Are you a good person?
Perhaps your response would be, “I don’t know, but I try to be. I try to do the right things and care about people.”
That’s great - however, what if in the course of trying to do the right thing, you end up doing something that’s much closer to wrong? Is the collateral damage that you create mitigated by your good intentions? And if we want people to take our intention into account when the outcome of our actions ends up hurting someone, how consistently do we grant others that same benefit of the doubt that we want from them?
Sometimes our burning desire for accountability has negative side effects.
The Me-Too phenomenon of the past several years, victims having the bravery to come forward and expose sexual predators who have hurt many people, is something that undoubtedly needed to happen. Especially when it's powerful individuals like Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby who wield great influence and can (and did) have major impacts on the careers and lives of those they preyed upon.
So many beloved icons in music, acting and entertainment have had accusations leveled against them over the past few years, which can create a real emotional dilemma inside of those of us who have strong positive emotional connections to that person’s work. If the main actor from your favorite movie of all time is a creep, can you still enjoy the film on its own merits? If your favorite recording artist is a predator, is the joy you've always felt in hearing those songs be irrevocably tainted by the misdeeds of their creator?
This topic has been on my mind for a while, as a huge lifelong fan of Michael Jackson.
I grew up with the timeless hits from Off The Wall and Thriller, my childhood and teenage years were full of Michael, always a charismatic, entertaining presence on television, his unforgettable music underscoring so many moments of my life
I have not watched Leaving Neverland. I do not know if the accusations made therein are true, as I have heard a lot of arguments for and against their validity. Personally, I realize I can never know the complete truth. It's not my job or my place to decide if those individuals who have levied accusations are being honest or just opportunistic. If they experienced abuse, then obviously that is wrong and sad and cannot be justified.
I know Michael experienced considerable emotional abuse from his father and the expectations of fame obviously had a huge negative impact on his emotional state, thus causing him to want to form emotional connections with kids to compensate for the childhood he never got to have, which of course put him right in the crosshairs for constantly having kids around him. It’s hard to imagine someone who devoted so much of his life and wealth to helping kids would abuse them, but if it was much easier for Michael to emotionally connect with kids, perhaps it’s not impossible to imagine that connection eventually going deeper than is appropriate for someone so desperate for affection and validation, emotional and physical.
He wanted to play and be a kid so much that he seemed to often forget he was an adult unless he was forced to. He had his own personal zoo and playland. Michael Jackson became a hedonist in his free time as a response to all his childhood traumas, but his intentions and idiosyncrasies seemed so benevolent and harmless that everyone just indulged his childlike behaviors.
If Michael Jackson did have inappropriate relations with kids, I think it was because of how comfortable he felt around them and how much they made him happy as well as how much he wanted to make them happy. Obviously there is NO excuse for engaging in sexual behavior with kids, no matter how messed up your psyche is.
But regardless - his songs, the incredible songs that have been the soundtrack to so much joy in my life and the lives of so many others...those songs didn’t do anything wrong. Listening to those songs doesn’t make me a supporter or defender of the abuse of children. I realize there is an argument to be made about how buying something is technically “support” for that person, helping them, and I can understand the reasoning there, but I also don’t think it’s, pardon the pun, Black Or White.
So for example, if you’re one of the many, many people who loved Harry Potter, but can’t stand JK Rowling’s gross transphobia, you can't really publicly be a fan of anything Harry Potter ever again without knowing someone is going to be side eyeing you. You are expected to forever abandon anything that might stand to even remotely financially benefit her. And while the idea of not supporting someone who has terrible views is easy to get on board with, the real world effect when you get right down to it is more complicated.
Let’s say you would really have wanted to play the new Hogwarts Legacy video game, which objectively looks like it could be pretty cool. If the game comes out and gets amazing ratings and is legitimately good, should it be a mark against your moral integrity for buying it? Even if you personally don't buy it, ultimately it will not have any major effect on whether the game is a success or failure financially, so the main effect is that you won't get to play a game you might have loved that tons of other people are. Trans people aren't going to have easier lives because you didn't buy it, and if you tweet about the fact that you didn't buy it to help support trans people, you may get a few sincere pats on the back but you may also get people who think mentioning it at all is grandstanding or virtue signaling. So who's truly gaining from your well-meaning sacrifice?
