Kira McCarthy asks if we can ever learn to forgive and forget celebrity missteps

At this rate, it’s pretty impossible to think about Twitter without thinking about drama. The website has been the source of many arguments, controversies and bringing darker pasts into the light. More specifically, the rise of “woke Twitter” and “cancelled culture” has once again raised the question of what standards that we, the public, are expecting of celebrities and influencers – and it also raises the question of how long until we are willing to forgive and allow people to grow from past blunders.

In particular, stories such as Kevin Hart’s swift withdrawal from hosting the 91st Oscars has raised many eyebrows. To cut a long story short, soon after Hart announced his new gig at the Academy Awards, homophobic tweets spanning from 2009 to 2011 resurfaced. From homophobic slurs, to making jokes about not wanting to have a gay son, the tweets sparked an outrage amongst the general public, which they voiced through Twitter to such an extent that the Academy gave Hart an ultimatum: apologise for the homophobic tweets or step down from the position. Hart was quick to refuse apologising, stating that he had already done so in 2012 and felt the issue didn’t need to be readdressed. However, his lack of a recent apology angered many and escalated the situation.

Only a few days later, Hart announced his stepping down from the event, not wanting to “be a distraction on a night that should be celebrated by so many amazing talented artists”. He also apologized to the LGBTQ community “for [his] insensitive words from [his] past” and for hurting others. He further stated that he was “evolving” and wanted to “continue to do so” to “bring people together, not tear [them] apart.”

The overall reactions to Hart’s situation were fairly mixed. Some responded to Benjamin Lee’s (an arts editor at Guardian US – and the man who initially brought up Hart’s old tweets) article about Hart and his controversy. On the one hand, some agreed with Lee. One Twitter user argued that “homophobia is homophobia”, regardless of when the words were said. Another user stated that “nobody has the right to expect their opinion isn’t going to affect [...] the kind of jobs they’re able to land. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences” and that “a couple of gay jokes can maybe pass but he is blatantly homophobic.” Some even brought up that there was no proper apology to be found, so it appeared as if Hart had mostly gotten away with his actions until last December.  

However, many also disagreed with Lee. A twitter user argued, “These celebs tweet a lot, who in the idle hell digs up stuff 8 years old to deny someone an opportunity? Change is constant, that’s why everyone deserves a second chance.” Another user said they were proud of how Hart “changed into a better person.”  

Some other users also brought up that making homophobic jokes was not unusual back in 2011. One person noted that “less people were accepting of LGBT people” some years ago. It wasn’t rare for “gay” to be used as an insult by adults or even children in the playground – and Hart’s (and other’s) tweets would have blended right into what society found acceptable to post on social media at the time. So this raises another question about whether offensive posts should be treated as if they were posted today, even if they were said during a time it wouldn’t have received much, or any, backlash.

Hart brought up his seemingly absent apologies for the tweets with Ellen DeGeneres soon after the Twitter incident. He mentioned that he already addressed the issue in 2012 and that he understood “why people would be upset, which is why I made the choice not to use [those jokes/words] anymore. I don’t joke like that anymore because that was wrong. That was just a guy looking for laughs and that was stupid, I don’t do that anymore." Upon further research, there is no clear tweet or interview which could be deemed an official apology for his comments back in 2012. However, the information in regards to this may not have been released at this time.

Ultimately, this whole situation is only a small part of an even bigger issue - a bigger debate. And it poses another question which still hasn’t been answered: how long does a celebrity or influencer have to wait until old offensive tweets and other social media posts are no longer used as an argument as to why they don’t deserve future opportunities?

It’s definitely true that regular people (ie non-celebrities) are held to a different standard when it comes to social media. It’s more than common for anyone to cringe at things they’ve posted in the past, and it's not unusual for people to delete old posts they find cringey or distasteful as they get older and mature (some even leave the posts out there, perhaps to show how they have changed, or simply because they forget)? However, it’s not so easy for anyone in the public eye to subtly remove anything that might put them in a bad light. In fact, it can make them look worse because it appears as if they’re trying to sweep any imperfections under the rug without really addressing the issue.

And still, the main question hasn’t been truly answered: how high are the standards that we, the public, are expecting of celebrities and influencers – and how long until we are willing to forgive for past blunders?

Well, the answer is that the question is unanswerable. There are simply so many variations to different situations that solid answers are practically impossible to have. To have a “standard” forgiveness (or not) procedure for influencers online, there would need to be an overall moral agreement to what can be forgiven and what cannot. People would need to decide on how long someone needs to wait until they can be fully forgiven and what steps that person needs to take to be fully forgiven for past offensive posts. Some people might decide one apology is enough, while some might never forgive.

At the end of the day, no-one is perfect. Everyone (at some point in life) has said hurtful things: things they might be okay with owning up to, some they may never mention. Words hurt, and they can have a lasting impact on some people more than others. However, if people aren’t given the room to be forgiven and show that they have grown, how will they ever truly learn from their mistakes? Perhaps, for the sake of allowing people to truly grow from past blunders, we should cancel “Woke Twitter” mentality for good.


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