Flawed Idols & the Art of Forgiveness

What do we do when our heroes do wrong?
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What do we do when our heroes do wrong?

Every time I hear Chance rap, “Back when Michael Jackson was Jesus,” it transports me to moments of “Billy Jean” sing-alongs and living room moonwalks. It takes me back to the Saturdays when B.E.T would have a four hour block of music videos and “Remember the Times” looked like golden magic. Watching “Thriller” for the first time on Halloween in a basement while playing musical chairs.

I zoom in on the day he died, driving toward a bowling alley when a sullen voice on the radio announced it. The text message from Jessica that read, “I can’t stop crying.” The video clip of Terrence and Rocsi holding back tears on 106 & Park is frozen in my mind. I remember being in California when they buried him, in a hotel watching the funeral, seeing the hordes of people, the look of disbelief, the shock, the distraught expressions. You never thought about Michael dying, he moved and sung with an energy that seemed everlasting. He wasn’t Jesus but a modern day Greek God, able to stand beside Apollo, Poseidon and Zeus. Bronze statues should be made in his image for what he gave the world. I remember his art, not the kids, not the trial, not the allegations. Everything he was accused of, everything that covered the front pages of tabloids, they never cross my mind. I feel a hint of guilt while writing that sentence.

In a perfect world artists, celebrities and entertainers that reach the status of celebrated public figures are flawless, model citizens that have the purity of Superman. But the world isn’t perfect, the people that we look up to aren’t without their demons and issues. To be human is to be flawed. In fact, there are times when the qualities that make their art and image fascinating are the same qualities that make them despicable. How do you separate the flawed man or woman from the impeccable artist and entertainer? When I look at Chris Brown should I see the glorified singer/dancer, or the pictures of Rihanna’s swollen face? When I’m in the club and R. Kelly’s “Bump And Grind” comes on, should I be enjoying the jam or disgusted by a sex offender? Should I remember Ray Lewis for being a Super Bowl Champion or a possible murderer? Bill Cosby was the American dad. I watched him every night growing up. I wanted a wife like Clair, my second wife like Denise, a daughter like Rudy and a son like Theo. That whole image of a perfect family crumbled when I discovered his long history of rape allegations. There’s an internal struggle to believe the media versus your hero, especially when there’s a lot of innocent men locked away and guilty men running free.

Personal connections and redemption plays an important role in our perception of their character. Owning up to a mistake and using your gift to spread a positive message is how you receive forgiveness. When people look at T.I, they don’t see a 17+ felon. He never ran from his mistakes or made excuses, not only has he done his time, apologized immensely, he has helped countless others in his community. It’s a level of sincerity that invokes empathy, it’s easier to forgive when you feel that someone is genuinely sorry. My problem with Chris Brown is that I always felt like he ran from his fault. His apology felt scripted, he wanted us to forget, forgive and move on. As a public figure, a person that literally makes their living via public approval, without that human connection, how can I support you? When you have a sister, niece, or daughter, you don’t want them to believe it's okay for a man to beat them and be forgiven just because he sings and dances.

It’s not only the mistake but the responsibility to handle it justly. Rich Homie Quan recently came under scrutiny for an unreleased song that illustrated a possible rape. The lyrics showcase someone that has fallen victim to a superiority complex, possible the worst mind state for a celebrity. He said: 

She tried to resist, so I took it from her, how are you gonna tell me no? You must not know who I am?”  - Rich Homie Quan "I Made It"

When you believe you are above others, that everything should be given to you, women can become just another piece of property you deserve without question. Eminem rapping about raping Iggy is horrendous, disgusting, but also outrageous enough where it becomes a crude joke. Rich Homie issued a statement that should’ve cleared up the situation, but still failed immensely. I like Quan, I believe he has a lot of promise, but I’ll have a hard time supporting someone that so casually talks about raping a woman. There’s a voicemail on my phone of a friend crying from the hospital the night she got raped, how can I play his music with that in mind? It took me a long time to play Tyler’s music for the very same reason. Except like Eminem, he was protected by his twisted humor and deliberate provocations. 

My favorite poet was a terrible person. Charles Bukowski was an alcoholic that mistreated people, abused women, neglected his daughter, the furthest thing from a role model or saint. That’s only one half of the story, depending on who you ask. He didn’t have an easy life, he turned that misery into poetry, he wrote about the bar fights, the prostitutes, the whores, the abusive father, the abusive relationships, surviving off only candy bars for a year, countless shitty jobs. He wrote about life with a rawness that I haven’t read by any other writer. He lived a hard life, his life was hell, he turned it into art, but some people won’t see that. They’ll only see a vile man, someone that shoudn’t be read but instead locked away. There is no separation from the man and the artist, you can’t have one without the other.

It comes down to morals, integrity and forgiveness. Mistakes don’t make the man, the man makes the mistakes. What he does after is what matters. We see situations like Ray Rice, some will embrace him and others will shun him. We aren’t the judge or jury, certainly not God, but we are allowed to decide how we look at a public figure's life and career because we are a part of their life and career. If they want our support, it must be earned. 

I’ve been on Twitter and seen Martin Luther King, Jr. belittled for allegedly having mistresses, as if that changes the impact of his Civil Rights actions. He wasn’t a perfect man, never claimed to be, but he wanted a world that was better than the one he lived in and he worked to make that world. Kendrick Lamar is slowly but surely attempting to find a similar role that he accepts, that fits him. He understands his audience, the position of power, where his words and voice has an effect on the community. It was Kendrick’s “Mortal Man” that inspired this article. The way he looks at himself, his faults, and still wants to be a leader of the people is commendable. It’s a reminder that we are no different. He has an audience, a position of power, where his words have an effect on the community. His statement’s in the Billboard interview came under scrutiny from the very people that often praised him for his music.

"When we don't have respect for ourselves, how do we expect them to respect us? It starts from within. Don't start with just a rally, don't start from looting -- it starts from within." - Kendrick Lamar Billboard Interview

It’s an immense pressure, trying to speak for the people while maintaining your personal viewpoint. Especially when you have to contend with the media, they can twist a story, use photos, headlines, and neglect information to alter a narrative. There will be times we won’t know what to believe. Who to trust. We don’t know these people, only what they care to show, and through that is how we choose who to uplift and empower. Never forget these are humans, no different than us.

No man among us is Jesus. No woman is perfect. In theory we should judge others as we judge ourselves, forgive others as we forgive ourselves, but is it too much to expect our heroes to be better than we are? Yes, I think it is. The problem is we make heroes out of people that aren't heroes. That pedestal is a fantasy. This is about realizing that maybe heroes are fantasies, we don't have heroes, never did. We only ever had people, humans, with all their flaws and strengths.

[By Yoh, aka Charles Yohkowski, aka @Yoh31]