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There is a problem with this attitude. It means that we end up rewarding the most transgressive people while punishing those who stick to the straight and narrow. Break a few rules, and we’ll take notice; milk that fame for a while for money and power; age, and we’ll forgive you. Fame means never having to say you’re sorry.
It could be argued that no one is hurt by these cycles of offense and forgetfulness. But our culture is perhaps imperceptibly but certainly degraded. The repentance of public figures never equals their sin. Bill Clinton’s tearful apologies never undid the nation’s newfound tolerance for presidential hanky-panky; Candace Bergen’s later admission that Dan Quayle was absolutely right about Murphy Brown legitimizing unwed motherhood didn’t undo her part in forwarding the societal acceptance of unwed motherhood. Once the culture has been wounded, no amount of salve will prevent scarring.
There’s no need to overstate the case, of course. M.I.A. flipping off Americans ranks somewhere below Kim Kardashian’s 72-day marriage in the pantheon of important cultural events. But culture is the air we breathe. The pollution that poisons it day by day is cumulative in its effects.
Hence Madonna. All of those 1980s teenagers who saw Madonna as a rebel and now accept her as an artifact ignore the fact that she did her little part to poison the air. But she and all her vulgar celebrity accomplices know that they do a little bit of damage every time they perform. That’s the idea, after all.
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