The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

September 21, 2012

Jeremiah Tucker: Stars’ moral standing based on apologies

By Jeremiah Tucker
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — Let’s talk about Chris Brown’s new neck tattoo. I mean, let’s really get down to brass tacks on this important story that’s gotten lost amid the news coming out of the Middle East and a million blog posts feigning shock and outrage about Romney calling half the nation degenerate losers.

Before I describe to you the tattoo, I want you to think about the connection between a person’s personality and his or her work. What would it take for someone whose work you’ve admired to become such a toxic personality that it retroactively poisons everything he or she has ever, or will ever, do?

It turns out, for me, that it’s getting a tattoo on your neck that resembles the battered face of the girlfriend you beat with your fists one time. That’s the tattoo Brown appears to have gotten.

Brown claims the tattoo is a skull associated with the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration based on a design by a MAC makeup artist, which sounds dumb enough to be true. And maybe it is!

But someone in Brown’s entourage should’ve said, “Ay, bro. That looks uncomfortably like Rihanna’s face that one time you busted it to pieces, which is weird and gross. So maybe don’t get that tattoo?”

Of course, celebrities make poor decisions all the time. I saw lots of people on Twitter say they couldn’t enjoy Clint Eastwood movies anymore after watching his incoherent comedy routine with an empty chair at the Republican National Convention. I, personally, am of the opinion that Eastwood is an icon whose movies as a director tend to be overrated but who has nonetheless lived to be 82 years old and therefore should be allowed to perform his improv on any stage in America.

Other artists have committed morally repugnant acts and bounced back. I can still enjoy Woody Allen movies. I find Tom Cruise’s mania disconcerting, but it won’t keep me from watching “Jack Reacher” later this year. If anything, Cruise’s weird intensity will likely be necessary to compensate for the gap between Cruise’s 5-foot-8-inch frame and that of the fictional Reacher, who in the books the movie is based on is 6-foot-5 and 250 lbs.

I can listen to Michael Jackson without thinking about his weird relationships with children. I still think R. Kelly is the greatest R&B singer of the last 20 years, and if you like throwback soul, you should really check out his latest album “Write Me Back.” That is if, like me, you can put aside the troubling allegations of sexual deviance brought against him.

So what’s the tipping point? When does the person’s real-world sins bleed into the art and ruin it?

I’ve enjoyed a few Chris Brown songs since he was revealed to be a woman beater Ñ primarily last year’s “Look At Me Now” Ñ but that’s about it. He’s so marginal a talent that I can’t overlook how thorough a piece of human garbage he appears to be.

Modern American culture is founded on redemption stories. How often have we seen celebrities or politicians mess up, make a public apology, lay low for awhile and then do a public-relations campaign to repair their image after an appropriate amount of time has passed?

Sometimes it’s successful, like Robert Downey Jr. or Bill Clinton, and sometimes it’s not, like Lindsay Lohan or John Edwards. But it’s so ingrained in our culture now that it’s sacrosanct. And Brown never did it.

Oh, he gave it a half-hearted try in the beginning, but after he smashed up his dressing room at “Good Morning America” after one of his comeback interviews, he mostly abandoned it. Since then he has spent most of his time addressing his “haters.” I would almost find this un-repentance refreshing if Brown wasn’t such a repugnant character.

The public shaming and seeking repentance is part of a contract. You act sorry, we continue to support you, even if we both know the whole ritual is a sham.

But just because something is fake doesn’t mean it’s not real. Or, more accurately, just because an action is insincere doesn’t mean it’s inconsequential. After all, the whole idea of politics is essentially a play we all agree to participate in and not break character, which is why when unguarded moments occur in a campaign it’s so weird.

It’s pretty rare I vote for someone thinking, “I bet this person deep down is terrific and believes everything he or she says.” Voting, for me, is more transactional than personal.

Maybe art is similar. When confronted with an artist you suspect is a bad person, ask “What have you done for me lately?”