The Internet is known for turning sound-bytes into an international blog fodder, Twitter hash-tags into worldwide catchphrases and paparazzi photos into global exposés. What the Internet is not known for is increasing our attention span. The online news cycle moves so fast we barely have time to fire off a knee-jerk reaction before another story pops up in our RSS reader that requires us to fire off another knee-jerk reaction. We may have access to more information than ever, but we also forget more information than ever.
And that’s exactly what Tracy Morgan and his publicists were counting on earlier this month when he went on his homophobic tirade in Nashville. This is the Internet generation. We don’t remember things past the weekend, right?
Everyone from LGBT advocacy groups to entertainment magazines to mainstream media blogs demanded an answer from Morgan. Finally he was forced to issue a statement of apology, and Tina Fey and Bob Greenblatt were forced to issue statements that read like warnings: Do it again and your career at NBC is over.
But the outrage over Morgan’s remarks persisted to the point where he did what few other loose-lipped celebrities had done before him: He went on full-blown repentance tour. He met with GLAAD. He met with gay teens who had been kicked out of their homes because of their sexual orientation. He met with parents who had lost their children to gay bullying. He filmed a straight-faced PSA about the dangers of homophobia. He even went back to Nashville to apologize to the audience members he’d offended.
It was a well-publicized, much-needed apology parade — and now that it’s over, I’m left wondering if it was enough.
Morgan seems to have earned the forgiveness of many with his willingness to humble and educate himself. Kevin Rogers, the Nashville audience member who detailed Morgan’s on-stage meltdown on Facebook, recently changed his profile photo: He and Tracy Morgan, smiling at the camera with Morgan’s arm draped around Rogers’ shoulder.
In the wake of Morgan’s remarks, AfterEllen.com and AfterElton.com readers responded with almost unanimous conviction. Apologies were not enough. Warnings were not enough. Tracy Morgan needed to be fired from 30 Rock, and until Tina Fey personally handed him his pink slip, she could forget about the support of her gay audience.
I’m not a person who cries wolf about homophobia. Not at actors or politicians or news pundits or gossip bloggers or friends or foes. I refuse to purposefully misunderstand people to fuel my own sense of personal injustice. I refuse to shake down complicated, dynamic issues to lowest common denominator buzz words. I refuse to think in black and white when I can hold something up to the light and see it in a million different colors. But what Tracy Morgan said in Nashville offended and angered me in such a way that I refused — and still refuse — to call it anything other than homophobia. Plain and simple. He hoped to make people laugh by preying on their fear and antipathy of the gay community, and he did so by threatening physical violence against a child.
Now the question is: Should we forgive him?
Celebrity is a complicated thing. Like it or not, the nature of fame means that there is a dichotomy between the person of a celebrity and the brand of a celebrity. When I pay $100 to see Lady Gaga in concert, I’m not paying to see the person of Lady Gaga, I’m paying to see the brand of Lady Gaga: The outlandish costumes, the catchy beats, the choreographed dance sequences and the Little Monster admonishments. I don’t want to sit still for three hours and listen to her talk about her childhood, her hobbies, her food preferences or her holiday plans. In short, I don’t want to pay $100 to find out who Lady Gaga is; I want to pay $100 to watch what Lady Gaga can do.
A celebrity’s personal life can certainly affect their brand — Tiger Woods and Charlie Sheen anyone? — but a brand isn’t a reflection of a celebrity’s entire person.
And that is where I have landed on the Tracy Morgan question. Does Tracy Morgan the man deserve my forgiveness? I think so. I am not unsympathetic to the need for mercy; I need more grace than anyone I know. But forgiving Tracy Morgan the man doesn’t mean buying Tracy Morgan the brand.
There’s a scene in Notting Hill when Julia Roberts’ Hollywood starlet Anna finds herself surrounded by tabloid photographers at the flat of Hugh Grant’s British everyman William. He doesn’t understand her panic and frustration, because “today’s newspapers will file tomorrow’s waste bins.” But she snaps at him: “You really don’t get it. This story gets filed. Every time anyone writes anything about me, they’ll dig up these photos. Newspapers last forever. I’ll regret this forever.”
Anna may be a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her — but she’s also an entire Hollywood package that sells movie tickets.
Am I going to watch 30 Rock this fall? I still don’t know yet. I don’t buy BP-brand fuel, even though the guys who caused the Gulf of Mexico oil spill probably feel really crappy about it. And I’m not sure I’ll be able to buy Tracy Morgan-brand Tracy Jordan, even though he has apologized profusely.
How do you feel about Tracy Morgan’s apology tour? Do you still plan to watch 30 Rock?