With more than a week’s distance from the Kevin Hart controversy, one question is still nagging at me. What was accomplished by pushing him out of the Academy Awards gig? I don’t mean that rhetorically.
The effect wasn’t to punish or deplatform or distance the Academy’s brand from a homophobe: When detractors dredged up old tweets, and a bit he’d addressed years ago, Hart didn’t actually stand by the objectionable content. “If you don’t believe that people change, grow, evolve as they get older, I don’t know what to tell you,” he said in an Instagram video. “If you want to hold people in a position where they always have to justify or explain their past, then do you.”
“You LIVE and YOU LEARN & YOU GROW & YOU MATURE,” Hart wrote in the caption.
He’d also basically admitted years ago that an infamous bit in one of his old routines about not wanting his son to be gay was a mistake. Here’s what Hart told Rolling Stone in 2015: “It’s about my fear. I’m thinking about what I did as a dad, did I do something wrong, and if I did, what was it? Not that I’m not gonna love my son or think about him any differently. The funny thing within that joke is it’s me getting mad at my son because of my own insecurities — I panicked. It has nothing to do with him, it’s about me. That’s the difference between bringing a joke across that’s well thought-out and saying something just to ruffle feathers.”
The last sentence is important. It’s an admission that he failed his responsibility as a comedian.
As outrage over the jokes mounted earlier this month, Hart refused to apologize. “We feed into the Internet trolls and we reward them, I’m not going to do it, man,” he said, still insisting on his personal growth. The dynamic, then, was this: Hart was pushed out of a hosting gig over comments he did not endorse.
This brings us back to the question that’s been bothering me. What was accomplished by keeping him off the Oscars stage? Because Hart no longer stood by the jokes in question, the Academy’s decision to stick with him could not reasonably be seen as an endorsement of those jokes, or as a sign the Academy accepted them. So how does anybody benefit by keeping Hart from hosting the ceremony? Is the immense pressure supposed to function as a deterrent?
The notion that people must be purged from a given platform for past mistakes (often unearthed at key moments in their lives) seems to be quickly growing into a reflex and becoming our conventional wisdom, and that goes for both sides of the ideological divide. Is it the only reasonable consequence for these perceived transgressions? Is it reasonable at all when, in Hart’s case, a person’s views have changed?
Had he issued an apology, would he have been able to keep the job? I don’t know, although in announcing his decision to step down, Hart finally did just that. It’s a strange situation— the guy was all but forced to back out of the gig over comments he no longer stood by.
I think it was easier to dismiss Hart than to grapple with his claims of personal growth. I hope we can learn to tread a new path forward in the future, whether the perceived offender is Hart or Sarah Silverman or Stephen Colbert.