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Shame, Redemption and the American Way

May 31, 2018

Roseanne Barr, it seems, is blaming a sedative for the repellent tweet that led to her series being abandoned by the ABC TV network. Perhaps because I have no experience of Ambien, the drug in question, or of any other kind of sedative, I fail to understand why someone in a sedated state should be any more likely to come up with a racist tweet.

Indeed Sanofi, the makers of Ambien, have been quick to point out that racism is not a known side-effect of their product. But I suppose there’s always a first time.

Anyway, until today, Roseanne appeared to be following the classic path for celebrities who have been shamed for whatever reason. It goes like this:

Step One: commit some act that causes widespread disapproval, up to and including being cast into the outer darkness.

Step Two: prepare yourself for a host of fresh revelations about your unsavoury conduct, and get a lawyer, just in case someone tries to sue you.

Step Three: announce that your action is the result of drug/alcohol/sex addiction. Failing that, blame your parents, an abusive spouse or some traumatic aspect of your early life for your troubled present.

Step Four: announce that you’re going into rehab so that you can deal with the issues you’ve identified. Ask for “privacy at this difficult time”.

Step Five: assuming you haven’t been thrown into jail, lay low for a few months or years (depending on the severity of the act).

Step Six: have your publicist arrange an interview with a sympathetic journalist, talk about your tough times, and announce that you’re cured. You might also add that you’ve found Jesus. Oh, and beg for the forgiveness of your adoring public.

Step Seven: sign up for a new TV series/movie or whatever you’re famous for. By this time your adoring public, most of whom are also addled with opioids or Jack Daniels, as firm believers in the power of redemption, will give you a second chance, on the basis of “there but for the grace of God go I”.

Of course there’s nothing immutable about these classic stages, especially when you have Donald Trump on your side. Roseanne appears to have gone through Steps One to Three, but hours after her apologetic tweet, she’s spitting venom at all those who accuse her of racism. Clearly Trump has found the time to give her a quick tutorial on doubling down.

I suspect, though, that she will return to the path once she realises that Trump and her lawyers can’t restore her career or her reputation.

Like many great innovations and trends that were created in the USA, this classic celebrity redemption path has spread to the UK and other parts of the world.

We in Britain, of course, have our own time-honoured methods of wriggling free from reputational damage, though they’re generally of use only to certain strata of society. Whereas in America wealth loads the dice in your favour, class and snobbery have been known to do the trick over here.

Take the Jeremy Thorpe trial, which is currently being dramatized in a well-regarded TV series starring Hugh Grant as the Liberal politician. Were it not for Thorpe’s impeccable manners and his elevated place in society, I can’t imagine that the jury would have found it so hard to believe that he was capable of ordering a hit on his gay lover.

Then there was the judge’s summing up at Jeffery Archer’s successful libel action against The Star newspaper, in which His Lordship described Archer’s wife as “fragrant”, as if her body odour had anything to do with her husband’s penchant for paying large sums of money not to have sex with a prostitute. At least Archer was subsequently banged up for perjury, a fate Thorpe managed to avoid.

And back in 1895, it was poor old Oscar Wilde, son of a middle-class Irish family, who took the rap for sodomy. The object of his adoration, Lord Alfred Douglas, son of the Marquess of Queensbury, was apparently an innocent party who had nothing to do with Wilde’s depravity. Well, he would be, wouldn’t he?

These days class tends to play less of a role in British personal redemption sagas. But we are embracing the US model with enthusiasm.

There is one significant difference though. Whereas in America the arbiter of forgiveness tends to be God, whose wishes and intentions are generously interpreted by His legions of believers, over here we are not so overtly religious. The role of supreme judge of morality is usually assumed by the tabloid newspapers, or more specifically by their editors, who are invariably persons of unimpeachable rectitude.

But society never stands still, and the supremacy of the tabloids is being challenged by a multitude of self-appointed judges who populate Twitter with their opinions, each with devoted followers ready to troll on cue.

The path of redemption is never easy, especially when there appear to be so many gods to appease. Even so, it’s my guess that the seven steps will continue to work for most celebs who fall from grace, though they’ll need to spend ever-increasing sums on hiring smart lawyers and publicists.

Either that, or they could try investing in one of Donald Trump’s businesses.

From → Politics, Religion, Social, UK, USA

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