It feels impossible to talk about this incident without also discussing our culture of celebrity worship. Every time something like this happens, you see people dogpile on the offending celebrity with a gleeful moral righteousness, “OMG WiLl, I uSeD tO hAvE sO mUcH ReSpEcT fOr YoUU.”
Really? The guy who pretends to blow up aliens for a living?
I guess I’ve never understood celebrity idolization. Hell, I expect these people to fuck up and disappoint us. After all, they’re under 100x more scrutiny and pressure than any of us will ever be and many of them come from difficult backgrounds and struggle with mental health issues.
For years, one of the traps I’ve pointed out in my relationship advice is idealizing another person—to assume that because you love them, they must not have any problems whatsoever. In relationships, there’s a name for this: codependency. Codependency pretty much always leads to dysfunctional relationships and heartbreak.
Yet, people do this with the celebrities they love all the time. For some reason, we decide that just because a guy can shoot a basketball well, we expect him to be a great businessman, a great father, a great husband, a great community leader, to have informed and nuanced political views (that also match our own), to have upstanding ethics and little-to-no emotional dysfunction. Oh, and he has to do all this while never complaining.
Yet, it is these same codependent types that spend their lives idolizing strangers on screens who then become shocked—#ABSOLUTELYSHOCKED!!!—that so-and-so-with-the-basketball turns out to be… well, human.
It reminds me of an interview with the rapper Lil’ Wayne that I saw years ago. The interviewer kept obnoxiously bringing up the fact that Wayne had recently been arrested for drug possession, expecting Lil’ Wayne to show some sort of remorse or regret about it. Yet, he didn’t. Flummoxed, the interviewer finally asked him, “But what do you say to all of the young people out there who look up to you, who look to you to know how to live their own lives?”
Wayne responded with something like, “Man, if you need a rapper to tell you how to live, then maybe you ain’t really livin’ at all.”
The same way you can’t have a healthy loving relationship without accepting and even appreciating a person’s flaws, I would argue you can’t really be a “fan” of someone unless you’re also willing to accept and acknowledge that person’s shortcomings.
So, where does this leave us with Will? Can you accept and tolerate his shortcomings? As disappointed as I am with what he did, I can. But I have also seen his incredible generosity up front and close. I have studied the decades’ worth of wonderful things he has done for the people in his life, his community and his industry. I’ve been around him enough to know that his heart is in the right place and he’s embarrassed by what he did.
In our Twitter-driven world, I believe we’re over-optimized for moral judgment and under-optimized for forgiveness. Moral judgment comes easy and is rewarded with retweets and clicks. Forgiveness is difficult and doesn’t go viral.