Bill Maher recently expressed his opinions on Twitter regarding the tensions in the Middle East by likening Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, to a "crazy woman" that "you just have to slap."
.@billmaher I like how you combined encouragement for genocide with an affirmation of domestic assault in that joke. Very creative.
— Time Travel Brand (@timetravelbrand) July 18, 2014
Have much experience beating women, @billmaher?
— Kurt Gessler (@kurtgessler) July 18, 2014
When an attempt to apply dark humor to stark reality puts you in hot water: @billmaher
— Oren Dorell (@OrenDorell) July 18, 2014
Other journalists have taken note of Bill Maher's tweet making light of domestic violence. Washington Post daily blogger/weekly columnist Alexandra Petri wrote, "Violence against women, as a hilarious joke premise, went out of style somewhere between the passenger pigeon and the Pole joke."
But the question is: Why are celebrities and comedians and people in general continuing to say jokes that demean and belittle women? Even worse than making a joke is having a horrific event become a viral trend. Sixteen-year-old Houston native Jada found out she was raped after pictures of her limp body appeared online. Within 24 hours, the hashtag #Jadapose increased in popularity with people posing on the floor in a similar position as Jada when she was unconscious. The recent launch of the hashtag #IamJada shows that there are people out there who are standing up for Jada.
However, Bill Maher wasn't the only one in hot water this past weekend over a social media post. Rihanna and NBA all-star Dwight Howard were called out for tweeting "#FreePalestine" before quickly deleting their posts, respectively, after thousands of RTs and favorites had accumulated.
— Dave Zirin (@EdgeofSports) July 12, 2014
Regarding the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that was confirmed to have been shot down in Ukraine, Jason Biggs then tweeted an inappropriate joke, "Anyone wanna buy my Malaysian Airlines frequent flier miles?"
Biggs appeared on HuffPost Live this past Monday after the repercussions of his social media posts and said to host Alyona Minkovski:
"You just need to think about what you put out there. Because people can get hurt and that's what happened, that's what I did -- I hurt some people. And that's not my intent, that's never my intent, so yeah, moving forward I need to not be stupid."
Rihanna, Dwight Howard and Jason Biggs all have respectively sent out apologies (or a more sincere post) over Twitter. But is an apology enough?
Let's pray for peace and a swift end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict! Is there any hope?.... pic.twitter.com/jHD56KXkcu
— Rihanna (@rihanna) July 15, 2014
I apologize if I offended anyone with my previous tweet, it was a mistake!
— Dwight Howard (@DwightHoward) July 12, 2014
previous tweet was a mistake. I have never commented on international politics and never will.
— Dwight Howard (@DwightHoward) July 12, 2014
4). as insensitive and ill-timed. For that, I apologize.
3). victims and their families. P.S. No one is making me send these tweets- I simply understand that my comments might have come off
2). This is obviously a horrible tragedy, and everyone-including myself- is sad and angry about it. Sending positive thoughts to the
1). Hey all- ok, so- I am deleting my previous tweets. People were offended, and that was not my intent. Sorry to those of you that were.
With the resulting backlash one has to wonder: Why make the statement at all? Why feel the need to tweet something immediately instead of sleeping on it, or even waiting five minutes and actually considering whether it's something that should be sent out into the world?
Too often it seems as if celebrities and politicians (as well as everyday people) can say whatever they want and if something goes wrong with what they say they simply air out an apology (or even if they don't have an apology), and all is forgiven and we move on with our lives.
Sometimes a celebrity tweets a comment and they just don't know anything about the matter at hand and their ignorance is evident. Actor Ashton Kutcher reacted to the firing of Penn State coach Joe Paterno before learning the details of the Sandusky trial in 2012 by tweeting: "How do you fire Jo Pa? #insult #noclass as a hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste," which has since been deleted. After uproar broke about this tweet, Kutcher apologized and said he's given the reins of his Twitter account to a PR team.
Other times a tweet is sent out when the celebrity is not completely sober or too exhausted to be able to make a comment. Lena Dunham appeared as host of "Saturday Night Live" this past March and parodied her numerous nude appearances on "Girls" by dressing up as Eve from the Garden of Eden. Twitter user @Bobbythornton tweeted that she didn't always have to get naked, and Dunham replied with a tasteless molestation joke, which Buzzfeed editor Rachel Zarrell saved below.
