The purpose of public apologies

February 8, 2019

On Dec. 4, the Academy Awards tweeted out “Welcome to the family, @kevin4real! #Oscars.” Soon after this event, some from the internet started expressing disdain towards the Academy’s decision to have Kevin Hart host the Oscars, given some past tweets of his.

The tweets for which Hart was criticized included statements such as “Yo if my son comes home & try’s 2 play with my daughters doll house I’m going 2 break it over his head & say n my voice ‘stop that’s gay.’” and “Why does @wayne215 have so many pictures of me in his phone!!! What ru some type of FAT FAG that takes pic of small black ment all day?” Needless to say, these tweets are indefensible even from a comedic standpoint.

With many of the tweets that reference homophobic slurs, it seems Hart left no space for irony when he made these statements, and after they resurfaced, the world was expecting an apology.

Instead, the world got a video of Kevin Hart speaking on how disappointed he was in people who were outraged by his past. He argued that people should expect that someone would have evolved after the seven or eight years that have passed since those comments. He elaborated more when he was on The Ellen Show, “Everyone took [the] headlines and started to run with it. So now the slander on my name is all homophobia. Now I’m a little upset. I’m a little upset because I know who I am. I know I don’t have a homophobic bone in my body. I know that I’ve addressed it; I know that I’ve apologized. I know that within my apologies, I’ve taken ten years to put my apology to work. I’ve yet to go back to that version of the immature comedian that once was. I’ve moved on.”

Soon after Hart said this, the Vulture published an investigation that had attempted to find the apologies that Hart referenced. Much of what was found in interviews and on online forums did not quite sound apologetic, rather it more resembled an acknowledgment that the issues were “sensitive.”

This case is certainly not a solitary one. We have seen many instances of a public person’s past on the internet being used as the basis for accusations in the present. The views on the matter range between a belief in the obligation of a celebrity to prove that they can act as a representative for what is right in society and a belief that everyone, even celebrities, should be given room to evolve without being shackled by their past.

The difficulty I see with the latter opinion is that the social weight of a celebrity is different than that of the average individual. Celebrities have an immense amount of cultural influence but are also scrutinized to a similar degree in that culture as a result of their prominence. It would make sense that those who act as spokespeople for culture should carry responsibility proportional to their influence.

I do not believe that society shackles celebrities by continually asking them to answer for their past. If celebrities truly care about acting as a moral example, they should want their apologies to be as widespread and as available as possible, even if it means apologizing often. Kevin Hart said that he has moved on. He says that he knows that he is not remotely homophobic. But by refusing to denounce those past remarks in reaction to the outrage, Hart has not demonstrated to us that he has “evolved” in the way that he says he has.

People often say that it is the labels themselves which act as those metaphorical shackles. They believe that Hart was deemed a homophobe and will therefore always be seen as a homophobe in the eyes of the outraged, despite any apology he gives. But I argue that most do respond to apologies. An apology signifies that the apologizer does not stand by, or represent, a set of opinions anymore. I feel as if Hart could have just as easily found himself championed as a gifted host of the Oscars if he had only apologized when the outrage was brewing.

With all this being said, Hart conducted himself very well in the wake of this controversy. He tweeted, “I have made the choice to step down from hosting this year’s Oscars…this is because I do not want to be a distraction on a night that should be celebrated by so many amazing talented artists. I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community for my insensitive words from my past.” By apologizing and by stepping out of the spotlight rather than using it to advocate against outrage culture, I believe Hart has proven that he is finally beginning to learn from and move past the errors of his past.

Menu Title