When Britney Spears has an extended public meltdown involving umbrella attacks and child-endangerment or when Mel Gibson gets drunk and rants to Officer Sugartits about how the Jews are responsible for all of the wars in the world, we as a society tend to condemn them at the time, but ultimately are willing to give these performers a second (or third, or tenth) chance.
After enough time passes, we simply forgive and forget. Something else captures our collective attention – like a missing white girl or a crazy family who pretends their boy is inside a runaway balloon – and we simply move on. Then, somewhere down the line, Britney releases a new single or Mel Gibson releases a new movie and we all decide it’s okay to support them once again. Even Michael Jackson, who had his career marred by allegations of child molestation, was ultimately given a grand send-off when he died and now is once again fondly remembered as the King of Pop.
But it’s not always so easy to forgive and forget. Sometimes a celebrity’s actions are so egregious that it’s difficult to simply let it go. At those times, we are left with a difficult decision – do we separate the artist from the art and condemn the man while supporting his work or do we throw out the baby with the bathwater?
I’m talking about someone like Roman Polanski. The man is responsible for two classic Hollywood films (Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown) and a modern classic (The Pianist). There is no question that he is an incredibly talented filmmaker. But he is also someone who plead guilty to “engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse” with a 13-year-old girl in the 1970s. He was accused of drugging and raping the girl at a party. Polanski served 42 days in prison and then fled the country when a judge ordered him to serve the remainder of his 90-day sentence.
As you all probably already know, Polanski was arrested last month when he traveled to the Zurich Film Festival to accept a lifetime achievement award. Since then, prominent figures in Hollywood – such as directors Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Michael Mann, Mike Nichols, Woody Allen and Neil Jordan – have petitioned for Polanski’s release. Whoopi Goldberg even went on The View and said what he did wasn’t really rape.
So clearly Hollywood has no problem standing behind the man despite his horrendous actions. But for the rest of us, it’s not always so easy to separate the work from the man. Personally, I have no sympathy for Polanski. I think he deserves whatever sentence he gets.
But at the same time, I think his films are absolutely brilliant. The Pianist is one of the most gripping and heart-wrenching films I’ve ever seen. Chinatown is one of the greatest examples of film noir. And Rosemary’s Baby is undeniably a classic. Yet, it’s hard to truly appreciate these films without feeling a tinge of guilt for supporting the man. It’s hard to admire the beauty of the work knowing it came from someone capable of such a horrible crime.
I had a similar dilemma with Chris Brown. This may surprise you considering what an uncoordinated, dorky white guy I am, but I am actually a big fan of Brown’s music. Of course, once it came out that Brown beat up his girlfriend Rhianna, suddenly he stopped ending up in heavy rotation on my iPod. But then, just last week, I found myself jamming to “With You,” but it wasn’t the same. It just seems tainted now.
The same thing happens whenever I watch The Naked Gun. That movie still holds up as one of the funniest films of my lifetime, but it’s a bit strange to watch a lighthearted comedy with O.J. Simpson in it. The fact that Simpson gets beat up throughout the entire film softens the blow a bit, but it’s still quite bizarre to see him on my TV screen rattling off one-liners with Leslie Nielsen.
Or there is Chris Benoit. Most of you probably only know Benoit as the guy who murdered his wife and child and then committed suicide. But I followed Benoit’s career for years, starting with his Four Horseman days in WCW. One of my fondest wrestling memories was watching Chris Benoit win the 2004 Royal Rumble live in Philly. I had always wanted to see a Royal Rumble live and I had always pulled for Benoit, who was a quintessential underdog. Seeing him win was a great moment. However, now it’s impossible to look back at that day without being reminded of the horrible crimes Benoit committed.
I could go on and on. R Kelly, Michael Vick, Mike Tyson, Kobe Bryant – there have been so many actors, musicians and athletes who have done horrible things that forever tarnish their legacy. So many great moments have forever been tainted.
The question is – what do we do about it? Do we take Hollywood’s approach to Polanski and overlook the actions in favor of the work? Or do we throw out all of the movies, songs and sports footage featuring these celebrities, effectively pretending like none of it ever happened? Where is the middle ground?
I’ve thought long and hard about this and I think there is only one real solution …
Adorable, cuddly baby kittens.
That’s right, kittens. After all, kittens make everything better. Whether they are attacking the laces on your favorite pair of running shoes or hanging from a tree on the motivation poster you hang in your cubicle to keep you from going postal on your coworkers, kittens just make the world a happier place.
That’s why I think we need to add CGI kittens to all of these forever-tainted celebrities’ works. That way, I can pop in the 2004 Royal Rumble DVD and whenever those dark feelings about Benoit’s horrible actions surface, I can look at the corner of the screen and see an adorable kitten innocently batting a ball of yarn around. When I feel that tinge of guilt for playing “With You” on my iPod, I can look at the album artwork that pops up and see an adorable little calico with a toy mouse in its teeth looking back at me. When Lakers fans feel conflicted about cheering for Kobe during a great game, a cute little tabby licking its paws can appear on the Jumbotron to help ease their guilt.
It is the perfect solution …
Unless, of course, one of those adorable kittens rapes or kills someone. Then we are totally screwed.
Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.