I can’t help noticing how much past, present, and future of one life clash pretty frequently these days. Thanks to media and the everlasting record called the internet, people receive disparaging judgement about their mistakes*, whether those happened last month, last decade, or decades ago.
Two recent examples (I am not taking sides on either, by the way):
- Our current lieutenant governor, Glenn McConnell, is being considered for the Presidency of the College of Charleston. Some folks within the College and in the community don’t feel McConnell’s Civil war projects and his repeated identification with Confederate forefathers will reflect well on the school if McConnell is chosen. It might also harm the ability to attract more non-white students. For those that don’t know, the College is attended by mostly whites, and in my lifetime, mostly women. Brian Hicks of the Post and Courier countered this opposition with a piece mentioning that McConnell’s online images do not mirror McConnell’s legislative efforts. These efforts which don’t reflect a racist, Jim Crow attitude that a Confederate uniform or other images of McConnell might imply. What matters most-image, or actions and skill sets?
- Duck Dynasty. It may be just another case of true colors and inconvenient truths coming to light after a successful, profitable rise to fame. After the GQ interview’s release, an online video surfaced featuring Phil (the DD Patriarch) advising fellow duck hunter men to seek out 15 year old wives. Maybe Phil thinks the reality show and merchandising fame orgy is over. Or maybe the family just wants it to be over, riling groups they didn’t gel with anyway is a the quickest way to exit the public consciousness. Phil’s experience really does not seem that different from Paula Deen’s experience earlier this summer, or the statements made in an interview with Chik-Fil-A COO Dan Cathy.
Contrast these real people with a fictional character, Natasha Romanoff, aka the Black Widow, a member of the Avengers. Romanoff is the only female and only foreign Avenger. Russian by birth, she has a keen skills set that she used to help the enemy for years. Romanoff hints at her past when she says I have a lot of red in my ledger. In the films, she says this several times. For those that don’t know, red in my ledger is an accounting analogy. Red ink indicates loss (debt), black ink indicates profit (SIDENOTE: this same accounting language is what puts the black in Black Friday).
Romanoff is saying she has a lot of debt to pay for what she did before. Now she is focused on using her skills set for good. Apparently Nick Fury didn’t feel her nationality, her past, or both, were disqualifiers. Romanoff was asked to join the Avengers.
I think it’s worth pointing out that real-life people struggle with getting similar second chances to Romanoff’s, whether they are criminal, or not, whether they are famous or not. I suspect we have reached the point where no one is immune from having either a criminal record or other ‘damning’ recorded evidence about him/her online.
Attempting to get a new job, run for public office, buy a car, buy a house, start a business, etc. is that much harder when a person’s whole life is held against them. It’s only a matter of time before evidence surfaces that the person made mistakes, allied themselves with the wrong crowd, supported the losing team, misjudged a situation and failed. We’re all human, so why are mistakes so damning and shocking? Why are famous people expected to be one-dimensional and uncomplicated? No person is like that.
Our current media culture is obsessed with mugshots and police blotter reports. Crime reporting is completely oversaturating news coverage. Unless a suspect is on the loose, it really has no point other than to instill and maintain a high level of public paranoia. Add to that the sensationalist drivel that makes up the rest of the news–the rise and fall of entrepreneurs turned TV show personalities (Paula Deen, Phil Richardson), politicians’ flubs and romantic affairs, and celebrity screw ups. The news has morphed into a warped version of America’s Funniest Home Videos, only no one wins a massive cash prize for the kick in the nuts they receive. They just lose face, opportunities, and millions of dollars.
There’s a lot of glorification of failure on our airwaves. What’s funny in the moment is not funny at all long term; it’s pathetic that this is entertainment. I don’t feel “failure media” is inspiring anyone, helping to create a better nation, or a better world. If we want a peaceful world, full of good people, doing great things, giving bad behavior star treatment and hyper-coverage is the wrong way to go about achieving that end. If we expect individuals to function creatively in society, they deserve credit for learning from their mistakes and they deserve the opportunities to prove that. Making everyone in society a criminal of one form or another is dysfunctional. It’s a gunshot in both feet. It’s our puritanical sadistic side rearing its haughty, disdainful head.
As the viewing public, our collective attention impacts what airs and what continues to air. When what airs way too much is nudging our culture in a bad direction, we need to admit that and change course. We need to change the game for the better. Take a step back, and find other means of spending our time, for better outcomes.
If everyone who has ever failed has little reason to try again because the failures count for too much for too long, what kind of future are we creating for ourselves? We are creating not a very good one.
*=For the purpose of this blog post, a mistake is any act or statement held against the person doing the speaking or acting. These mistakes are evidence used to deny future opportunities to that person. Whether they are actual screwups is relative, it depends on who you ask. In modern times, these mistakes are called ‘indiscretions”. They are usually an individual’s beliefs or hobbies that once publicized, reflect badly on that individual.