Last week, comedian Kevin Hart withdrew from his planned gig as the host of the upcoming Academy Awards, following a controversy over old homophobic tweets and jokes unearthed by journalists. Most of the barbs and punchlines in question were from roughly eight years ago, and Hart previously expressed regret and contrition for some of them. Nevertheless, after pointedly declining to prostrate himself before the mob, then calling out the Academy for an ultimatum, Hart eventually announced that he was stepping aside:
I have made the choice to step down from hosting this year's Oscar's....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.— Kevin Hart (@KevinHart4real) December 7, 2018
This outcome, in turn, prompted a torrent of criticism from Hart defenders and opponents of weaponized PC "gotcha" scalp-collection -- including this roundup by entertainer Nick Cannon of additional "problematic" statements from potential replacement emcees:
You wanted this game. Here it is. https://t.co/fbKhEICYCY— Stephen Miller (@redsteeze) December 9, 2018
On Saturday Night Live's 'weekend update,' co-anchor Michael Che delivered a sharp-elbowed joke, directed at the Oscars' organizers:
“Well, that was short,” "Weekend Update" co-host Michael Che said of Hart's stepping down after tweets from the comic with homophobic slurs in them were resurfaced. Che went on to defend Hart, saying, “Didn’t the Academy nominate Mel Gibson for an award just last year?” he asked, referencing controversial racist statements the director made a few years ago. “Also, if Kevin Hart isn’t clean enough to host the Oscars, then no black comic is. The only black comic I know that’s cleaner than Kevin Hart is booked for the next three to 10 years,” Che said as a picture of Bill Cosby was shown.
Ironically, some who celebrated Hart's selection were part of the #OscarsSoWhite movement in recent years, which accused Hollywood elites of marginalizing people of color. Hart, an African American, quickly found himself at the center of another identity-driven firestorm, and was effectively dispatched. My reaction to this whole furor was not to defend every single thing Hart has said -- I certainly object to some of it -- but to give an emphatic thumbs-down to this sort of targeted, synthetic, merciless speech mob:
LGBTQ rights advocates have made the biggest strides for our community by positively winning hearts and minds, not by stamping out ‘wrong-thinking.’ On Hart, I’d preferred to have seen more grace and more laughs, as opposed to this ‘gotcha’ episode.— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) December 7, 2018
Opposing these pile-ons as destructive and unproductive was a theme of End of Discussion, which devoted a full chapter to the impact of the outrage industry on comedy and comedians. It is legitimately heartening that the ladies of The View all seemed to have a problem with what happened to Hart, with Joy Behar (of all people) making the salient comedy point: "If you want somebody squeaky clean, you're going to have to get a mime at the Oscars. Because everyone has something, especially comedians,” she said. Writing at Reason, Robby Soave channels many people's growing indignation and disgust over the roving online hoards of life-ruiners, some of whom just came after the newly-announced Heisman Trophy winner by digging up tweets he sent as an adolescent:
It is utterly contemptible that multiple news outlets wrote about Kyler Murray's high school tweets. Various headlines claimed they "resurfaced," which is doublespeak: you resurfaced them, for no reason at all. Shame on you all. https://t.co/NYBHSm0cqt— Robby Soave (@robbysoave) December 9, 2018
I said it after Roseanne, I said it after Sarah Jeong, I said it after James Gunn, and I said it after Kevin Hart: It's time to declare an end to the practice of mining people's past social media comments for fire-able offenses. This holds especially true for comments made by minors. Murray was 14 and 15-years-old at the time he made these ill-advised remarks. People my age and older are very lucky that Twitter didn't exist when we were adolescents. I guarantee that the various authors of these Kyler Murray stories all said something crude or offensive—or at the very least, something they would not want "resurfaced"—when they were in high school. Unfortunately, modern America is increasingly a place that does not allow children to make mistakes...A bad tweet is front page news. Murray is going to be fine—he apologized swiftly, and it appears that a backlash of sorts is already forming. Next time, maybe the media could simply skip the step of trying to make everybody angry about such a stupid thing.
The End of Discussion mob is exhausting and soul-crushing and alienating. Enough.