Lately I’ve been thinking of public figures – politicians, people in big business, athletes, clergy, performers and other leaders – and how we react when they make big mistakes. It’s been interesting to note, since deciding to write a blog post about this, how often I see the average Joe passing judgment on someone famous. Kind of like buying a car and now you see it everywhere, you know?
What I’ve noticed more than anything else is that we are pretty inconsistent with our judgment, and what we do with that judgment. For example, last night during the Grammys I was on Twitter with a lot of other people, and saw a lot of my Black friends react with displeasure to seeing bands with names like Lady Antebellum and The Civil Wars. One person asked something like, “Is it that country fans don’t know what antebellum means, or they just don’t care?” Of course this was immediately after I’d tweeted something about how awesome The Civil Wars are and everyone should get to know their music.
So which am I – a fan who didn’t know what these terms referred to, or a fan who just didn’t care? I suppose I'm both. I’ve been a Lady Antebellum fan for a while now – well over a year – and though I was familiar with the word (antebellum – I have no idea what the hell a “lady” is), if I’d been pressed for an exact definition, I would have fumbled and not been able to give a good answer. I knew it represented something old-timey and was associated with the South. But I didn’t really think about it when I started listening to them. If you're not aware, antebellum can refer to a period before any war, but in an American context it refers to the years before the Civil War in the 1860s. You know, the good old days. The Civil Wars was much easier – I definitely know what a civil war is. Now, the truth is that their band name doesn’t refer (entirely) to the American Civil War – it refers to the battles we have in relationships. But! The woman in the male/female duo said she was thinking about these tensions at the same time as she was driving around Nashville & seeing Civil War monuments, and the name clicked.
I feel like crap both for not noticing how these band names could call up serious negative associations for a lot of people I care about (oh, hello, White Privilege) . . . and because I really like these bands and don’t want to sop listening to them! That’s what you’re supposed to do when you learn that someone you like or support has done something you don’t like or support. Right?
It’s so easy to excuse people when we already like them. The people who are in these two bands are probably very nice people and my guess is they are probably not the type to have Confederate flags around . . . but someone out there is never going to listen to their music – and maybe they would have really liked it – because of the band names. I wonder, where does that person stand on any number of other musicians who have said, done or associated themselves with terrible stuff? Did they stop listening to them?
Another example from last night – Chris Brown. Many people were disgusted that the Grammys chose to honor him with award nominations and (multiple!) performance slots, due to his abuse of Rihanna, his former girlfriend. My Twitter timeline was flooded with complaints, facts about domestic violence and ill-will in his general direction. What immediately came to my mind – and someone else tweeted this very thing – was remembering 2011 when I spent MONTHS reading people’s supportive Twitter comments about Charlie Sheen. This man didn’t just beat up one girlfriend – he spent decades beating girlfriends, wives, prostitutes. Yet even though this is public knowledge, the most recent incidents weren’t long ago, and all this information was included in just about every article that discussed his meltdown, you COULD NOT GET AWAY FROM THE WORD "WINNING". No, not everyone used it ironically. People thought he should be back on Two and a Half Men. People also spent their money to go see him in a comedy tour. Surely some, if not many, just wanted to see a train wreck, but nevertheless they were throwing financial support his way.
Maybe, like me, they loved the young Charlie Sheen from the movie Lucas. He was such a good guy in that movie. He couldn’t help it if he fell for Kerri Green, dang! Or maybe it was his great performances in Platoon, Major League or Wall Street. Whatever the case, people excused/ignored his drug addiction, his abuse, his unprofessional behavior. But man – Chris Brown should just go straight to hell, right? Now, I agree that Chris Brown hasn’t done much to help his image – his antics and crap apologies don’t make anyone feel he’s sincerely atoned or grown. But did Charlie Sheen ever apologize? If he did, it wasn’t the sort of apology and change in behavior that we’ve seen in other celebrities who messed up big.
We all get upset at public figures for different reasons, and I can’t say that we don’t all have the right to. I don’t know anyone who uses this sort of judgment consistently, though. I know I don’t.
Do you think you do? If so, what does that look like?