Do Past Actions Really Define Us?

Gigi Duncan ‘20

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As Founding Father Thomas Paine once said, a “real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection” [1]. With 2018 coming to a close, many people cannot help but reflect upon this year’s political events going into the New Year. One of the most prominent example consists of the #MeToo Movement, an effort in which hundreds of actors and actresses have publicly revealed experiences of sexual assault by other leading figures in Hollywood. With new allegations coming out every day that delve into the past regarding sexual assault, many people delve into other issues from the past, and homophobism is no exception.

        Following the announcement that comedian and actor Kevin Hart would be hosting the Oscars in February of 2019, past tweets from his twitter account resurfaced in which Hart insulted homosexuality and other sensitive matters on December 7th. The backlash over his tweets and an Instagram post following the incident in which Hart refused to apologize ultimately led to him having to step down from his position of hosting the Oscars. Although most were generally delighted in Hart’s decision, one must fully investigate his messages and the time period in which they were tweeted to come to a reasonable conclusion.

        Before being abruptly deleted, Hart’s first tweet dating back to 2011 read, “Yo if my son comes home & try’s 2 play with my daughters doll house I’m going to break it over his head & say n my voice ‘stop that’s gay’” [2]. Other messages that the star tweeted back in 2009 and 2010 are similar in which he perceives homosexuals in an insulting manner, uses derogatory language to describe them, and even makes fun of AIDS. His poor choice of words in the past sparked a public outcry, causing the actor to publish a hasty video to Instagram saying that he would refuse the Academy Awards’ request to apologize because he has “said who I am now versus who I was then… I’m not going to continue to go back and tap into those days of old when I’ve moved on…” [2]. Hart ultimately apologized to the LGBTQ community for his words in the past, and has seemed to move on from the whole ordeal.

        One may be quick to express their disappointment in the comedian, but those who do this cannot forget that 2011 compared to now presents a completely different setting and perspective of homosexuals. Gay marriage only became legal in every state throughout the United States in 2015; before that, states such as Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas, North Dakota, Louisiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Nebraska did not permit same-sex marriages or proved difficulties in doing so in the early twenty first century [3]. People outing gays and harassing them with name-calling and physical abuse was normal and often caused gays to hide their sexualities and to feel ashamed. For example, one can view Seinfeld, a popular sitcom from the 1990s, as an example with an episode from season 4 titled, “The Outing.” Within the episode, characters Jerry and George become involved in a prank that they are a closeted gay couple, causing them frustration. Jerry then dates a female reporter to prove to her that he is heterosexual, as he does not want to seem gay but he also doesn’t want to be perceived as homophobic. This episode would be considered quite alarming within today’s standards as the characters are initially afraid that others would think they were homosexuals; nonetheless, the episode received a good response for its humor. Following Kevin Hart’s tweets, Jerry Seinfeld, the main character of Seinfeld and a prominent comedian, came to his friend’s defense. In a “Sunday Times” interview, Seinfeld stated that Hart would be fine and that the Oscars were actually “screwed” in losing him, as “comedians are expected to be the most agile in terms of how we think and construct our thoughts and what comes out of our mouths… we have been navigating these slalom gates forever” [4].

        Fast forward to today, and one will see how many people embrace their sexualities. People from all different ages and backgrounds participate in gay-pride parades, such as the annual parade held in New York City every summer. Instead of being “outed” for being homosexual, people are often “outed” for being homophobic these days in an ever-increasing pro-gay environment with certain advances in technology and social media to expand one’s opinions. Julia Weniger ’20 asserts that “as social media grows and expands, children are raised to treat everyone with respect.” With younger people in mind, a study conducted by the PEW Research Center concluded that 74% of people born in the year of 1981 and later support same-sex marriage [5].

        Of course what Kevin Hart said was disturbing and insulting to the LGBTQ community and should not go completely unnoticed. Some argue that he deserves consequences due to his tweets regardless of his decision to step down from hosting the Oscars. Ultimately, Hart may have made the right decision to step down in order to avoid any further criticism or a negative impression of the awards show; however, Hart’s past actions should not reflect the person or comedian he is now. Theodore Bonnefoi ’21 argues that when celebrities “in the past have said stupid things for attention, they shouldn’t be held accountable.” He wrote those tweets almost eight years ago, and the common American sentiment and perception of homosexuality has changed so much over that time period that it is not accurate to assess Kevin Hart’s current personality based on his previous tweets. Overall, many famous figures in today’s society have said things they may regret, such as joking about homosexuality. Regardless of today’s political climate and which-party-supports-which-side regarding gay rights, people’s current characters should not be tarnished due to their past tweets, posts, or messages on social media from years ago because with the changing times and opinions, people change too.

[1] https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/thomas_paine

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/arts-entertainment/2018/12/06/kevin-harts-homophobic-tweets-resurface-after-he-is-announced-oscars-host/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.0ef667bae256

[3] https://www.cnn.com/2015/02/13/us/states-same-sex-marriage-ban/index.html

[4] https://pagesix.com/2018/12/13/jerry-seinfeld-oscars-will-have-a-tough-time-replacing-kevin-hart/

[5] http://www.pewforum.org/fact-sheet/changing-attitudes-on-gay-marriage/

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Do Past Actions Really Define Us?