The celebrity apology has become so ubiquitous in recent years, especially on social media, that it’s begun to follow an easily predictable template. Celebrity A says something offensive to a marginalized group of people. Social media pounces on the transgression. Celebrity A either posts an Instagram Live video, Facebook or Twitter post, Apple Notes paragraphs or guest editorial for a publication asking for forgiveness and asking that the world move on. Phrases like “teachable moment,” “sorry to those I have offended” and other boilerplate, largely empty statements are jumbled together like a somber Mad Libs. Depending on the offensive gesture, the celebrity either disappears for a few months, deletes social media or goes about life as if nothing happened.
Hart, though, felt like he shouldn’t have had to apologize again for something that he did years ago and felt like he atoned for. But that’s not how hate speech works. Though Hart is indeed an internationally known comedian with record-breaking stand-up specials and blockbuster movies under his belt, the Oscar announcement was a mainstream move for him that exposed the Philly-bred jokester to a whole new, larger audience. An audience that most likely had no clue of Hart’s past comments. So naturally they would want to know, and have a right to know, that he no longer feels like saying those words and repeating those sentiments are acceptable. That’s not too much to ask.
When Dave Chappelle returned to Netflix last year, after a decade-long sabbatical, he was met with unfamiliar backlash for his jokes about the transgender community. Something he’d never encountered before. In the old days, before social media, fans who decided to pay to attend a certain comedian’s show were entering a social contract of sorts that they knew what kind of comedy they were signing up for and were agreeing to participate in that brand of comedy. Now, thanks to social-media clips and cheap access to shows provided by streaming apps like Netflix, there’s a larger societal consumption of the art. Comedy cellars have been replaced by global audiences who fire off critical tweets the moment the punchline lands. Comedians aren’t free to drop slurs in the secretive confines of a 20-person-capacity club.
The wider audiences are now causing comedians to be more responsible for the jokes they tell. And it’s causing them to rethink their approaches to comedy and consider audiences they may not have intended to perform for in the past. Sure, it’s a nuisance for some, but if a comedian can’t be funny without calling someone a "f—," then maybe they aren’t great comedians to begin with. Comedians do have the right to use their free speech to say whatever they want, but they also need to understand that fans have the right to take them to task for their decisions.
While it goes without saying that black men face more scrutiny compared to white female counterparts, equality doesn't mean getting away with hating marginalized communities with the same freedom as white people.
And therein lies the real issue here: The LGBTQ community needs to be treated better. No longer should artists in any walk of life be allowed to use hate speech toward this group as part of their artistic catalogs. This is the base fact that shouldn’t be disputed. Anything else is a roundabout way of avoiding trying to reckon with a culture that allows violence and hatred toward people who in no way deserve it. Hart should have at least recognized that first, and his acceptance of the Oscar role should have been immaterial in comparison.