— Rachel Zarrell (@rachelzarrell) March 10, 2014
Lena Dunham has since apologized and said that she was "really sleepy" when she sent out the tweets:
I just made and deleted a not so great molestation joke. Sorry guys. I am really sleepy.
SNL has a way bigger audience than our usual cozy girls audience, so I was seeing a rash of very different kinds of twitter rage.
But I should know better, and do. Even naked girls get embarrassed. Sleep well and thanks for an amazing weekend.
Sometimes celebrities make horrible jokes in response to a tragedy, like Gilbert Gottfried regarding the 2011 tsunami and earthquake that happened in Japan. Buzzfeed made a list of the 10 worst Gilbert Gottfried tsunami jokes and here's one of the worst ones he tweeted: "I just split up with my girlfriend, but like the Japanese say, 'There'll be another one floating by any minute now.'"
Gottfried was ridiculed for these jokes saying it was too soon after the tragic event, and the insurance agency he worked for fired him and he no longer plays the voice of the iconic Aflac Duck. Gottfried did apologize afterward (from People):
"I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by my attempt at humor regarding the tragedy in Japan. I meant no disrespect, and my thoughts are with the victims and their families."
Celebrities shouldn't have to keep giving these apologies, because they should really be thinking and using common sense before they tweet. They should realize they have power because of their celebrity. So, whether they acknowledge it or not, their words have a wider audience than the average person. Whatever they say can and will be viewed under a microscopic lens.
Twitter is an efficient social media platform to use when talking about events live or making comments in real-time. The chances of making an inappropriate tweet are much higher during or directly following a large-scale event (especially with a trending hashtag).
I understand people mess up. I get that people say stupid things. I know that people get angry and say hurtful things and then apologize for said hurtful things. But with the rise of social media and the power of a screenshot, or a recording of an interview, or a clipping of the printed word, it should really encourage celebrities (and everyone in general) to be careful with what they say.
There are apologies over scandals, cheating, divorce, sexts, nude shots, rude comments. There are so many celebrities who have apologized on Twitter, or in general. There are the half-assed apologies (we've all experienced those) that somehow manage to still count. You have to watch what you say, watch what you wear, watch what you text or type or send. Everything can be captured as a screenshot or recorded and saved forever, with no chance of it disappearing.
Bill Maher wrote an op-ed for The New York Times in 2012 titled "Please Stop Apologizing" about this exact topic. He wrote:
When did we get it in our heads that we have the right to never hear anything we don't like? In the last year, we've been shocked and appalled by the unbelievable insensitivity of Nike shoes, the Fighting Sioux, Hank Williams Jr., Cee Lo Green, Ashton Kutcher, Tracy Morgan, Don Imus, Kirk Cameron, Gilbert Gottfried, the Super Bowl halftime show and the ESPN guys who used the wrong cliché for Jeremy Lin after everyone else used all the others. Who can keep up?
This is an interesting perspective to have. Why are we keeping up with celebrity apologies? Shouldn't we be actively trying to decrease the number of statements made that would, in effect, result in an apology rather than resigning ourselves to the fact that we are fighting an uphill battle? There are dozens of celebrity apologies already out there and history will continue to repeat itself regarding apologies.
I don't want to keep seeing and reading celebrity apologies. I want celebrities (and everyone, really) to think before they tweet.
I don't want to live in a country where no one ever says anything that offends anyone. That's why we have Canada. That's not us. If we sand down our rough edges and drain all the color, emotion and spontaneity out of our discourse, we'll end up with political candidates who never say anything but the safest, blandest, emptiest, most unctuous focus-grouped platitudes and cant. In other words, we'll get Mitt Romney.
Though that was a more of a political spin than a statement on apologies (this was made in 2012 after all), the message is clear. We need those sharp edges that ruffle our feathers every once in a while. However, it's imperative that we are considerate when making those statements. Bill Maher kept the edges rough with his domestic violence joke, however it was viewed as tasteless and it breaches an even bigger concern: Why do we continue to not think about the repercussions before we speak or tweet?
Because now more than ever that comment, picture, recording, etc. will not go away. It will live forever.
And no apology will ever be able to take it back.