Another week, another Hollywood titan falls from grace.
ABC canned Roseanne Barr’s eponymous sitcom Tuesday after she tweeted a racially charged insult about former Obama White House adviser Valerie Jarrett. Hulu, Paramount Network, TV Land, CMT and Laff followed suit, yanking “Roseanne” reruns from their programming lineups.
What’s a pop culture consumer to do when a star reveals a far less-than-flattering side of themselves? It’s becoming an increasingly common problem. Oscar winner Morgan Freeman suffered a serious blow to his image late last month when CNN reported on eight women who said the “Shawshank Redemption” star sexually harassed them.
Before Mr. Freeman’s fall, we witnessed those of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, Jeffrey Tambor, Al Franken, director Brett Ratner and other celebrities caught up in the growing #MeToo movement. Of course, not all crimes are created equal. Mr. Weinstein is accused of transgressions that include rape, while Mr. Freeman’s accusers say his behavior never approached that level.
It still leaves fans in an awkward position: Love the work, hate the acts … or simply tune out both?
Derek Hunter, author of the upcoming book “Outrage, Inc.,” said conservatives know this drill by heart.
“Conservatives have to separate the art from the artist all the time, or our options for entertainment would be limited to puppet shows and our own singing in the shower,” said Mr. Hunter, whose June 19 release examines progressives who dominate Hollywood, academia and the scientific realm.
“Some of history’s greatest artists were alcoholics, misogynists, racists or otherwise awful people,” Mr. Hunter said. “Never invest your emotions in someone who doesn’t know, and doesn’t care, that you exist. … [J]ust enjoy their work.”
Deborah Wilker, a veteran entertainment journalist who contributes to Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter, says some fallen stars can come back on their own terms.
Take Louis C.K., the groundbreaking comic who admitted to sexually satisfying himself in front of several female comics. Ms. Wilker said the comic routinely oversaw his own content distribution before the scandal broke. That means he could “come back” at any time he pleases without requiring an existing channel wary of his image.
“He doesn’t need a huge commercial platform to return,” Ms. Wilker said. “We may never see him again in a mainstream, big-city venue, but if he wanted to sell tickets and show up in a field in a middle of a state somewhere, who’s to stop him? The marketplace will decide.
“Consumers will vote. They always do,” she said.
Time certainly can provide a balm in some scenarios. Mel Gibson’s career sank after he shouted anti-Semitic slurs during a 2006 DUI arrest. The “Lethal Weapon” star retreated from public life and eventually appeared in a number of low-budget films to reassert his talent.
He finally earned back enough industry clout to helm his 2016 World War II film “Hacksaw Ridge.” The movie snared six Oscar nominations, including a best director nod for Mr. Gibson.
Still, some former fans won’t support him no matter how much time passes, Ms. Wilker said. It certainly helped Mr. Gibson that his infamous rant occurred before social media exploded as a cultural force. Had his meltdown taken place today, the combination of #MeToo and Twitter could have derailed his career permanently, she said.
Alok Trivedi, a psychological performance coach and author of “Chasing Success,” suggests that social media didn’t necessarily sway ABC’s decision regarding the end of “Roseanne” — even if the message in question began on Twitter.
“The public, many of her fans included, responded exactly as they should have, demanding her show be canceled,” Mr. Trivedi said.
To the star’s credit, Miss Barr eventually apologized to her colleagues and Ms. Jarrett directly, even if she suggested that taking the drug Ambien factored into her poor judgment. That is not always the norm in such high-profile cases, Mr. Trivedi said.
“Too many times we see people and companies either try to bury their mistakes or lie about them, and that just adds even more fuel to the fire,” he said.
That could make her image recovery happen sooner than later, in theory.
Jeffrey McCall, professor of media studies at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, said our obsession with celebrities is coming back to haunt us. Stars aren’t more evolved than the rest of us, Mr. McCall said, despite the pedestal we place them on.
“In fact, actors and singers and athletes might even be more flawed as human beings because of the pressures and alternate realities they face in the fast lane,” Mr. McCall said.
In Hollywood’s Golden Age, the studio system aggressively managed a star’s career, keeping unsavory elements out of the headlines. That is no longer the case, a situation exacerbated by social media.
Just ask Miss Barr.
“Let’s just enjoy celebrities for how they entertain us and stop projecting onto them superhuman qualities or traits that they just don’t possess,” Mr. McCall said. “That will save us all from disappointment in the future.”