Opinion | Lea Michele, ’Funny Girl’ and the Question of Second Chances

But we are also living in a peculiar time when we have competing cultural scripts. In one, we seem to have newfound empathy for people once vilified for their mistakes: Monica Lewinsky, Janet Jackson, Britney Spears — even the Menendez brothers, who’ve spent more than 25 years in prison for murdering their parents and who seem to have found a new cohort of defenders on TikTok. Cultural blind spots can be blind spots because we don’t know what they are at the time. Yet when it comes to mistakes made in the present, it’s as though there’s a collective empathy gap. We seem to lack the hindsight or grace or maybe simply the distance to be open to forgiveness or the idea that somebody could earn it or even to give the benefit of the doubt.

Maybe that has something to do with the general vibe of late, in which, as The Atlantic put it recently, “toxic” has become a buzzword and we seem to have granted ourselves permission to cut anyone who embodies anything of the sort right out of our lives — full stop — with no obligation to forgive. Or maybe it’s that, time and again, we have watched as our heroes and public figures squander away our grace. Indeed, we are living in an age of accountability, in which there are (rightly) calls for greater transparency and conversations about what’s right and wrong. But it is almost certainly easier to dismiss people as toxic or withhold empathy than to have to deal with the reality that many, many people make terrible, regrettable, sometimes near-unforgivable mistakes and we don’t have a clear ritual for reconciliation.

Robert J. Bies, a professor of management at Georgetown University who teaches a course called Heroes and Villains, has studied the phenomenon of celebrity second chances. He noted that, in the criminal justice world, for all its flaws and inequities, there is a process — or at least an effort at a methodology — when it comes to ex-offenders who want to re-enter society. Even with a celebrity like Martha Stewart, who served five months in federal prison for lying about a stock sale, there is a sense on the part of the public that she “did her time,” he told me.

But we don’t have an easy restoration script for those like Ms. Michele who may be accused of wretched conduct but who haven’t committed a crime and whose specific behavior falls somewhere on the spectrum between insensitive and abusive but is often simply deemed problematic, a word that is vague enough that neither the perpetrator nor the public is forced to grapple with what, exactly, happened and what sort of response it merits. Should these people go away? For how long? Is taking time to reflect enough, or should they have to do something more concrete, more coordinated, more public? What do they owe to those they’ve supposedly hurt? What, if anything, do they owe the public?

In a 2021 study about second chances, Dr. Bies and two co-authors looked at the cases of Ms. Michele and others to understand what a successful redemption process might look like for public figures. The researchers argued that effective second acts include three primary elements: remorse (which, Dr. Bies noted, should be genuine and include an apology), rehabilitation (whether the public figures are taking steps to better themselves or, in the parlance of the internet, do better) and restoration (the ability to integrate what they have learned into public life).

There is another element to that process, which is validation from the public. Is the public willing to accept that, as the researchers put it, “a new identity and new person has emerged” or that the offender has changed?

Soruce : https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/06/opinion/lea-michele-funny-girl-second-chances.html

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