threw that one in there for me)
- LeBron James
- Stephen Curry
- Julio Jones
- J.J. Watt
- Phil Mickelson
- Serena Williams
- Anderson Cooper
- Jake Tapper
- one of the kids from Stranger Things
Got one? Cool. Now, imagine that person does the unthinkable (I realize this is an oxymoron). Basically, the person you idolize most — aside from your parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, etc. — does the shittiest thing you can possibly think up.
Can’t think of anything bad? You’re a better person than me. Here are some ideas:
- Forgets to feed his/her/their puppy and it dies
- Thinks Aziz Ansari is on Silicon Valley
- Says “What was she wearing? Maybe she was asking for it…” out loud
- Gets caught on video looking up a 13-year-old’s skirt
- Tells a fan he’s single because he’s fat and ugly
- Accidentally tweets publicly “i’m sure they look much better off” in response to a woman’s photo of her new shoes
- Writes a song about how maybe Dylann Roof was just misunderstood
- Makes fun of someone in the crowd with a disability
- Misses/drops a game-winning shot/touchdown and screams “THIS IS MY 9/11!”
Okay, okay. NOW, consider your initial reaction. Your favorite personality — someone you look to for inspiration, maybe even guidance — has done something objectively awful. How do you feel? Are you outraged at this person? Have you already decided not to buy his merch or watch her show or root for his team or listen to their music? Are you not going to see Fast & Fur10us in theaters now?
As dangerous and relentless as this outrage machine is, it’s certainly telling. In many ways, it helps us identify our own hypocrisies, especially when the situations that affect us most personally are more than hypotheticals.
Feel free to try this exercise again, and switch up the celebrity or dial back the offense. What’s your personal line? How far would a person have to go to be unforgivable in your eyes, and does that person’s level of celebrity factor in?
The wrath of the IRM
In September of 2016, Lena Dunham seemingly tried to use the IRM to her advantage and it backfired on her. After attending the Met Gala, she accused superstar New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. of not being interested in talking to her because he didn’t want to have sex with her. The IRM promptly intervened.
Football fans and non-football fans alike jumped to OBJ’s defense, suggesting that maybe he didn’t know who Dunham was, he never watched Girls, or he just genuinely wasn’t interested in talking to her. People also attacked Dunham for the lack of black characters in her show, proving that if you try to start a conversation in today’s world, you better be prepared to take shots from all different angles.
The IRM is truly unpredictable in this way. I’m sure Jason Momoa had no idea his rape joke at Comic Con would resurface. Similarly, I’m willing to bet that anyone who has put themselves out there — whether it be an actor, athlete, YouTuber, blogger, whatever — has done something that could be labeled offensive. Or rage-worthy.
In fact, just recently, Carolina Panthers beat reporter Jourdan Rodrigue found herself in the jaws of yet another IRM feast. Within hours of calling out quarterback Cam Newton — a well respected and liked NFL player — for his tasteless quip about “females talking about routes,” the gears of the IRM began spinning. The 24-hour news cycle turned the tables, and suddenly, Rodrigue was forced to apologize for her own offensive behavior: four-year-old tweets containing the ‘n’-word.
The machine had to eat.
I’ve experienced it before. My brother and I have been called “talentless twats” for joking about Zach Braff’s bad seats at a Mumford & Sons show and writing Emma Roberts a sort-of-funny love letter based on Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!, respectively.
I’m sure I’ve posted things that could be seen as racist, homophobic, etc. But anyone who knows me will tell you I’m none of those things. They’ll probably just tell you I thought I was being funny but wasn’t. And that doesn’t make me racist, homophobic, or whatever. It makes me human — with a lot to learn and plenty of room for growth.
There’s a popular adage: Never meet your heroes; you’ll only be disappointed. And it’s mostly true. The problem with idolizing celebrities and athletes and rock stars is that they’re all humans, too. And it just so happens that some humans are rapists, racists, religious bigots, homophobes, chauvinists, and all-around assholes. Some, though, are no better or worse than you and me.