Opinion: Dealing with the good and the bad of our falling icons

Garrison Keillor sings with the audience during the encore of “A Prairie Home Companion” on May 21, 2016 at the State Theatre in Minneapolis. (Leila Navidi / Minneapolis Star Tribune / TNS)

We spent the late summer talking about monuments to dead men, and whether we should tear them down. We’ve spent the fall tearing down the living.

Unlike the statues in our parks, the men (they’re all men) being felled by accusations of sexual harassment and/or assault over the past two months are able to speak up for themselves. In most cases, they haven’t really tried. What’s there to say? With very few exceptions, the behavior coming to light in recent weeks has been indefensible.

The dishonor roll is both stunning and growing. This past week alone, it added Matt Lauer of NBC’s “Today Show” and Garrison Keillor of “A Prairie Home Companion,” playwright Israel Horovitz and hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. Congressman John Conyers finally said he would not run for a 28th term in the U.S. House and was under pressure to quit before the end of his 27th (which, I think most of us can agree, is too many terms for one person in any case).

One obvious lesson here is not to put too much faith in individuals. Celebrity worship has long since become unhealthy — as if there is such a thing as healthy idolatry — and bled over into our politics. I remember feeling there was something of the cult of personality to those “W: The President” bumper stickers. That seems quaint after Shepard Fairey’s hero-iconography of Barack Obama and Donald Trump’s red-hatted loyalists.

But the flip side of acknowledging the failings of our cultural and political icons is recognizing that, if everyone has shortcomings, perfection cannot be the standard. If we ought not to whitewash their sins, we shouldn’t forget the good they’ve done, either.

Let’s set aside for now Confederate generals, whose cause was far from pure, and celebrities such as Lauer, whose career hardly qualifies as art. Surely we can agree the actions of men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were revolutionary in their time — and thus preconditions to the eventual securing of liberty even for those left behind at the time. Surely we can agree that, although their ownership of slaves was obviously hypocritical by today’s standards, they and their compatriots altered history’s course for the better.

Moving to the present, Keillor’s performances and writings have never really been my cup of tea. But they have been entertaining and influential to many, even artistic in their way. He is paying for his alleged misbehavior with the loss of his role at Minnesota Public Radio; is that outlet also right to stop distributing past episodes of his show? Some listeners might choose not to tune in any longer, but perhaps others could enjoy his work though aware he may have done a bad thing once. Was his mistake so bad as to warrant taking that choice away?

There’s almost certainly a line beyond which someone renders himself unworthy of milling about the public square any longer; Harvey Weinstein certainly comes to mind, and I could not in good conscience vote for Roy Moore now. The way things are going, there’s a good chance we’ll face such questions about prominent Georgians at some point, and I don’t claim to know exactly where that line should be drawn.

But I do believe a more reasonable, even skeptical, approach to these icons would keep us from raising them so high that their fall is so great, and their contributions, whatever they might be, so hard to keep in mind.​

Reader Comments 0

185 comments
Doomy
Doomy

"Boggles the mind, it do."


Members of the Doomy fan club do loves to copy Doomy  diction, they do. 

InTheMiddle2
InTheMiddle2

"There’s almost certainly a line beyond which someone renders himself unworthy of milling about the public square any longer;" I agree that such a line exists, and it is found in the criminal code. The idea that subjective interpretation of harassment is somehow enough to force someone from the public eye and destroy a career is ridiculous. Particularly when the "harassment" happened decades ago. Elevating victimhood to a new level helps no one. 

Kamchak
Kamchak

A celebrity roast is exactly like religion.

The things I learn on this blog....

Boggles the mind, it do.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Our falling icons, Kyle?

My icons haven't fallen. They're the people I know and respect.

Matt Lauer? Garrison Keillor? Russell Simmons? Israel Horovitz?

John Conyers?

Know of 'em but don't know 'em. They have ZERO impact on my life. 

bu22
bu22

@Eye wonder @FIGMO2  Do you get a kick out of working around the profanity filters with this same phrase several times a day?  I wonder if you could find something better to claim as an accomplishment.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@bu22 @Eye wonder @FIGMO2


Our current Secretary of State, Rex Wayne Tillerson, hand-picked by President Lyingscumbag, has called President Lyingscumbag a "f-----g moron."  Accordingly, I believe it is 100% kosher for me to, as well.

And, were it not for the bluenose filter, I would type out the whole word.

Sorry that it offends your tender fee fees. To the extent it does, I would submit you ought not to have cast your vote for the f---g moron.

Doomy
Doomy

@bu22 @Eye wonder @FIGMO2


" I wonder if you could find something better to claim as an accomplishment."


You should diminish your expectations of eyesore. Its quite doubtful that he has a bigger accomplishment than fooling the profanity filters. 

Starik
Starik

@SGTGrit Some truth in that, but the people on the right are really tying themselves into knots trying to defend the indefensible... Trump. 

BuckeyeGa
BuckeyeGa

@SGTGrit  I don't doubt that a lot of people knew about Lauer ways..

bu22
bu22

@SGTGrit  Most people I know just don't talk like that even among close friends, let alone in a large public mixed crowd.  Yet story after story of the media people, Hollywood people and politicians (whether its Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton or John Boehner) and they are that way.  Its just a nasty, amoral cesspool.

