A credit card with a deferred-interest loan is one that offers 0% interest for a promotional period, usually a year, after which the interest rate hikes up dramatically, to something around 24%. Retailers offer these cards and customers find them appealing because it allows them to buy whatever they want on credit, pay it off over time, and not worry about accruing interest. What people usually don’t realize, however, is that if they don’t pay off the entire balance of the card before the promotional, 0% interest ends, then the interest that they haven’t been paying suddenly shows up and—surprise!—the card has a new, higher interest rate that will now be applied to your newborn fee.
This type of loan or financial arrangement is considered predatory because it isn’t made clear to the consumer that interest will be applied retroactively. Having this happen is recognized as unfair—some states consider the loans illegal. Comedians, like your run-of-the-mill consumer looking to buy a new TV, are blindsided by these new terms and conditions that are now being retroactively applied by the wielders of mass entertainment. In the case of comedians, nearly decade-old tweets are considered fair game for criticism and alienation, despite the fact that the comedians’ craft depends on telling jokes relevant to the social atmosphere of the day.
Revisionism: We’re Good and We’ve Always Been Good
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. What a quaint idea! There are three camps one can fall into, when discussing words up for forbidden status:
- Complete Denial of Use: Do not say the word. Do not think the word. Do not print, write, or acknowledge the word because it is offensive.
- Qualified Use: I don’t like the word, and I would rather you didn’t use it around me, but I don’t want to keep you from being able to say it.
- Approval of Usage: I don’t care if you say it.
The sticks-and-stones aphorism is one that society is being forced to abandon, with the first camp written above used as its justification for doing so—and coming from the board rooms of Disney, Time-Warner, and Comcast. Here’s my revision:
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words have inherent power, can be used to inspire violence, and can then encourage actions that will hurt me as a result.
Here’s the thing: I think the revised version is true, but I emphasize the word “actions”. Given enough time of unchecked speech, negative ideas and stereotypes can, and have, been disseminated and solidified to the detriment of the targeted community of people. Actions against that community of people can, and have, followed, but we as a society, operating under the long arc of the moral universe, continue to bend ourselves toward justice. Previously ridiculed groups of people are now part of the everyday fabric—perhaps not completely, but certainly not as bad as they were before.
Here, now, at the tail end of 2018 we operate under a different social atmosphere than we did eight years ago. When we dig up Kevin Hart’s homophobic tweets from 2009 and 2010, the general community of 2018 Americans is appalled. But everyone decrying the tweets is participating in a form of historical revisionism.
The question I would want to ask anyone outraged is the following: Why wasn’t general America appalled by Hart’s tweets when they came out?
Anyone who has even a brief understanding of stand-up comedy should be able to answer with some variant of the following phrase:
General America wasn’t appalled because they thought that what he wrote was funny or in some way relatable.
Through our 2018 sensibilities, we can look back at Hart’s tweets and see them as unfortunate, but we shouldn’t regard them with shame. If anything, they act as a good goal marker that signifies how that tweet or rhetoric wouldn’t fly today. But to pretend that 2009 and 2010 America, and Kevin Hart, specifically, was as wizened and enlightened as 2018 America—yes, I know there’s a long way to go (stop being so negative)—is a mistake.
To punish Kevin Hart for those tweets is a mistake because we would be supporting a type of twisted censorship where years-old words are judged by standards that didn’t previously exist, and then punishing the author of those words today, as if he wrote them today. Using this rationale, the proper course of action would be to look back at any comedians’ stand-up, any sitcom, any movie, or any skit comedy show like Mad TV for negative portrayals of the LGBTQ community, and to condemn them, to hide them away and pretend they didn’t exist—and to punish those who participated in them today because they should have known better, and to ask, but verify, whether they are allies now, so as to possibly let them off the hook.
Maybe that was Kevin Hart’s problem. By refusing an explicit apology and choosing instead to comment on his personal growth, which is immediately chuckle-worthy because of his short stature, he missed the chance to get some good will back through a traditional PR strategy. ABC, owned by the Walt Disney Company, is left searching for a blemish-free host to headline its Oscars and it committed the same mistake as its parent company when it dismissed the director of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, James Gunn, for the same reason as it is dismissing Kevin Hart.
Corporate America kowtows to outdated tweets, and in doing so forces a vision of political correctness that has yet to define itself or accept its implications.