What can you say about those cyclical lingering ugly stories about popular culture icons? Michael Jackson, John Travolta, Woody Allen, Bing Crosby, Bill Cosby, Gumby … the list is limited only by my memory, my commitment to treating the topic serious (mostly), and the limits of my tolerance to research the tawdrier side of glamalism, that disturbing cousin of news that oozes from sites like TMZ and Gawker, and occasionally with blazing, if brief, publicity on more traditional venues like the NY Times.
I suppose it’s easier to start with what I can’t say, which is whether or not the stories are based in truth. With only the rare exceptional effort, like Michael Jackson’s circus-like court debacle, it’s rare that anything is examined with the level of scrutiny that we like to believe serious accusations warrant. I have varied levels of ‘certainty’ in my heart about these things, like everyone else, and I can still occasionally be lured into a debate/argument about them. I know, though, that my reaction is based as much on my personal experiences and bias, as anything else.
Still, these stories trouble me. I worry about what it means when I listen to a song, watch a movie, or admire the philosophies of people who might shelter dark secrets of abuse and exploitation of others. Though we all have to make snap judgements and inconsistent value decisions every day, just to get through life, I don’t have to like it. I want there to be rules, even if I just make them up as I go along, and they’re only consistent until the next revision.
Here’s my current set.
First, I don’t have to make a judgement. I can, and often should, just let many things go by unnoticed. If we all stopped to right every injustice we noticed, nothing would ever get done. By the divine right of inconsequence, I can choose to don the armor of indifference. As I get older, I appreciate the value of that, more and more.
Second, I must separate salaciousness, or the minor sin of ‘hypocrisy’ from the more base evils of man. Is a celebrity gay? Was a politician unfaithful? Did someone have plastic surgery? None of my damn business (or yours, but that’s your business, as well).
Third, ‘he said’ vs. ‘she said’, or similar variants, should not be weighted to favor the famous. People of influence do attract unbalanced people who seek to profit from them, but they don’t deserve an automatic pass. If I called the police to report a crime, I’d expect it to be investigated. Every victim deserves that.
Fourth, presumed innocence ends with hush money. If you pay to stop someone from talking, I assume, for better or worse, that you have something to hide. Settlements are fine, but when you stipulate silence, you have waived the presumption of innocence, at least for me.
Finally, once I’ve made the personal decision that a respected icon or personal favorite of mine has unrightfully evaded the judgement of law and has harmed the rights and dignity of a fellow human being, I must set them aside. It may be an empty gesture, but turning the channel, not buying the ticket, and deleting the song, is something I have to do to respect myself. Not forever, perhaps, but until they have faced a court, or passed beyond the reach of worldly justice, at least.
So, for a time, I must, for the sake of my personal peace of mind (which I value highly still), forgo the latest Woody Allen or Roman Polanski movie, or particularly sadly for me, latest Bill Cosby Special. Just as they claim exclusion from the aspects of our attention that would judge them, by saying it is ‘None of our business’, they deserve just that. ‘None of our business.’