Hello, all! I watched The Revenant yesterday and I must say, that bear deserves an Oscar (and Leo too, of course). I’ll probably write a review when I’ve had some time to think about the movie, and Tom Hardy’s fantastic grunt-speak, a little more, but now I want to talk about something semi-important: celebrity shaming.
It’s difficult to go on the internet these days without some site or other screaming about how Famous McFamous Man body-shamed a giraffe or Celebrittany Sparkle misgendered a lamp post. Most recently, it was Zac Efron, fratbro actor (he should be doing more musicals), who received the media’s ire. It started with an innocuous tweet on MLK Day:
A little on the air-headed side, yes, but he’s a celebrity on Instagram, so what do you expect? Apparently, people expected something a little more reverent.
Many fans hit back at the 28-year-old, claiming he’s missed the point of America’s special day, with one writing, “@ZacEfron This is one of the most offensive/diminishing/disrespectful things anyone has said in relation to MLK today. Get over yourself,” while another added, “@ZacEfron Zac I (love) you, but whichever social media manager told you gaining 10 mil followers and MLK’s work are in the same vein, fire them.”
Several other followers suggested Efron should delete his accounts.
Okay, okay, I see how this could be taken offensively. Instead of posting on Instagram, Zac Efron should’ve been reading biographies of MLK and staying off of social media, just like all of these respectful Twitter critics. But the Zefron made a mistake. He didn’t think about all the feelings he’d be hurting, especially MLK in heaven (who I’m sure only noticed this one tweet, and not the hundreds of celebrations being held in his honor). So he did the only thing possible in the face of so much backlash: he apologized.
“I have nothing but the greatest admiration and respect for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I realize that last night’s post was completely insensitive and I apologize to anyone I may have offended. So sorry. Z.”
The fact that a celebrity, beholden to NO ONE BUT HIMSELF, must issue a PUBLIC APOLOGY because a few people were offended over a ephemeral tweet is ridiculous. And this isn’t even the worst case. Benedict Cumberbatch had a similar run-in with the Outrage Police in early 2015:
The Imitation Game star found himself in hot water on Wednesday after sitting down for an interview with PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley, where the actor talked about the perceived lack of diversity in the entertainment industry.
According to Cumberbatch, it’s even more difficult for non-white actors in the United Kingdom to get work than it is for those in America.
“I think, as far as colored actors go, it’s really difficult in the UK,” Cumberbatch said. “I think a lot of my friends had more opportunities here than in the UK, and that’s something that needs to change.”
And before you freak out and go “that’s hella racist!” think for a minute. Here he is, talking about diversity. His entire interview is about how difficult it is for non-white actors to become successful in the film and television industry. He says “colored people,” not as a slur, but as a slip of the tongue. Perhaps he meant to say “people of color,” which is now known as the more correct term these days. And isn’t that ridiculous? That it is horribly, offensively racist for someone to say “colored person,” but it is perfectly alright to call someone “a person of color?” And somehow it’s not racist to lump every single ethnicity, be it Chinese, Korean, Nepalese, Vietnamese, Colombian, Guatemalan, Ugandan, Senegalese, Cameroonian, Liberian, Pakistani, Indian, Iranian, Lebanese, Haitian, Dominican, Kenyan, Tanzanian, Egyptian, Paraguayan etc. under the same umbrella as “people of color?” But I digress…
Anyways, the point is that Benedict Cumberbatch said two words in an interview that were deemed offensive. Despite the fact that he was not representing anyone in his interview except himself, despite the fact that he was under no obligation to monitor his speech in case, god forbid, a random internet person found it offensive, he was still publicly humiliated and called out by the media. And then, of course, he was forced to apologize, because what’s a good public shaming without a matching public apology?
Call-out culture has become rampant in the media. It needs to stop. It’s one thing for a celebrity to apologize for an act that is commonly deemed shocking, or one that will permanently damage their image. It was reasonable for Kristen Stewart to publicly apologize for cheating with a married man because such an act might seriously damage her status in Hollywood (though sadly it seems to have had no effect on her movie career). It’s also reasonable for Kanye to apologize for upstaging Beck’s Grammy acceptance, because his actions were undeniably rude and unprofessional. But harassing other celebrities in the media for making stupid mistakes is setting a dangerous precedent. It enforces the idea that celebrities are idols instead of human beings.
To some, this might not seem like a big deal. Celebrities are constantly in the spotlight, so a little criticism comes with the territory. But a little criticism stands for something larger: censorship of free speech. Celebrities are not beholden to anyone. Unless they’re under contract by a movie studio or promoting a product, they have the right to say whatever they desire, even if it’s offensive. That’s the first amendment.
If we use call-out culture to stop celebrities from saying words that we don’t like, we’re engaging in a form of censorship. It may not be banning books, but it’s still preventing free speech. And furthermore, we hold celebrities to much higher standards than ordinary people. Celebrities are entertainers, nothing more, nothing less. If you disagree with or are offended by their words, stop buying their products. It’s your right as a consumer to boycott the media of a celebrity you dislike. You think Benedict Cumberbatch is a racist? You’re entitled to your misinformed opinion, and you have the right to stop buying tickets to The Hobbit movies or watching Sherlock. You even have a right to tweet on Twitter about how much you think Benedict Cumberbatch is a racist. But you don’t have a right to harass and shame Benedict Cumberbatch into issuing a public apology just because you feel offended. That’s a form of censorship.
Though it may seem like you have a right to be offended, you actually don’t. You can read the Bill of Rights and the 17 additional amendments to the Constitution if you’re still unsure. Call-out culture may seem innocuous, but it’s a form of censorship and it encourages the belief that it’s good, even morally right, to limit speech that others deem offensive.
Instead of publicly shaming a celebrity when they post something that you find offensive, take a few minutes (or days…or years) and think about why you find it offensive and if it’s really worth humiliating / causing a public outcry over a few words on social media. In my opinion, unless the situation is especially egregious (like the Chris Brown- Rihanna incident), you should never use call-out culture. It’s a weapon of humiliation akin to putting someone in the pillory and letting the whole village throw tomatoes at them (or pinning a red A on their dress). Soon, we’ll making shamed celebrities wear an “O” for “Offensive” on their Oscar gowns.
All I can say is that this needs to stop. This type of censorship starts with the public figures, but then it trickles down to the masses. Remember Justine Sacco, a woman who tweeted a stupid remark about AIDS before a flight to South Africa and was publicly crucified, and then fired? Oh, and not to mention the real people who went to the Cape Town airport, photographed her, and then posted it on Twitter so that thousands of people could mock her distress further? It’s gotten to be such a problem that author Jon Ronson published a book called So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed about multiple incidents just like Sacco’s.