Opinion: Celebrities’ careers shouldn’t be ruined over old tweets

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The 2019 Academy Awards was the first time that the awards show didn’t have a host. Kevin Hart was originally slated to be the host but stepped down due to some controversial tweets and jokes made back in 2010. This is one of many examples of celebrities and athletes whose past tweets have made a resurgence in recent years. In this article, I will break down two of these incidents and explain how they often do more harm than good.

As mentioned above, Kevin Hart stepped down from hosting the Oscars due to some nearly decade-old tweets and stand-up jokes resurfacing. The tweets and jokes Hart dropped out of the Oscars because of, some of which can be found here, were criticized for being homophobic. There’s not much I can say that hasn’t already been said.

Although I don’t know Hart’s intentions or beliefs when he made these jokes, and although I don’t think he was serious, I can see how they would be offensive to people. However, I don’t think he should have been shamed into stepping down from hosting the Oscars, for two reasons.

Comedians have to walk an unbelievably thin line when it comes to their jokes. Don’t go close enough to the line, people find your jokes boring and you don’t make any money. Go too far past the line, and you are racist, sexist or almost any other word ending in -ist you can think of.

Do I think Hart actually meant a lot of the stuff he said in his comedy sketches? Nobody can really know what was in his heart or his mind at the time, but I find it hard to believe that he would actually smash a dollhouse over his son’s head if he found him playing with one. Did these jokes cross the line? Definitely. But comedians get paid big bucks to push the line, so we shouldn’t be surprised when it gets crossed every once and awhile.

Second, Hart is not the same person he was back in 2010. He even talked about this in an Instagram video he made, saying “I’m almost 40 years old. If you don’t believe that people change, grow, evolve as they get older, I don’t know what to tell you.”

I have to agree with him. People can change a lot in eight years and I don’t find it productive or helpful to anyone to continue to attack people over things they said in the past when they have apologized for it and grown as a result.

Shortly after these old tweets and jokes resurfaced, Hart was told by the Academy to either apologize or they would find a new host. Hart declined to apologize, mentioning that he had apologized before and didn’t want to continue bringing up the past when he had already moved on and was in a different place mentally. However, he stepped down from hosting Dec. 7 and tweeted an apology, saying “I’m sorry that I hurt people.”

Hart received some criticism for waiting so long to apologize, but I found the timing to be fine. If he had apologized when the Academy told him to in order to remain as host, it would have come across as disingenuous. This apology was met with mixed reviews. Billy Eichner tweeted at Hart, saying he appreciated and accepted his apology, and comedian Ricky Gervais tweeted “the only time I’m offended by a comedian is when they apologize.”

Overall, while I can see how Hart’s tweets and jokes were and are offensive, we shouldn’t continue to punish him when he has clearly grown as a person.

Similar to Hart, James Gunn also had some past tweets come back to haunt him recently. Gunn, who is most well known for directing the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, was fired by Marvel last summer and will no longer direct Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3. The controversial tweets were made from 2009-2012 and are mostly centered around young children, leading some to believe that Gunn is a pedophile. However, there are two important things to understand about these tweets.

First, it is important to understand how Twitter worked back in 2009. Two of the tweets often used as “evidence” to claim that Gunn is a pedophile start with “RT.” The RT stands for retweet, and in 2009, when someone retweeted a tweet, their tweet would start with “RT,” followed by the username of the person being retweeted and then a quote, not a direct copy, of the original tweet.

Since retweeting wasn’t a direct copy of the original tweet, it allowed users to write whatever they wanted and make it seem like a retweet. This system was often exploited to make other people look bad or to play a prank on other Twitter users, which is what Gunn was doing with these two tweets.

A few of his tweets also ended with hashtags like #sadchildrensbooks or #unromanticmovies. These were popular hashtags at the time, and Gunn was following that trend with his “unique” sense of humor. James Gunn is not admitting to committing any sexual acts with kids in these tweets. To claim that Gunn is a pedophile because of these tweets is to be ignorant of both how Twitter worked and popular trends on Twitter at the time.

Second, it is clear to anyone with anyone with a basic understanding of the concept of a joke that these tweets from Gunn are meant to be jokes. Let’s look at his shower tweet as an example. It is very clearly a joke about the water pressure in hotel showers – as someone who has stayed in many hotels I can confirm that the water pressure in the showers is usually lackluster at best. While it personally makes me a bit uncomfortable, it is very clearly a joke that falls under the “funny because it’s true” category of jokes, for lack of a better term.

I want to make it clear that I personally find these tweets to range from uncomfortable to disgusting, as many people probably would. I am not part of the weird sect of Twitter that those jokes were meant for.

However, personal opinion about whether a joke is funny or not shouldn’t lead to someone getting fired. If celebrities were fired from their job every time that they said something that somebody finds offensive, we would have no comedians, directors, actors, artists or musicians. We would have no creativity or free speech, and that sounds like a terrifying world to me.

On the one hand, I can see why Disney would want to separate themselves from these comments. My problem with that, however, is that I find it hard to believe that Disney didn’t know about this until it became a public scandal. Before working for Marvel, which is owned by Disney, Gunn was known for weird, edgy humor similar to these tweets. It seems as though Disney didn’t care about these tweets until the public found out and started criticizing both Gunn and Disney.

People shouldn’t be fired for making jokes that some people would find to be unfunny or uncomfortable. If there was any real evidence of Gunn being a pedophile, then he definitely shouldn’t have a job directing movies for Disney. These tweets that are often taken out of context are not evidence of that, however, and I believe he was unfairly fired. He was recently hired to direct the upcoming Suicide Squad sequel, so I’m glad to see that his career wasn’t ruined for some uncomfortable tweets he made years ago.

There are countless other examples of this kind of controversy. My biggest problem with the idea of scavenging through people’s old tweets or jokes and using that to hurt or even ruin their career is that it is a very pessimistic view of humanity. This act requires you to assume that whoever made these jokes or tweets hasn’t changed since then, despite evidence that they have.

I think the act is also used as a tool by people to feel better about themselves. Instead of going out into the world to help people in need, those that dig up old tweets decide to attack people for things they said 10 years ago while claiming to be fighting for social justice for oppressed groups. In reality, their goals are much more selfish.

We, as a society, shouldn’t be focused on bringing people down for mean or weird jokes they made in the past, even after they have changed as a person. We should focus more on bringing the people around us up. We should criticize hurtful or hateful words when they are said but shouldn’t continue to bring them up as a way to hurt that person’s career when they have changed their ways.

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