Be careful, little fingers, what you type, for an angry mob of trolls is reading all your social media posts. This month, the trolls went after comedian Kevin Hart and college football Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray.
Hart, who has starred in blockbusters such as Jumanji and numerous comedy specials, stepped down as Oscar’s host last week amid backlash for tweets he wrote years ago (2009-2011) about how he would react if his son was gay. The schtick was part of his standup routine at the time and included things like hitting his son over the head with a dollhouse. Since then, Hart has apologized for the remarks and taken them out of his comedy act. When critics—and, reportedly, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—demanded another apology last week, he initially balked, saying the jokes were old history.
“I’m almost 40 years old. If you don’t believe that people change, grow, evolve, I don’t know what to tell you,” Hart said. Eventually, he did apologize yet again but said he would not host the Oscars after all.
University of Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray faced a similar predicament when, less than 24 hours after winning college football’s highest individual honor, journalists dug up controversial tweets from when he was 14 and 15 years old. In the tweets, he attempted to insult others by accusing them of being gay. Murray quickly deleted the postings and apologized, saying “I used a poor choice of word that doesn’t reflect who I am or what I believe.”
After the reports surfaced, some journalists rushed to Murray’s defense.
“I don’t know what motivates, what drives these so-called reporters … to, at a moment of somebody’s highest achievements, go search for their lowest moments,” ESPN analyst Will Cain said on the air Tuesday. “Breaking news: Teenagers, 14- and 15-year-olds, say stupid things.” Cain’s fellow ESPN commentator, Steven A. Smith, agreed: “It’s inhumane what folks try to do to these kids.”
Both Murray and Hart intended to belittle homosexuals—Murray to degrade his peers and Hart to get a laugh. That’s not OK to do to anyone, and no one I’ve seen defending Murray and Hart said it was. But the public shaming of people for mistakes that date back to childhood or for which they have already apologized shows a frightening lack of grace in a culture that so often promotes tolerance and acceptance.
“It is very much like the kind of Soviet demands for ideological conformity that marked the Cold War,” Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a WORLD News Group board member, said last week on his podcast The Briefing. “There had to be public apologies, public contrition for ever holding a position that was in violation of party doctrine.”
The media seem to have moved on from Murray’s past tweets, focusing now on his plans for a professional career in either football or baseball. (He plays both.) As for Hart, he might end up having the last laugh as the Oscars tries to find a replacement host. The show’s ratings are low and the pressure on its host is high, often bearing the brunt of critics’ wrath if the live show doesn’t go well.
“Oscars host has become a not very desirable job in Hollywood. Very few people see an upside,” said Matthew Belloni, editorial director of The Hollywood Reporter.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld predicted that in the end, the controversy would hurt the Oscars more than it hurt Hart. “I think Kevin's going to be fine,” Seinfeld said in an interview with NBC News this week. “But find another Kevin Hart, that’s not so easy.”