Should We Forgive Celebrities With Dark Pasts? 1
Source | Pixabay

As is inevitable where people are concerned, sometimes, they make mistakes. Maybe you have done it yourself; known someone who has crossed the line of the law and made an error that they can’t seem to retract – it’s an inevitability. No one can be good all the time.

The matter is all the more complicated if you are in the public eye. For celebrities, life is very different. There tends to be two competing trains of thought when a celebrity infringes upon the law:

  1. Forgive them. The world moves on, forgets their transgressions, and everyone puts the past in the past. An example of this would be Don King; most people born after the event don’t even know that he is a convicted murderer. Or perhaps Sean Penn, whose substantial history of domestic violence hasn’t stopped him winning film roles.
  2. Never let them forget it. For others, life is more difficult. They may serve their time, do their rehab, even go through record expungement, all in an effort to try and focus on the life they had before the event – but the public will never relent in its criticism. For example, Chris Brown has not managed to return to a world that has totally forgotten his attack on Rihanna, and director Roman Polanski still lives in exile after drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl.

As a member of the public – potentially even a fan for a celebrity who has transgressed – which way do you fall?

FORGIVE: Everyone Makes Mistakes…

This vein of thought is perhaps the most common. It suggests that if someone has done their time, then they deserve forgiveness. To do anything else – potentially to the point of wrecking someone’s career, impacting their family as well as themselves – is to suggest that no one can come back from a bad decision.

DON’T FORGIVE: … But That Doesn’t Give Them A Right To The Public Eye

On the flipside, if someone makes a mistake, most of us can find it within ourselves to forgive them. However… does that entitle them to a life in the public eye? Is it not somehow ridiculous to expect Sean Penn to sell movies, given the high chances that cinema goers have also experienced domestic violence?

This train of thought is also understandable. They can go ahead and live their lives, but they shouldn’t expect the spotlight for it.

FORGIVE: But What If That’s Their Only Career?

Some celebrities will have a fallback option if their chosen career derails from their plans – others won’t. They might be doing what they are doing because it’s all they know how to do, so to suggest they just vanish is to suggest that they should abandon that.

It’s also easy to think that the celebrity in question has money to fall back on – but what if they don’t? They might have seen their fortune withered away by legal fees and being out of work during proceedings. Everyone has a right to make their way in the world.

DON’T FORGIVE: That’s Their Problem

But is it their family’s? The people that depend on them? The other people who might be impacted by their retirement?

Should that matter?

It’s a difficult line to walk. In one sense, there is a justice that a terrible legal transgression leads to being ostracized from the promised land of celebrity. It’s a tempting way to think.

FORGIVE: If They Show Contrition

Perhaps the best route is something that chooses no particular path, but is dependent on the person themselves?

If a celebrity shows contrition and genuine repentance for their crimes, then it would be incredibly harsh to continue to punish them for it. For many people, this is the decider: the past is the past, but you have to make it right in the present.

DON’T FORGIVE: Some Are Serial Offenders

This is an undeniable truth. For example: most of us could forgive Keifer Sutherland a single DUI. We all make terrible decisions and though the ramifications of the decision to drive drunk can be fatal, one error is something that – with contrition – most of us can move on from and allow them to continue in their public role. But can you forgive the second, the third, the fourth DUI? That’s much more difficult.


For some celebrities, they will be forgiven and life will move on – while others will find it more difficult. The side that you fall down tends to depend on a number of factors: the way you approach forgiveness in general, your own personal experience of the crime they committed, and – of course – how much of a fan of them you were in the beginning.

If you do decide forgiveness is not an option, then boycotting is a sensible way to show your resistance.

If you decide forgiveness is the way forward, then look for the contrition that can make life easier – and accept that they are problematic anyway, but everyone deserves a second chance to make amends for their transgressions.

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