I remember the first time I had to do the equation.
I was 14, and had just learned through proto-internet sources that one of my favourite wrestlers, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, had been charged with domestic abuse towards his then-wife, Debra.
Immediately, I started to process mental math that, whether you feel like admitting it or not, far too many of us have done before: Is this crime great enough for me to stop loving this person and continuing to be their fan?
If I had to sketch it out, the equation would look like this:
Love Of Celebrity - Severity Of Crime(Proof) = Ability To Continue Supporting Celebrity
It's an equation that has been tallied with an increasing amount of frequency in recent years, in no doubt thanks to the increased transparency in the lives of public figures alongside the bravery of individuals willing to break a culture of silence towards celebrity misdeeds.
But everyone still has their personal equation, and that leads us to some hard questions. Like these:
Did you stop listening to "Ignition (Remix)" by R. Kelly when he went to trial for child pornography charges? How about when he walked out of an interview after his history of alleged sex crimes was mentioned? Are either of those enough to unbalance your equation?
How about Bill Cosby? How many women had to speak out before it tipped your equation against years of Cosby Show reruns? Did it have to hit double digits? Did you wait for that New York Magazine cover image to go viral before finally letting Cliff Huxtable drop from your list of Top TV Dads? Are you still waiting for the courts to decide whether you should stop ironically enjoying Ghost Dad?
Hey, do you remember Jian Ghomeshi? Did you figure he was safe when Margaret Atwood sent him a message of love and support? Did Big Ears Teddy really shift things for you, or could that be dismissed? Do you still, despite everything, prefer him over Shad as the host of Q?
"Just because you like someone or love their work, doesn't mean they can't do shitty things."
I just chose three recently high-profile sex monsters off the top of my head, but it could be anyone and anything:
- Chris Brown's enduring popularity and terrifyingly loyal female fans.
- Whatever the actual hell fans of Woody Allen are doing to justify their own actions to themselves.
- Azealia Banks, full stop.
When I found out about Stone Cold, I did the equation. I balanced the idea that a guy who plays a self-professed "beer drinkin', ass kickin' redneck" professional wrestler on TV probably could find it within himself to beat his wife against literally hundreds of memories of him making my childhood a less scary and confusing place for my brother and me.
I did the math, and continued to love the guy, because his work meant a lot to me. I probably wouldn't do the same today. But here's another important point: I was literally a child when I made that decision.
You don't have the luxury of that excuse.
People get defensive about the trappings they define themselves with. By admitting you like something, be it a celebrity or a show or a band, you're saying that it has contributed to who you are today.
So when someone criticizes those things, logic dictates that they're criticizing you -- or at least, a part of you. It's flawed and it's ridiculous, but it happens.
However, just because you like someone or love their work, doesn't mean they can't do shitty things.
Your personal brand of approval isn't a cleansing fire that absolves someone of their sins (or their basic humanity). You can love someone, their work or their art can be a huge formative part of your life, and they can still go ahead and commit a crime. Your love doesn't save them from scrutiny or the possibility of wrongdoing; it just leads us to a ridiculous circle of defenses once accusations start flying.
And yes, I'm talking about Johnny Depp.
Thought-provoking things have already been said about the media's reaction to a woman alleging domestic abuse, so I'll just direct you to those.
What I want to address is the idea that people who we like cannot possibly do bad things. Because it leads us to and from the equation, and it ends up in ridiculous rebuttals like the ones we're seeing now.
"We like to trust our guts, we like to believe that if someone's good by us, they're good in general."
Like Doug Stanhope telling us that Depp is being manipulated by a vengeful manipulative wife.
The subtext here? Domestic abusers don't have best friends that care for them, but Johnny Depp does.
Like his daughter, "ex-lover," and former wife insisting on how "loving" and "sensitive" he was to them.
The message? Domestic abusers don't showcase positive emotions or have previous non-abusive relationships in their pasts.
Let's make this abundantly clear: People you like, love, respect and admire are capable of doing horrible things.
It's not a zero sum game: Someone can be a fantastic older sibling and still cheat on their spouse.
They can be an admirable parent and still commit violent sexual acts.
Loving someone doesn't protect them from their own actions, and your love doesn't prove that they're incapable of doing something terrible.
It is not a comforting thought; far from it. We like to trust our guts; we like to believe that if someone's good by us, they're good in general. Everyone has their own equation, their own line in the sand when someone finally goes too far and burns up all the good will they've earned.
But we sure as hell don't like being forced to address the equation, because it means that there's an abstract threshold of human suffering that needs to be passed before we give up our favourite movie, or a beloved album, or a celebrity crush.
I'm just asking for all of us to take a second and really analyze what's happening when we knee-jerk defend a celebrity.
Do we truly think they're incapable of doing the act in question? Or do we just need to believe that we didn't invest our love and energy in a bad place?
Only children think that someone they love is infallible because of that love. So let's grow up.
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