In a time of growing sensitivity and awareness of political correctness, it’s hard to avoid the debate over whether certain comments cross a line or if people are just being “snowflakes.” Some of the most prominent controversies stem from offensive comments of politicians and celebrities that are suddenly resurfacing from years past. In 2018, director James Gunn and actor Kevin Hart have come under fire for inappropriate tweets. Most recently, Fox News host Tucker Carlson has begun to face heavy criticism for a slew of uncovered recordings in which he makes sexist and racist comments.
Should these personalities receive punishment for off-hand jokes and statements that they made years or even decades, prior? To what extent should they be held accountable? While some consequences are surely necessary to demonstrate the distastefulness of such remarks, these past comments should not necessitate the end of careers. Rather, how these celebrities and politicians address the controversy surrounding themselves should be a testament to their character and moral growth or lack thereof.
Last summer, James Gunn’s Twitter history yielded some surprising and discomforting comments he had made between 2008 and 2011. Many of these tweets appear to be meant as jokes but deal with the topics of rape and pedophilia in a rather crass manner. For instance, one tweet uncomfortably looks for the silver lining in a terrible circumstance: “The best thing about being raped is when you’re done being raped it’s like, ‘Whew this feels great, not being raped!’” Statements like these led Disney to officially release him as the director for the next “Guardians of the Galaxy” film, which was to begin production in the next few years, explaining that Gunn’s tweets were “indefensible” and “against their values.”
When addressing his past remarks, Gunn said that when he was younger he frequently made jokes and movies with the intention of getting a reaction out of the public, considering himself a provocateur. In his final tweets before deleting his account, he stressed that he was a different, better person than when he made these jokes and that they were unreflective of him as a person. While some like “Guardians” actor Dave Bautista have argued that Disney’s actions were unjust, perhaps it is necessary that some punitive action should be taken to discourage people from making tasteless jokes. However, Gunn should not be permanently blacklisted in the Hollywood community because of offhand remarks he made almost a decade ago, especially after he acknowledged that they were indeed crass and unnecessary.
Kevin Hart experienced similar backlash for tweets dating back to 2009 and 2010 expressing homophobic sentiments. The tweets resurfaced after Hart agreed to host the 2019 Academy Awards, and he was subsequently dropped from the program, leaving the 91st Oscars without a host. Even though such negative comments regarding the LGBT community may have been more common or prevalent ten years ago, it does not excuse his remarks. Yet, like Gunn, Hart expressed that he had matured since he made the jokes, arguing that his past mistakes should not negate the more positive person he has become today.
Tucker Carlson, however, faces a much more visceral reaction from the general public because of numerous radio recordings from guest appearances on “Bubba the Love Sponge Show” recently unearthed by the media oversight organization, Media Matters. In these collections of recordings, Carlson can be heard describing Iraqis as “semi-literate primitive monkeys,” praising whites for having created civilization, criticizing the looks of prominent female politicians and defending a rapist, among other inflammatory statements.
A striking difference between Carlson and the other two cases is that Carlson refuses to acknowledge the validity of concerns about his past remarks. On his Fox News show, the only acknowledgment of the controversy was a pledge he made on air to resist bowing to the mob of public opinion, claiming that it is pointless to defend his comments and describe how they were taken out of context. He and fellow Fox host Sean Hannity have frequently complained that Democrats are just looking for excuses to shut down Fox News. While it may be true that the left would not complain if Fox were to disappear, it does not change the fact that Carlson said things that many take to be racist and misogynistic.
Carlson, in refusing to acknowledge he may have been in the wrong, could be setting himself up for failure. His segment stands to lose significant amounts of advertising if this controversy remains. Depending on the severity of these financial repercussions, Fox could potentially decide to drop him. Additionally, it reflects badly upon himself leaving the recordings unaddressed. Neglecting to acknowledge wrongdoing in these offensive remarks could be interpreted as a signal that the things he said were not jokes and that he actually believes all that he has said. Should a person who expresses such hate and intolerance then be allowed to continue living as if nothing happened?
There needs to be a defined line for this kind of behavior. If past statements are unearthed that are offensive or inappropriate, the speaker should have a chance to address them. If a significant amount of time has passed, hopefully their actions since that time should be a testament to the fact that they have changed and realize now that their previous actions were misguided. Some punishment or attention must still be given to these instances to emphasize that people should be held accountable for their words. People must learn that all words and actions have consequences and that everything one does can be subject to future scrutiny. Yet, the careers and lives of these individuals should not be forever tarnished. Kevin Hart still performs comedy and is involved in numerous upcoming movies. James Gunn was just reinstated as the “Guardians” director. True repentance and growth should offset any serious punishment.
However, if someone refuses to accept that what they did was wrong, they should be subject to further measures. Media Matters’ president, Angelo Carusone, has expressed he does not believe it is right to target someone’s livelihood because they have made some crude comments, but rather if their “‘livelihood is something uniquely bad and destructive or in bad faith.’” Hateful words like the ones Carlson has expressed, if not denied or acknowledged, come to characterize the person who said them. While it remains to be seen if Fox will take any punitive measures, if they claim to be a news organization with any semblance of credibility, they should not allow one of their hosts to espouse and to be associated with the kind of negativity and hate indicated by such inappropriate comments.