Kevin Hart must recognize the harm in his tweets

Hsin Yen Huang

Kevin Hart stepped down from hosting the 2019 Oscars after facing backlash for his past homophobic tweets. Brother Nature, an internet personality, apologized in late 2018 after Twitter users exposed the pro-Nazi and racist posts he made at the age of 12. “Guardians of the Galaxy”  director James Gunn was fired in July 2018 after tweets in which he joked about pedophilia resurfaced. In an increasingly online world in which celebrities and their fans are realizing that their social media history is public, cases like these are only becoming more and more common. While it is difficult to draw the line of what constitutes forgivable behavior, an apology and a mindset shift should always be expected of celebrities after being dealt mob justice by the internet.

In December 2018, Hart was announced as the host of the 2019 Oscars, yet he resigned just two days later after Twitter users drew attention to Hart’s past homophobic jokes. Hart had previously tweeted numerous jokes about other celebrities looking “gay” and even stated in a 2010 stand-up show that he would try to prevent one of his “biggest fears”: his son “growing up gay.” The Academy of Motion Picture Art and Sciences gave Hart the choice to either apologize or lose his position as the host, with Hart choosing the latter so that the controversy surrounding him would not be a “distraction” on awards night. Hart’s initial refusal to apologize stems from his belief that he had already apologized for his old tweets, most of which were made before 2011. Hart had also explained in a 2015 Rolling Stone interview that his comments were actually an attempt to satirize his own fragile masculinity. His refusal to apologize and stubborn defense of his homophobia, whether past or present, separates him from other celebrities who have faced backlash over their social media activity. What could have been a moment of understanding and empathy turned into one where Hart defended the pain he inflicted upon members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“It is necessary for celebrities to apologize for offensive tweets, considering they have such a large platform and can influence so many people,” said junior Katie Luu. “[Hart’s] lack of apology made him look ignorant as it made it seem like he did not understand why people were angry when they had every right to be.”

Furthermore, when Hart made an appearance on the television show “Ellen,” he asserted his victimhood at the hands of the internet mob. Host Ellen DeGeneres, an openly lesbian woman in the entertainment industry, defended him, blaming internet trolls and haters for exacerbating the problem by taking Hart’s jokes out of context. However, DeGeneres’s conversation with Hart reads as a person detached from the queer community convincing Hart that his actions were permissible since he was criticized by trolls seeking to destroy his reputation. What both DeGeneres and Hart misunderstood is that the reaction Hart received was an attempt by online users to understand the intent behind his message and chastise him for holding discriminatory views as a celebrity with such a large following.

“Ellen is a big icon in the LGBTQ+ community, but she doesn’t represent the entire community by saying Kevin Hart should still be a host at the Oscars,” said sophomore Vishma Raj. “Not everyone will agree with that, and the majority of LGBTQ+ people don’t because Kevin Hart made a lot of harmful jokes about homophobia.”

Since celebrities are in a unique position in which the public is watching their every move, it is important that they are aware of the reach they have, especially with younger, more impressionable fans. For example, when Taylor Swift encouraged her fans to vote in the 2018 midterm elections after a long period of remaining apolitical, a significant increase in voter registration resulted. If a celebrity’s power is used incorrectly, it sends a message to their followers that holding and expressing politically incorrect beliefs is permissible.

“Everyone, regardless of their popularity, should be mature and responsible about what they post because it reflects on their character,” said senior Tanvi Narvekar, a social media user. “Celebrities should be more cautious and understand that social media has the power to spread bad and good news within a second and potentially ruin their career and reputation.”

More importantly, a negative reaction from the public reinforces the idea that politically incorrect messages have no place in today’s society. Though backlash hurts the reputation of a public figure, it discourages them from going down the same path. Retaliation from social media users can also spur social change. After Roseanne Barr, star of the TV show “Roseanne,” tweeted racist comments about a former Obama aide, “Roseanne” was promptly canceled by ABC. The cancellation of “Roseanne” shows a major television broadcasting company taking a step in the right direction by proclaiming its intolerance for racist comments.

In some cases, the backlash that celebrities receive from groups is designed to impede their success. For example, after tech culture journalist Sarah Jeong was announced to be joining the New York Times editorial board, alt-right groups claimed that Jeong was racist toward Caucasian people, citing her tweets as evidence, as she had tweeted “#CancelWhitePeople” and stated that she enjoys being “cruel to old white men.” Nevertheless, the New York Times stood by its decision to hire Jeong since her tweets were taken out of context. As an Asian woman in journalism, Jeong is often the subject of verbal attacks, and to retaliate, she had tweeted using the offensive language of her harassers as a way of mocking them. Jeong’s case shows how the practice of unearthing politically incorrect tweets from the past can be used as a form of intimidation, a practice that has forced organizations in the past to let internet trolls win for the sake of company reputation. Unlike Hart, however, Jeong still issued an apology, stating that she had matured since then and would not be using the same rhetoric again.

“The backlash that celebrities receive really does depend on the context of the tweet,” Raj said. “Kevin Hart literally went up on stage and made an offensive joke about abusing his son for being gay, but in Sarah Jeong’s case, her tweets were taken out of context, so that’s a different story.”

Since Hart’s run-in with the Twitter mobs, he has issued multiple apologies for his tweets, but he has refused to comment on how he has grown from the controversy. Still, Hart’s act of blaming social justice warriors for policing comedy rather than apologizing for his jokes doomed him from the start. People will always remember Hart making this moment about himself as a victim when he should have empathized with the community he hurt. Every Twitter controversy case is different, and hopefully, this will mark Hart’s last one.