With the Oscars fast approaching, we are closing in on the one-year anniversary of Patricia Arquette’s controversial comments on wage equality for women when she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. For the uninitiated, Arquette basically made the mistake of sounding like she was unaware of what intersectionality meant. As you can imagine, the Internet tore her apart, tweet by tweet, thinkpiece by thinkpiece. While the discussion that spurred from this snafu was mostly beneficial, it also brought up the question of why we were so critical of the actress.
Patricia Arquette was a relatively unknown actress prior to her Boyhood fame, and not particularly associated with the feminist movement. Yet the Internet was quick to tear her down for being anti-intersectional. Overnight she lost a lot of favour with the public, but was this justified? Nowadays, celebrities have to select their words carefully, even in overwhelming moments such as when you win the most prestigious award in your industry. There is no room for human error. Just ask Meryl Streep, who recently made headlines when she responded “we’re all Africans, really” to a question about her ability to judge films about a culture that she didn’t have a lot of experience with. In her full response you can tell she meant well, but undoubtedly made a mistake. Not even one of the most adored actresses in America could rebound from that.
With one slip of the tongue, these actresses joined a list of “problematic faves,” which includes mainstay staples such as Chris Brown and Kanye West. They become guilty pleasures, and we feel the need to justify why we like them and their work.
The issue here isn’t whether the celebrity’s comments that make you go, “Uh oh,” are valid or not, but rather why we expect them to be consistently politically correct. Some make the argument that celebrities wield an influence over the public and are seen as role models, which in turn means they should be held to this high standard, but frankly that’s not their job. An actor’s job is to make great movies. A singer’s job is to entertain the masses with their music. They are not politicians or people well-versed in all social issues. They should not be expected to be shining examples of political correctness and social advocacy.
BILL COSBY INNOCENT !!!!!!!!!!
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 9, 2016
When Kanye West tweets, “BILL COSBY INNOCENT” we don’t need to tear him down and boycott his music. We don’t need to feel bad listening to The Life of Pablo. He’s an imperfect person, but so is pretty much everyone else, and you are friends with a fair share of these imperfect people in your daily life.
Don’t get me wrong, it’d be nice if they were, but it’s almost impossible. The A-lister who has come the closest is Beyoncé, and that feat is as much a product of her character as it is her management team. Even in a progressive institution such as McMaster, it’s easy to find someone who unintentionally said something stupid.
[Celebrities] should not be expected to be shining examples of political correctness and social advocacy.
There is a purpose and place to be politely critical, and the thinkpieces that arise from poorly worded statements are important in highlighting the subtle ways oppression operates in our society. Making a meme or sending out a mean tweet, however, is not the right thing to do. Think of it this way: if your friend made a problematic comment, you wouldn’t put them on blast on social media.
In the world of celebrities, we often forget that they’re real imperfect people. Just because they’re famous and successful doesn’t mean we can be assholes when they say something that can be interpreted as offensive. While the impact of problematic comments is undeniable, the intent behind them is what determines whether we write a polite thinkpiece about it as opposed to boycotting their work. It seems silly that in the twenty-first century, there is still a need for articles where the take home message is to be nice, but seriously, just be nice.