Doomy
Doomy

@SGTGrit


Dang. Those people are just plain sick. Reading about them laughing while making racist jokes and applauding Lauer's sexual harassment and adultery tells you just how depraved and detached from normal, everyday people these elitists are. 

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@Doomy @SGTGrit


Its a roast. They are suppose to be offensive. Anyone seen the comedy central roast that they have. Charlie Sheen. Pamela Anderson. Bob Saget. Rob Lowe. Pretty brutal stuff.

Doomy
Doomy

@McGarnagle @Doomy @SGTGrit


Hmm. So they get a pass on being offensive, racist, sexist, etc if they simply do it as " a roast". Got it! 


Reminds me of the church selling indulgences in the middle ages. 

bu22
bu22

@McGarnagle @Doomy @SGTGrit  That stuff wasn't even funny.  It was just gross and revolting.  The stuff about Matt and Al?????  Nastier than Howard Stern without really any humor behind it.  

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@bu22 @McGarnagle @Doomy @SGTGrit


Whether its funny or not is up to each individual. But the jokes were made in context of a roast. Which is different then just any other setting. Which is probably better not to have roast anyways. Someone will take it the wrong way.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

The minions really got into this topic today. Does anyone know the whereabouts of Hedley and breckenridge? The minions must miss them.

Robert1959
Robert1959

Journalists and opinion writers need to open their eyes - the GOP is not a political party anymore. The GOP is a criminal organization - like the mafia, but without the humanity. They don't care about the Constitution or the rule of law, they don't care about our standing on the world stage, they don't care what anybody thinks of them. They don't care if any of us ever vote for them again - they've got their cheating schemes for 2018 and 2020 all worked out already. Which foreign adversary will they team up with this time to steal the election? My guess is Russia, since they've been accepting so much Russian money lately.

bu22
bu22

@Robert1959  Journalists and opinion writers need to open their eyes-the Democratic Party is not a political party anymore.  The DNC is a criminal organization run by the Clinton crime family-like the mafia, but without the humanity.  They don't care about the Constitution or rule of law, ....   See how easy that is.  And unlike you, I could give proven examples that even WaPo and NYT couldn't deny.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@Robert1959 

Okay congratulations you take the lead far-left minion award this evening. So far.

Kamchak
Kamchak

@bu22

And unlike you, I could give proven examples that even WaPo and NYT couldn't deny.

And yet, you haven't.

I think all you have is that mouth of yours.

Talk's cheap; whisky costs money.   

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@Robert1959 

Robert is a good minion he says he guesses but of course as a minion he only repeats.

bendedknee
bendedknee

Well Mueller going after the Deutsche Bank money laundering scam with Russian mob money flowing to Trump and Kushner.

Only way those two could get large loans for their  real estate portfolios without foreclosures and bankruptcy. 

Time for Trump to hit the road or commit hari kari and fire Mueller.  I guess Cons trying to stir up bogus FBI misconduct to deflect from the criminal activity. 

This is why Preet Bahara was fired- more obstruction. But the GOP donors will get their goodies for Christmas , biased judges, destruction of all US regulatory agencies and curtailment of federal funds for healthcare, medicare etc. as they had  wanted. 



Yeah Cons will make sure to keep the criminals in the White House.

I guess that's why Kyle doesn't mention anything about Trump's downfall. 

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@DeepStateDawg @SGTGrit


The GOP have found their new boogey man. All the problems can be traced back to him. Its a vintage GOP tactic they have long used.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@SGTGrit @McGarnagle @DeepStateDawg


It matters. But usually what happens is any findings related to the Mueller probe will excused and set aside as the work of this one anti-Trump agent. GOP will use a large brush. 

bendedknee
bendedknee

@McGarnagle @DeepStateDawg @SGTGrit It is called "what about ism" a technique perfected by Goebbels and now used by Trump and his minions very effectively whenever Trump gets caught doing something  illegal or lying. Fox News uses what about ism very effectively to misrepresent the daily news. 



SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@McGarnagle @SGTGrit @DeepStateDawg

Allan Dershowitz made an interesting observation from his status as a highly regarded legal expert. Why did Flynn plead guilty to contacting the Russians and lying about it to the FBI when what he did wasn't illegal? Dershowitz opined that there's a good possibility that he was led to believe that his contact was illegal and out of fear he plead guilty. The FBI agent in question was the lead and was at the interview with Flynn. Secondly, it's not typical for a prosecutor to go with a lead witness who plead guilty for lying as their testimony is tainted in the eyes of a jury. So Dershowitz thinks that this is all Mueller has to work with the testimony of a liar who worse yet may have been coerced into pleading guilty to a non-crime.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@SGTGrit @McGarnagle @DeepStateDawg


If Flynn has a record of being a serial liar then that would hurt his credibility. But he doesn't and Flynn is also a retried Lieutenant General. So he maybe a crook but he's no dummy. 


I think Mueller got some valuable info off Flynn.  Hence the sweet heart deal Flynn got.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@Starik @SGTGrit @McGarnagle @DeepStateDawg

Polls mean nothing at this point. You'll have to wait until there's  head to head between Trump if he runs and who ever the Democrats put up. BTW...polls weren't anywhere an accurate predictor in 016.