There seems to be an outbreak of public figures saying and doing stupid things. Every time I turn around, it seems, famous folks are engaging in awful behavior or apologizing for something of the like.
The world will little note nor long remember an embarrassing incident in a Denver theater involving U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert. The conservative Colorado congresswoman initially laughed off the episode at the “Beetlejuice” musical in which the theater ejected her for vaping and taking unauthorized pictures. Once the police were called, she said “do you know who I am” and departed by brandishing a middle finger.
Unfortunately for Boebert, audience members took grainy videos showing her and her boyfriend groping each other.
Now she says, “The past few days have been difficult and humbling, and I’m truly sorry.” She blamed the incident on “going through a public and difficult divorce.”
Jann Wenner, co-founder of the Rolling Stone magazine, has no acceptable alibi. He has been booted from the board of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation – and with good reason.
While explaining to the New York Times why all the rock icons whose interviews he included in a forthcoming book are White dudes, he said this about female musicians and musicians of color: “Just none of them were as articulate enough on this intellectual level.”
Excuse me, what century are we in?
Uh, what about Grace Slick, Janis Joplin, Carole King, Madonna, Joni Mitchell?
“Joni was not a philosopher of rock ’n’ roll. She didn’t, in my mind, meet that test. Not by her work, not by other interviews she did. The people I interviewed were the kind of philosophers of rock.”
Wenner was similarly dismissive of Black performers before admitting that he wished he could have interviewed Marvin Gaye or Otis Redding.
Cue the written apology: “I made comments that diminished the contributions, genius, and impact of Black and women artists and I apologize wholeheartedly for those remarks.”
For the record, the book features interviews with Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Townshend and Bono. (Wenner admits he let Lennon edit his famous 1970 interview about the Beatles breakup, and others as well, not getting why this is a journalistic no-no).
In a far more serious vein, comedian and social commentator Russell Brand, who has admitted to a past sex addiction, is being accused of sexual assault by four women. His literary agency promptly dropped him, saying it had been “horribly misled” about an allegation in 2020.
In a video statement, Brand decried what he called “a litany of extremely egregious and aggressive attacks.”
“Amidst this litany of astonishing, rather baroque attacks are some very serious allegations that I absolutely refute,” Brand said, adding that while he had been “very, very promiscuous,” his relations with women were “always consensual.”
The allegations were reported by three respected British news outlets – the Times of London, the Sunday Times and Channel 4 – causing a media explosion in Britain. A spokesman for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak referred to “very serious and concerning allegations” and the police asked any victims to get in touch. British companies such as the BBC, for which Brand worked, said they would investigate.
It’s only fair to point out that three of the women were unnamed. What’s more, the alleged crimes are said to have taken place between 10 and 17 years ago, and one of the accusers is said to have been 16 years old at the time.
It is difficult for the average reader or viewer to judge what happened or did not happen with Brand, who has more than 6 million subscribers to his YouTube channel, but for critics who say the women did not come forward until they were approached by journalists, that is largely true of the Harvey Weinstein scandal as well. Few women want to have their lives turned upside down.
Now I could go through plenty of instances in which Donald Trump and Joe Biden said things that were not true – sometimes they are walked back, sometimes not – but we expect presidents and candidates to shade the truth, engage in exaggerated rhetoric or outright lie.
For backbench political types and pop culture figures, however, issuing denials and apologies is a whole different confrontation with reality.