The Mystery of Superstar Forgiveness in the Age of Apology

A trio of talented awful people: Woody, Bill, and Roman.
A trio of talented awful people: Woody, Bill, and Roman.

We live in the Age of Apology, where knee jerk reactions are the norm, and thin-skinned political correctness reigns. Politicians, pop stars, athletes, actors, comedians, talk show hosts, and church leaders are pressured into insincere public apologies if they “offend” some special interest group or another.

But the Age of Apology has little to do with true forgiveness. Forgiveness in the court of public opinion serves another function altogether.

Send In The Creeps

Exhibit A: Woody Allen. Woody Allen was in a relationship with Mia Farrow for years, helping raise her adopted daughters. But in 1992 Allen separated from Farrow and began a romantic relationship with her adopted daughter, Soon Yi Previn (when Woody was 56, and Soon Yi was 19.) Recently, Woody Allen’s biological daughter with Farrow, Dylan, accused him of molesting her when she was a child.

Woody Allen is a creep.

But he’s also a brilliant artist whose career spans over 50 years. Critic Roger Ebert called Woody Allen “a treasure of the cinema.” Woody’s latest film, “Blue Jasmine,” is amassing award nominations. Audiences and actors alike look past Woody’s personal faults and continue to enjoy his art.

Roman Polanski is despicable, too. In 1977 he admitted to drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. He worked out a deal that would spare him jail time, but when that deal fell apart, he fled the country and hasn’t set foot on American soil since.

But Polanski still makes great films. In 2002 he won the Best Director Oscar for “The Pianist.” Actors are eager to work with Polanski, and producers finance his films. Evidently his crimes can be overlooked, too.

Mel hates Jews, but makes awesome movies!
Mel hates Jews, but makes awesome movies!

Despicable Hollywood Creep #3: Mel Gibson. Gibson’s drunken anti-Semitic rants, and hate-filled voicemails to his ex-girlfriend show serious personal problems. Mel Gibson isn’t on Woody Allen or Roman Polanski’s level (either as an artist or a criminal) but — for whatever reason — he DOES NOT get a pass. Nobody wants to work with old Mel anymore … at least not at the moment or for the foreseeable future.

Why are some loathsome artists forgiven while others aren’t? Why is Alec Baldwin A-list and Mel Gibson on the blacklist? They’re both entitled jerks with explosive tempers. Why can we separate the man from his art in one case, but not the other?

Time heals wounds, and public perception and political climates change. Death helps, too. When an artist is long gone, his work can finally be viewed objectively, apart from the way he lived life. Charles Dickens was a terrible husband and father. Pablo Picasso was a philanderer. Writers Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot were anti-Semitic, as was composer Richard Wagner.

“We Forgive You, Rock Star!”

Today we forgive Chris Brown for beating up girlfriend Rihanna, though a generation ago we couldn’t forgive Ike Turner for doing the same to Tina. We absolve Marv Albert of sexual assault and Michael Vick of animal cruelty, but come down hard on Paula Deen for racial slurs she uttered decades ago.

There are parallels in the world of sports. Alex Rodriguez (baseball cheat) is on brink of flushing his legacy down the toilet. Lance Armstrong (cycling cheat) already did, along with Barry Bonds (baseball cheat), and Aaron Hernandez (serial killer).

Others athletes are forgiven. Tiger Woods (adultery), Pete Rose (sports gambling), Kobe Bryant (sexual assault), and Ben Roethlisberger (sexual assault) have all outdistanced their checkered pasts.

My job as a journalist is to try to make sense of things, to look for repeating patterns, find consistency in apparent chaos. But I can’t find any logic or order in Public Forgiveness. Apparently it works on a sliding scale based on the severity of your crime versus the magnitude of your talent, but as Woody Allen and Roman Polanski show, the scale is far from accurate.

He may have been a kid toucher, but that didn't stop people from loving the King of Pop!
He may have been a kid toucher, but that didn’t stop people from loving the King of Pop!

Forgiving celebrity sins isn’t about true absolution anyway. It’s a plot device to move stories forward. People love familiar stories, and we look for them in the lives of wayward actors and athletes. We love to see the mighty fall. We love even more when they get back up and keep fighting, battling against the odds. Everybody loves an underdog. Forgiveness is the device that allows our heroes to rise from the ashes.

Disgraced actor Shia LaBeouf  (drunk/violent/plagiarist) is reinventing himself while begging Public Forgiveness. LaBeouf recently did a live performance piece called “#IAMSORRY” wearing a paper bag over his head with the phrase, “I’m not famous anymore,” written on it. LaBeouf sat silent and alone at a table full of props while art goers milled around him. Props included an Indiana Jones whip, a Transformer toy, daisies, a ukulele, a bottle of Jack Daniels, a bowl of nasty Tweets, a bowl of Hershey’s Kisses, and a book by author Daniel Clowes, whom LaBeouf was accused of plagiarizing. One reviewer of “#IAMSORRY” said, “it was apparent LaBeouf had been crying, and the experience was surprisingly touching.”

Maybe turning apology into performance art is the next evolutionary step in the Age of Apology.

If so, Roman Polanski and Woody Allen need to put on Oscar-worthy performances.

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Originally published in Wayne TODAY, February 2014

Facing 2014 with resolution, resolve

New Year Fresh Start
New Year Fresh Start!

I‘m heading into the New Year with a new attitude, because, in all honesty, I need to get a grip on myself.

