Happy Birthday Caitlin!
Tales From the Dropbox Episode 37 confronts an issue I have spent some time thinking about but I have had some difficulty formulating the issue itself. However, I think I now have resolved that problem and am willing to attempt a few statements of the issue:
What is the minimal type of wrongful act committed by a person that is beyond redemption? That is, when does a person’s wrongful act so color their legacy that any positive acts in their lives should be dismissed because their wrongful act is so outrageous?
We are reminded (at least in the law) that injury to one’s reputation caused by false statements causes irreparable harm and in certain specific instances damages are presumed to occur and are awarded by the court without proof of the amount. However, what are the consequences when the injury to one’s reputation is through their own acts?
This question is not as clear cut as it seems. I was reminded recently of Woodrow Wilson (after listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent podcast Revisionist History and the episode entitled Generous Orthodoxy (Thanks Nate!) and then dug up this story in the New York Times in the aftermath of the student protests at Princeton requesting removal of his name from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. The balancing of good deeds vs evil deeds boils down to whether “Woodrow Wilson a key founder of modern liberalism, a visionary whose belief in an activist presidency laid the groundwork for the New Deal and the civil rights legislation of the 1960s” should be venerated for his good works or “was he a virulent and unrepentant racist, a man who not only segregated the federal work force but nationalized the Southern view of politics, turning the federal government itself into an instrument of white supremacy for decades to come” and therefore should his name be wiped from our memory?
There are numerous modern examples of this conundrum, such as Bill Cosby, Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, Ryan Lochte, etc. (Literally there are thousands of individuals some famous, some not so famous, but whose character like mine, has flaws). These are persons who have either committed or are accused of committing acts of varying degrees of reprehensibility which tarnish, perhaps irreparably, their reputations but who have performed at various times acts of charity, goodwill, or are athletes who have performed at the highest levels of excellence. The issue is a variant of last episode’s pondering on negative bias. If we are predisposed to have a negative bias, then does a single bad act wipe away a life of good? Some acts are so egregious – such a murder (O.J. Simpson – take that!) or child molestation (Steven Collins, actor on 7th Heaven, Ian Watkins, former front man for the Welsh rock band, Lostprophets) that reputation rehabilitation is unlikely…okay impossible. But how do some individuals who are alleged to have egregious acts, such as Kobe Bryant (Rape), Michael Jackson (Child molestation) but whose reputations have not, in the long term suffered much harm. I am not concerned with the motivation of the person or labeling the person as “good” or “bad” (See Summa Theologiae by Thomas Aquinas). Rather the relevant inquiry is this: Does the alleged act prevent the person from being considered good?
Given the examples above, it appears (at least in the celebrity context) that a person who is famous has a greater possibility of reputation rehabilitation relative to the public perception of them as being the “greatest” at their chosen profession. Even when that reputation is tarnished, there are certain individuals that are immune to the long term fallout of their bad acts (or in some cases perceived bad acts).
Thankfully, we have a measure of the reputation harm from a bad act. The Q Score is a measurement of the familiarity and appeal of a brand, celebrity, company, or entertainment product (e.g., television show) used in the United States. The higher the Q Score, the more highly regarded the item or person is among the group familiar with them. Q Scores and other variants are primarily used by the advertising, marketing, media, and public relations industries. (How are Q Scores Calculated?) In 1992, “according to a New York Times story Jaleel White – yep, Steve Urkel – was the day’s top dog when it came to Q Score, narrowly edging out incumbent champ Bill Cosby. While only 53 percent of all respondents were familiar with White, 26 percent of all respondents listed White as one of their favorite performers, which racked up a stout Q Score of 49.” (Id.) Back in the heyday of The Cosby Show in the late ’80s . . . Cosby once recorded the highest Q Score ever, with more than 70 percent of Americans saying Cosby was one of their favorite celebrities. (Who Is America’s Most Disliked Celebrity? An Explainer.) My how the public’s perception of Bill has changed. Cosby’s negative Q Score in 2013 was 9, meaning 9 percent of adults had given him a negative rating. That number has since risen by 43 points, to 52 percent in 2015. (Id.) I suspect it is higher now. The highest negative Q Score belongs to Kim Kardashian at 71. (Id.)
So, what does this all mean? At the beginning of these show notes I postulated these questions:
What is the minimal type of wrongful act committed by a person that is beyond redemption?
It seems the answer to this question is that being perceived as an idiot ( even if you are not) may cause irreparable harm. The converse is also true. Some people’s reputations apparently can survive egregious behavior up to an including torture and mass murder. (Indonesia Debates Possibility of Honor For Suharto)
When does a person’s wrongful act so color their legacy that any positive acts in their lives should be dismissed because their wrongful act is so outrageous?
This question is more challenging because its answer lies more in timing of their bad act related to their status as an important person rather than the nature of the bad act itself. That is, a person can screw up their reputation rehabilitation by saying or doing something stupid that reminds us that they previously performed a bad act and therefore we judge them negatively. For example, all we will need to be reminded that Tiger Woods may not be the best guy (because he is a serial cheater) is another hooker to come out and say that she was sleeping with him while he was dating Lindsay Vonn… oh wait that actually happened!
So what can we really conclude? It appears that there is almost no act that can be committed by an individual by which their reputation cannot be rehabilitated. Even murderers can be forgiven – at least in the public perception of that individual. However, the converse is also true. There are some individuals who so irritate the public that even the smallest negative act cannot be forgiven – ever. So, Justin Bieber watch out. Your haters will likely outlive you.
Here is what you’ll find in Episode #37:
- Manic Pixi – “Iron Heart” (Iron Heart)
- Who Killed Bruce Lee – “Young Love” (Distant Rendezvous)
- Psychic Ills – “Confusion (I’m Alright)” (Inner Journey Out)
- Descendents – “Fighting Myself” (Hypercaffium Spazzinate)
- Indian Askin – “Really Wanna Tell You” (Sea of Ethanol)
- Horror My Friend – “Same Minds” (Stay In, Do Nothing)
- Radkey – “Romance Dawn” (Dark Blake Makeup)
- Arkells – “My Heart’s Always Yours” (Morning Report)
- Starflyer 59 – “Told Me So” (Slow)
- Connections – “Oh Lisa” (Midnight Run)
- Elephant Gun Riot – “Tonight” (Elephant Gun Riot)
- Worth Taking – “I Can’t Believe” (Hangman)
- Future Generations – “Stars” (Future Generations)
- Gun Club – “Sex Beat” (Fire of Love)
- Blues Pills – “Rejection” (Lady in Gold)
I really wanna tell you, got to let it out . . . I heard you singing in the shower … time is what it takes . . . I’ll be here I’ll be waiting for you . . . my heart’s always yours. ..