The Hero as Celebrity

Another chapter to Thomas Carlyle’s book On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History (1841) could be added today called The Hero as Celebrity. 

In fairly recent years, celebrities have risen to positions of power that their predecessors could only have played as characters of fictional productions. Donald Trump is the too obvious example of this. Once a reality television star, he is now president of the United States, for good or ill, you be the judge. He isn’t the only former star to rise in the political arena. Bodybuilder turned actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor of California. Actor Clint Eastwood was mayor of Carmel, California. Wrestler Jesse Ventura was governor of Minnesota. Child Actress Shirley Temple (Black) was U.S. ambassador of Ghana (1974) and Czechoslovakia (1989). And, of course,  The Gipper served as the U.S.’s fortieth president.

While stars may rise, they can just as quickly fall. Think Bill Cosby, who has been accused and convicted of multiple charges of past sexual misconduct. Think also, Kevin Hart, whose “homophobic” tweets, more than ten years old, were recently retailed online to prove him an unfit host for an Academy awards ceremony. Rather than issue a formal apology for his past “misconduct,” Hart simply withdrew himself from serving as the host. He also wisely deleted any old posts that might be used as “future” evidence of misconduct.  

However you might feel on this subject, let’s all agree that none of us has lived a spotless life. We have all made mistakes. Worse, mistakes we didn’t even consider mistakes at the time we made them. Cosby’s past behavior is indefensible, without question, but Hart’s remarks, however inappropriate, may have been more a reflection of the time than of his character. Even if they represented his personal feelings, the question is, would that have interfered with him doing his job as host of an awards show? If he had caved and issued the apology he felt he owed no one, would that have been enough to redeem him in the eyes of the public?

Let’s turn the spotlight briefly to his accuser(s), who used social-media mistakes some ten years old to turn to the public against him. Why bring this up now? What did they hope to gain by it? Protecting the rights of every citizen of the United States is a laudable goal, but shielding those same citizens from the faulty opinions of their fellows is overreaching. Particularly, if the accusers have the perceived “right” to dig up any publicly recorded statement or act you’ve committed since birth that fails to meet the ever changing standard of what is publicly acceptable. There was a time, sadly, when a same-sex couple could be arrested, if their relationship was exposed. Now, it’s a crime to say something against that same same-sex couple, even if you made that silly comment off-the-cuff twenty years ago.

Where do we draw the line? What is going too far?

We can turn to Thomas Carlyle for that simple, not so simple, answer:

“…we are to remember what an umpire Nature is; what a greatness, composure of depth and tolerance there is in her. You take wheat to cast into the Earth’s bosom; your wheat may be mixed with chaff, chopped straw, barn-sweepings, dust and all imaginable rubbish; no matter: you cast it into the kind just Earth; she grows the wheat,—the whole rubbish she silently absorbs, shrouds it in, says nothing of the rubbish. The yellow wheat is growing there; the good Earth is silent about all the rest,—has silently turned all the rest to some benefit too, and makes no complaint about it! So everywhere in Nature! She is true and not a lie; and yet so great, and just, and motherly in her truth. She requires of a thing only that it be genuine of heart; she will protect it if so; will not, if not so. There is a soul of truth in all the things she ever gave harbor to. Alas, is not this the history of all highest Truth that comes or ever came into the world? The body of them all is imperfection, an element of light in darkness: to us they have to come embodied in mere Logic, in some merely scientific Theorem of the Universe; which cannot be complete; which cannot but be found, one day, incomplete, erroneous, and so die and disappear. The body of all Truth dies; and yet in all, I say, there is a soul which never dies; which in new and ever-nobler embodiment lives immortal as man himself! It is the way with Nature. The genuine essence of Truth never dies. That it be genuine, a voice from the great Deep of Nature, there is the point at Nature’s judgment-seat. What we call pure or impure, is not with her the final question. Not how much chaff is in you; but whether you have any wheat. Pure? I might say to many a man: Yes, you are pure; pure enough; but you are chaff,—insincere hypothesis, hearsay, formality; you never were in contact with the great heart of the Universe at all; you are properly neither pure nor impure; you are nothing, Nature has no business with you.”

We all make social faux pas, say dunderheaded things we don’t mean, and dunderheaded things we do. The question is, is there any WHEAT (GOOD) in us, despite that?

Are we going to allow ourselves to live in a society where Thought Policy comb through our social media posts, past and present, and punish us, as they see fit? Or are we going to use common sense to make our judgments on what is acceptable or unacceptable?

In the case of Kevin Hart, as long as it was made clear to him that any offensive comments would not be tolerated on the broadcast, and he adhered to that policy, I think it’s fair to say we could overlook his past mistakes, whether he regretted them or not. After all, no one’s perfect.

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