And what about all of the potentially decent people who AREN’T JK Rowling who worked on that game? Is it fair to assume all of them signed off on JK Rowling’s words and actions before working on it? Of course not, they have jobs and they are paid to do them. Morality is important, but you cannot make every decision in your life based upon whether or not it might stand to potentially benefit someone whose actions you strongly disagree with. Your own needs and personal circumstances frequently require that you balance your desire to try to help others with how things impact you in the short and long term.
Personally, if someone wanted to play Hogwarts Legacy, I wouldn’t have negative feelings about them as long as they didn’t also support transphobia. Rowling being revealed as a TERF should not retroactively make your love of Harry Potter problematic. I don’t see buying an awesome video game as unconditional support of an artist any more than I see buying an album or buying a movie doing the same. Your moral compass as a person, who you are, is much more than daring to enjoy something that is objectively great if was created by someone who perhaps is not. It’s the sum total of all your actions, all your words, all your deeds.
I love Chik-Fil-A's food but I won’t eat there anymore because there are plenty of other great restaurants I can eat at who don't donate to anti-gay causes. If Chik-Fil-A was the ONLY fast food restaurant in the town I lived in, would I eat there? Yeah, I might. I wouldn’t feel great about it, but I probably would, because I wouldn’t have plenty of other options to choose from. If you eat at Chik-Fil-A, I’m not going to assume you’re a terrible person. I could ask myself why you don’t just eat someplace with a slightly less awful reputation, but even if you said “Sorry, I just am in love with their chicken” but otherwise were a loving, caring person, I’m not going to feel any need to re-examine my friendship with you. I’m going to see the bigger picture. The reality is that most corporations are pretty gross and horrible, not just Amazon or Twitter or Facebook or YouTube. Anyone who really wanted to sit down and research it would realize that if you truly cut out all support of all the companies who are problematic, you’d not be left with very many options, because big companies are basically morally bereft as a consequence of being profit driven at all costs.
But let's take a step back from just talking about celebrities, because this is not just about famous people and whether or not they are held accountable, it’s also about ourselves, and how we act and react to an increasingly morally divided world.
Last year I saw multiple friends that I knew personally, be accused of being something that I knew was patently false. I saw the huge emotional toll it took on them, I saw how quickly people were to believe the worst about someone with the least amount of proof, and how once you’ve been painted as bad, the stain never truly comes off, even if there is precious little evidence to support it. Even if you patiently explain why the accusations are incorrect or how things were blown way out of proportion, people will just assume you’re hiding worse things, or that the guilty always say they are innocent.
This does not mean I didn't also see people being rightfully called out for victimizing others, because in spite of what someone people seem to think, callouts are not always good or always bad. It depends on the circumstances, totally.
Too many people seem to be so utterly outraged by the lack of justice we see from those who are supposed to uphold it, that they’d rather risk making false accusations about someone based upon the flimsiest of evidence than the thought of letting someone go unpunished for actual misdeeds.
People make mistakes, they do things that seem sketchy sometimes not because they’re evil horrible people but because difficult circumstances create pressure. Maybe the people they hang out with are a bad influence. Maybe they desperately need money. Maybe they just were ignorant, or maybe they just aren't that person anymore. Obviously it depends on the level of harm you have inflicted on other people, but you can do bad things in your life and not automatically be a terrible person at your core. But if you KEEP doing them, and you don’t grow and learn, THEN yes, you might be a bad person.
The majority of us can agree that supporting harmful people is not a good thing, but the problem is, how do you really define support? Voting for someone is support. Donating huge sums of money to their campaign is support. Observing them treating other people unfairly or abusively on repeated occasions and saying nothing while continuing to be friendly with the abuser is support.
But following someone on social media? That’s not really support. If someone is widely known to be a complete dirtbag, like Kero? Yeah, there’s really no great excuse to follow him, as the evidence is pretty rock solid. But there are plenty of people who post a lot of cute photos or harmless content and it may not be instantly obvious that they have done things to hurt others. Most people do not scour someone's Twitter for objectionable content before following them. They may have just seen one picture they liked. We cannot assume that following someone means people know everything about them, and no reasonable person can assume that it denotes support of everything that they say or do.
