Remember Paula Deen?
Actually you don’t have to—she hasn’t disappeared by any means—but remember three years ago when this TV chef was accused of being a racist? Apparently she had used the n-word a number of times and had expressed an occasional longing to recreate the ante-bellum South. Certainly her choice of vocabulary left a lot to be desired, and while it might have been more Christian to cut some slack to a 66-year old Southern woman who grew up in Jim Crow-Georgia, we all made sure she paid a dear price for her indiscretions. Apparently decorum and sensitivity are of utmost importance to Americans when it comes to their TV chefs.
Brian Williams misrepresented his actions in the Iraq War, told fiction as fact on the NBC Nightly News which he had anchored for ten years. The ensuing imbroglio led to his suspension and eventual firing. He has been resurrected in a sense, and now sits on MSNBC, but the vaunted anchor position is gone, relinquished to someone who can be trusted to tell us the truth. Apparently truth is of the utmost importance to Americans when it comes to their newscasters.
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson began the 2014 season with a successful effort against the St. Louis Cardinals, then five days later was indicted on a child abuse charge and deactivated by his team. “Deactivated” is NFL-speak for fired. Peterson had disciplined his four-year-old child with a switch, an act which caused such uproar that when the Vikings announced that the athlete would play until his trial, Minnesota and the rest of the country lost their collective minds. Peterson didn’t play—and rightly so—apparently the proper treatment of children is of the utmost importance to Americans.
Our fictional characters are not immune: young Hester Prynne bore a child out of wedlock and wore a mark of shame until she died. The scarlet “A” on her breast identified her as an adulteress wherever she went—presumably condign punishment for a moment of passion for which, in truth, she shared only half the guilt. But still, she wore the mark forever. Apparently the proper punishment of public sinners is of the utmost importance to Americans.
Paula Deen, Brian Williams, Adrian Peterson, Hester Prynne, Bill Cosby, Mel Gibson, Tonya Harding, Anthony Weiner, John Edwards—the list is long and, in a way, illustrious. We Americans have a history of setting high standards for our citizens, heroes, and leaders, and we make damn sure they feel the full force of our disdain when they fail to meet those standards—when they are unable to express the most basic forms of humanity—like, oh let’s say, recognizing grief or honoring sacrifice or denouncing bigotry or just showing decency.
Yep, that’s our history: I wonder when that stopped.