I rarely get into anything controversial here. And I try to live and let live; if you want to act like a jackass, go for it. If you think I am a jackass, you are entitled to that opinion, and I’m quite sure you’re not alone. Recent events in the media make it very difficult for me to bite my tongue (which is really saying something, because WTF makes it hard for me not to bite my tongue, some days).
We’ve seen the celebrity mugshots in recent years, where someone is arrested for drunk/drugged driving. They apologize, they go to rehab, they are forgiven, they get back to work and we give them tons more money. That’s how we do it here in the U.S. of A. And I have no real problem with that. It’s not good to drive while under the influence, of course, but if you do, it’s a good thing that you get caught. And exposed. Apologies (giving the benefit of the doubt here, that they are sincere apologies) are good; rehab is often a good thing; I am all in favor of forgiveness. If you have a gift, some artistic or athletic talent, then it is a good thing to get yourself together and go back to sharing your gift; and if people are willing to pay you for getting back to work, that’s all good. These are not the people with whom I have a problem.
Addiction is that strange animal, that disease/choice combo over which some people have very little power. Until they learn to take that power. I have compassion for these people. Sure, there are those who can afford to run in and out of rehab because their publicists tell them it will look better for them if they go in. But I’m not talking about that now; still trying to give these folks the benefit of the doubt.
No, the ones I have a problem with are the people who demonstrate their hatefulness, their complete lack of suitability for living and working in mainstream America, or more importantly to me, what I WISH were their complete lack of eligibility for continuing to collect enormous sums of money from the American public. I don’t care how gifted you are. If behind the gift, you are toxic, I want you to be quiet. I don’t wish you any harm, but I wish you’d go somewhere and quietly attend to your soul, for a very, very long time. And I wish people of conscience would stop paying you big bucks. I don’t care how talented you are. There are people as talented as you, who put out less poison than you do. They can do your job. I don’t care what TV show you’re on, or what team you play(ed) for. To your mama, you are irreplaceable. To most other folks, you’re not.
This is part rant/vent, but it is an equal part an attempt to understand this phenomenon, and why we, the American public, the American media, are handling these situations in the way that we are. I haven’t yet been specific. I’m talking about cases like (these are the most recent examples) Isaiah Washington and Tim Hardaway, with their anti-gay venom. And I’m writing about it partly to vent, but even moreso, to get some other perspectives on it, because the events that follow such outbursts, and the way in which we respond to them, bewilder and frustrate me.
Isaiah Washington is an actor on Grey’s Anatomy (which I’ve never seen, so I neither love nor hate his work). He referred to another actor on that show, a gay man, as a “faggot.” He denied it, then apologized for it. Then he announced that he was going to rehab. I have never seen where he is addicted to alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, food . . . no addictions that I’ve heard about, and I did search a bit. I’m a therapist. I’m not certified in addictions, so I don’t deal with them except peripherally. So I don’t know a LOT about rehab. Question: “To what kind of rehab do you admit yourself, to get treatment for being a hateful person?” I’ve never heard of such a program. Not that it would be a bad idea. Just never heard of it. I think it was Jay Leno who joked that at such a rehab they make Washington watch Rosie O’Donnell and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Maybe so. You might say that it’s not so much a rehab as it is a psychiatric hospital. OK. Since when is being an ass a psychiatric diagnosis? Or could it be that “he has checked himself into a rehab” is the contemporary euphemism for “He knows he screwed up, but he has grown accustomed to being really rich, so he’s going away for a while with the expectation that he’ll come back and all will be well and he can stay really rich.”
Hate (and the lack of self-regulation that causes some people to share it so freely) is not a medical disease, like a chemical addiction is. It’s not. What comes out of your mouth is purely a matter of choice. A willful decision that you make.
Then this week we have former NBA player Tim Hardaway. He was commenting on a book that was just released by another former NBA player, John Amaechi, who is gay. Well, he probably wasn’t commenting on the book, because I’m quite sure he hasn’t read
any the book; he was commenting on gay players in the NBA. And he had a lot to say. Not just about gay players in the NBA, but gay human beings in the world:
…”Well, you know, I hate gay people. I let it be known I don’t like gay people. I don’t like to be around gay people. I’m homophobic. It shouldn’t be in the world, in the United States, I don’t like it.”
And after he got off the radio, where he was sharing this wisdom, he was informed that he would be banned from an upcoming All-Star game, as a consequence of his sharing.
So what did he do? He issued an apology. I didn’t see or hear it. I’m not even attempting to be objective here. I heard his initial harangue. There is no version of “I’m sorry” that is going to have any meaning, within days or hours of saying the things that he said. Here’s my question (one of them, about these things): Do we want someone who feels this way to be honest about it, or do we want them to hide it? I’m not sure we’re clear on this. If such a public person is honest about their feelings, then the ball is in our court, so to speak, on how we handle it. Do we still pay them? Will we still watch the TV shows that they’re on? Still buy tickets to the games in which they play? It seems to me that we will. But some of us must feel at least a little uncomfortable with that; so that may mean that we want a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on hatefulness. So we are not required to wrestle with the morality of our response.
Please note, I’m not talking about people having an opinion, expressing an opinion, religious, philosophical or otherwise, on homosexuality, or any other topic. I have no problem with respectful disagreement about any issue. I’m talking about people promoting hatred.
I know some would argue that such people are “just” actors, athletes, whatever they are, and we should accept their “work” and disregard their personal actions. But I think, rightly or wrongly, they’re more than “just” the practitioners of their vocations. They have a louder voice than others do. What they put out adds to the collective voice of our society. I want them to be quiet. We, as consumers of their products, could quiet them. So far, we don’t. We haven’t.