If jumping to conclusions was an Olympic sport, we would have some strong Gold Medal candidates on Twitter.
The policing of people on social media has at times gotten out of control. It’s not just about sexual predators anymore, it’s not about people being actually hurt, it’s now also about the obvious excitement some people have in hunting for the next big name with skeletons in their closet and breaking the news.
It’s one thing when someone comes out and says “This person directly did things to me. This was something that happened to me, and to others.” Obviously concrete proof will not always be readily available in every case of abuse and because of that the situation is tricky, but you can tell a lot by other clues. Victims' stories need to be told and heard, but in the absence of accusers, we cannot assume that because someone bought matches once that they are obviously a serial arsonist, either.
It’s important, imperative even, that when someone is accused of something, that it is examined VERY carefully, it’s important to hear what the accuser has to say, but also what the accused have to say, because usually it will reveal important information even if they are guilty. Many accusations are real and legit. A few are people with personal vendettas, but some are just young people struggling to sort out their own identity who are so urgent in their desire to be seen as morally upstanding good guys that they don’t realize that no one asked them to go find someone to cancel. If you have SO much free time that you feel compelled to be the fandom's personal tabloid reporter and convince everyone who they should hate next, you should probably examine what is sorely missing in your own life.
I’ve tried to have patient, calm and logical conversations with someone who seemed to have a great personal investment in “bringing someone to justice” even though their heinous crimes amounted to a few old questionable furry drawings. They didn’t have the slightest interest in listening to anything that could possibly refute their angry indignation. It amounted to “if you don’t agree with me then you must be a pedophile too”. You can’t reason with closed, immature minds. It’s a losing game. But what they didn’t realize was, they were also losing because they refused to let it go. Their credibility, their respect, their ability to try to see good in people instead of being desperate to see bad. When people cling to their outrage in the face of evidence to the contrary, it quickly becomes clear that the true problems are as much personal as external.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a good person, or to protect the vulnerable. It’s a very laudable goal to have, but it requires the ability to apply logic and careful analysis to complex situations. It’s not a license to paint a target on popular people because they didn't pay enough attention to you or refused your commission or because it’s fun to watch things burn. Proof is incredibly necessary and where there is a lack of direct proof, there must at least be first-hand detailed account from someone who was directly hurt by someone. If you have to piece together your expose on little puzzle pieces that could, possibly indicate guilt or any number of other reasonable possibilities, maybe you should do more homework before you hit send tweet.
Every single time someone tries to out or cancel someone based upon weak or non-existent evidence, they are directly hurting the cause of every legitimate callout of someone who HAS done things to hurt people. They are encouraging people to be ever more skeptical (and tired) of every new callout. They are directly inspiring every tired new article about how Cancel Culture and wokeness have ruined everything.
I don’t know why it feels like you either have to be for or against callouts when some of them are absolutely necessary and some absolutely ridiculous. Perhaps it’s folly to expect careful and responsible analysis from a young user base on a website where the goal is seeking attention and clout in the least amount of text possible.
I think a large part of the reason many have either left or reduced their involvement with Twitter is because we’re utterly exhausted of constant negativity and witch hunts. Likewise, we’re also tired of how actual witch hunts make the frequent occasions when obviously awful people are outed with proof, as being incorrectly labelled witch hunts.
It’s tough dealing with a world where the powerful don’t ever have to face accountability for the harm they cause, but the solution is not desperately searching for dirt on your community so you can feel morally justified in having someone to take your outrage out on.
The voices of the abused should be heard and heeded. We need that a lot more than we need bored young detectives looking to be champions of righteousness. There’s a reason why court cases drag on forever, and whether you like it or not, it’s at least in part because true justice is rarely a spontaneous simple affair. It requires massive thought and consideration, something that a lot of people seem much less interested in than pouring gasoline on a spark to see how exciting the fire will get.
Sometimes the best choice is just to make sure you're leading by example. Be the person that you expect others to be. Rather than focus on the bad (which there is no shortage of anywhere, especially social media) why not give all that energy and attention to the good people who are frequently bypassed in favor of raging at or dunking on the latest target, whether its justified or not?
People need more help these days finding a reason to smile than a reason to be angry. If making people feel good isn't preferable to you than making them miserable, perhaps the person in the mirror is the one most in need of atonement.