In many ways 2013 was the best year of my life. Unemployment was a godsend. I love being home, spending time with my wife and kids. Grocery shopping? Laundry? Picking the kids up from school, and helping with homework? Count me in!

My wife and I had time to return to animal rescue this year. We fostered a pregnant stray, and helped find excellent homes for her and all her puppies. Our current foster, a sweet Cairn terrier named Enzo, is still looking for his forever home.

I spent the year rebranding myself as an author. I promoted my books, built a few web sites, and dipped my toe in the blogging sea. I’m not earning enough (yet) to make it a full-time profession, but I’ve had a lot of fun trying.

A lot of fun … that was 2013. A little too much fun.

I let myself go in 2013. I ate like an animal, and packed on pounds. I fell off the no smoking wagon months ago, and can’t seem to find my way back on. I’m indulgent, gluttonous, living too high on the hog.

Mick Jagger once said, “It’s all right to let yourself go, as long as you can get yourself back.” But it’s more difficult to get back on track when you’re older, (Mick also noted, “What a drag it is getting old.”) It’s fun and scary living a decadent lifestyle, like riding a roller coaster. But it gets old and pathetic.

If the body is a temple, then mine is a battered old shack, a handyman’s special in need of TLC. I’ve had a lot of fun in this house — it was a 24/7 party palace in 2013! — but I’ve neglected the maintenance. I need to turn it around. I need to dig deep. I need to refurbish myself. I need to get control of myself and get healthy.

Most important, I need to set a good example for my children.

All success in life stems from self-control. When you’re out of control, your world spirals out of control, too. Control your inner self, and you control the world around you. As Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho writes in Aleph: “If you conquer yourself, then you conquer the world.”

It takes discipline, but as a wise man once said, “Discipline weighs ounces, regret weighs tons.” Unhealthy lifestyle choices lead to a world of regret.

But it’s never too late to change. As author C.S. Lewis noted, “You are never too old to set another goal, or dream a new dream.”

May all your dreams come true in 2014!

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Along Came A (Really, Really Big) Spider

I originally published this column back in October 2010, but I was inspired to post it today by my friend’s Carmen Bastante’s creepy spider encounter.

Carmen Bastante’s big, creepy spider.

His body is the size of a quarter, fatter than a Concord grape, and with his legs extended he’s almost as big as a silver dollar. He’s unquestionably one of the scariest spiders I ever saw.

And he’s living right outside my kids’ bedroom window.

We’re currently staying at my in-laws house while renovation work is being done on our home (more on that in future columns) and the spider was here when we moved in. Judging from the massive, intricate web outside the bedroom window, he’d been here for a while.

Death Sentence

My six-year-old daughter immediately sentenced him to death. (I read an article recently that implied girls are born with an innate fear of spiders and snakes, and my daughter bears this theory out.) Even my wife wanted to see him go, and she doesn’t normally “scheeve bugs” (mice are another story).

“He’s scary and looks like the kind that bites,” was her entomological observation. “And he’s the size of a dinner plate!”

How to dispose of such a creature? This called for more than a fly swatter and paper towel. My wife suggested we suck him up with the vacuum but it seemed cruel.

“I’d rather blow him out into the yard,” I suggested. “Give him a chance to build a new web elsewhere.”

I didn’t want to kill the spider. Sure, he was scary-looking, but anything that built a web so beautiful and complex couldn’t be all bad.

Six-Legged Showtime!

“Boris The Spider” became a kind of showpiece at the house. My daughter would drag anyone who visited up to her bedroom to look at the spider living outside her window. Sometimes the show could get graphic.

“The spider was sucking the blood out of a dragonfly!” My daughter announced happily after dragging a family friend up to look at Boris. Our friend looked pale.

“That was disgusting,” she said. “You should really get rid of that thing.” The opinion seemed unanimous.

Still I resisted. There was something about the spider I respected. Plus, he was here first. My family and I understood the feeling of being displaced all too well. I didn’t want to do that to another living creature if I didn’t have to.

In Douglas Coupland’s novel about slackers in the 1990s, Generation X, there’s a character who refuses to bathe because a spider had built an intricate web in his bathtub (yet he had no problem smashing the windshields of rich Yuppies’ expensive cars). I could relate. I used to be part of “Generation X,” people who reached adulthood in the 1980s. Now I’m “Generation PG-13” at best.

There are many superstitions about killing spiders. An old English nursery rhymes has it, “If you want to live and thrive, let the spider run alive.” Other legends tell of financial ruin that has befallen people who killed spiders. We were already living in financial ruin…how much worse would it be if we squashed Boris?

Common, But Cool

I did some spider research, figuring we had something exotic like a brown widow or a goliath birdeater. But it appeared Boris was a parasteatoda tepidariorum, a common house spider. And, judging from the yellow-banned legs, Boris was probably a girl.

At night my wife and I would take our dogs out before bed and we’d look up at the kids’ window. Boris would be there, a plump, silent sentinel in the middle of her web.

“What if the spider isn’t here to scare or harm us, but to protect us?” I asked my wife. Maybe Boris was warding evil spirits away from the children’s window. She certainly looked intimidating up there. I didn’t want to mess with her.

Seeing Boris as a protector instead of predator struck a chord with my wife. It also bought Boris a stay of execution…at least until her next dragonfly meal.

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Originally published in Wayne TODAY, October 2010.