4 Recent Scandals That Would Have Opposite Outcomes Today
Celebrity scandals are forever revolving around the same general types of things (drugs, sex, murder, enjoying the music of Imagine Dragons, etc.), but our reaction to them as a society tends to vary wildly. One Communism scare of the "greatest generation" is the rest of history's ongoing joke about how stupid they must have been back then to even consider behaving how they did.
Things aren't always quite so cut and dry, though. Scandals don't change much, but people do. In fact, we change with such frequency that even the controversies that seem like they just happened yesterday would still have vastly different outcomes in today's world. We talk about that on this week's Unpopular Opinion Podcast ...
... where I'm joined by comics Josh Denny (Social Hand Grenades) and Jeff May (he's on my podcast a lot). Also, I'm going to talk about it right goddamn now!
The Members of Nirvana Kiss on SNL
Nirvana, in my opinion, was one of the most misunderstood bands of all time, and it's totally Kurt Cobain's fault. When your cause of death is listed as "suicide," people are just instinctively going to scour your work for hints that you were the saddest motherfucker on earth.
But, guys, he really wasn't. Maybe in that moment, yes, but in the big scheme of things, Cobain was actually kind of a funny dude. He took a special sort of pleasure in riling up the homophobes of the world. I already talked about the time he showed up on MTV's Headbangers Ball wearing a yellow silk gown because, you know, that's what you wear to those things.
There was also that time he screamed, "God is gay!" at the end of "Stay Away" from the Nevermind album.
One act stands out above all others, though. Nirvana was tapped to be the musical guest on a 1992 episode of Saturday Night Live, and, aside from the part where Cobain very nearly died of a heroin overdose the previous night, things went swimmingly.
Swimmingly! Get it?!?!?
I mean, they went swimmingly during the show, but every episode of SNL features that weird closing credits bit where the cast is invited to stand in a group and smile at the camera while everyone at home is already fast asleep. And that's precisely when things went (very arguably) off the rails during Nirvana's appearance on the show.
While the rest of the cast was standing around and congratulating themselves on what was almost certainly a mediocre, early '90s episode, Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl decided to do a little making out.
Cobain joined in shortly thereafter.
SNL producer Lorne Michaels was having none of their completely normal display of affection and had the kiss edited out of all subsequent rebroadcasts. The story quietly died shortly thereafter. Also, fuck you, I'm not making the joke you want me to make right now.
Anyway, how would Michaels cutting that kiss go over today? For one thing, it would be completely useless. Funny moments from late-night TV make up like 18 percent of all content on Internet comedy sites. One of the biggest bands in the world making out on live TV would be on every video and GIF site in the land -- in a matter of minutes.
But then, what if he did cut it out? Would the same Internet that pretends to care about SNL put up with Michaels' sort-of-homophobic edits? Of course not. Twitter would go apeshit immediately, and SNL would have a nightmare on their hands, especially if they cut it in time for the West Coast broadcast later that night.
It's actually kind of strange that Michaels cut the kiss at all. It's really fun and convenient to say, "Well, society was different then, you have to take that into account," but keep in mind that these were also the glory days of acts like Right Said Fred, C+C Music Factory, and RuPaul. It's not like Cobain was overseeing the most manly moment in music history.
Case in point, here's what the stage looked like after Nirvana's second appearance on the show.
That was actually kind of the perfect time to look the world in the eye and say, "Hey, on second thought, we don't really care who you kiss." The members of Nirvana knew we weren't there yet, and Michaels proved them right.
So, what I'm ultimately getting at is this ... Eddie Vedder should kiss a dude next time he's on Saturday Night Live. Just to see what happens.
Ice-T Releases a Song Called "Cop Killer"
Remember when Ice-T released a song called "Cop Killer" via his mostly awful, hardcore rock side-project Body Count? Even coming hot on the heels of the Rodney King verdict -- which amounted to the first movie in what's become a terrifying franchise of films involving police beating minorities mercilessly -- most people still weren't on Ice-T's side. Sure, those cops are bad, but come on, a song about killing cops in general?
So, that was us then. And now? Hello, 2014! Police brutality was news last year to such an extent that I was legitimately shocked not a single "Cop Killer" cover arrived in the aftermath. If Ice-T released this song right now, we would forgive everything he's done to destroy his mystique by starring on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in one fell swoop. "Cop Killer" would have been the protest song of 2014.
At least, it would have been until that recent and unspeakably sad day in New York when a man did carry out his cop-killing fantasies on two completely unsuspecting NYPD officers.
Had this song been released today, that would have been precisely the moment when things turn for the worse for Ice-T. Remember when Marilyn Manson got blamed for Columbine?
That was bullshit, but I do blame him for literally everything else bad that happens in the world.
This would be that times infinity. If "Cop Killer" had come out in the weeks or months prior to the tragic incident in New York, I would not have been at all surprised if someone took a stab at trying Ice-T as an accomplice in the murder.
But when this scandal actually happened, it wore him down to the point that he eventually recalled all versions of the Body Count album that featured "Cop Killer" and released it again with the offending track deleted.
That was the easiest answer back then, and it mostly did the trick, but now, it would be a controversy of the highest order. On the one hand, it's just a song, man. If someone listens to it and acts on it, that only happened because that person is crazy. If you pull it, you're letting the "bad guys" win.
On the other hand, given the current relationship between police and the general public, a song like "Cop Killer" kind of is an incitement to violence and would, at least in some part, deserve to be viewed as such. Would Ice-T still agree to pull it with so many sides having so many strong opinions on the matter?
Listen, I know it sucks that he's a cop himself now ...
... but I like to think that somewhere deep inside, there's still some of that vintage Ice-T that would, if he were bold enough in 2014 to release a song like "Cop Killer" in the first place, stick by that shit, for better or for worse. He's like 75 years old now anyway, what does he have to lose?
If you ask me, he shouldn't have pulled the song back when he did. One of the most interesting aspects of the song "Cop Killer" is that it was written well before the Rodney King beating even happened. People were that pissed at the LAPD even before the video ultimately led to a good portion of the city being burned to the ground. Is that a minor detail? Fuck no. Remember when gangster rap types defended the violence in their songs by claiming they were just reporting what they were experiencing on the streets? Well, "Cop Killer" was written 25 years ago. Does anyone still believe they were just saying that to cover their asses?
Sinead O'Connor Disrespects the Pope on National Television
Hey! Speaking of Saturday Night Live, how about that time Sinead O'Connor ended her performance on the show by tearing up a picture of the pope ...
... then yelling, "Fight the real enemy," ...
... and the entire world lost their shit?
During his opening monologue on the show the following week, actor Joe Pesci held up the same picture, claiming he "taped it back together" before adding that, if it was his show, he would have given her "such a smack."
To give you an idea how bad things got, two weeks after the episode aired, O'Connor was booed so loudly she broke down in tears halfway through her performance and left the stage during a Bob Dylan tribute concert. Can you even be in a more liberal place than an arena full of Dylan fans? If she would get some support anywhere, you would figure it would be there -- and you would have figured wrong. Just unbridled fury.
Even Madonna talked shit publicly, then ended her next SNL appearance by re-creating the O'Connor incident, except with a photo of Joey Buttafuoco instead of the pope.
He's the pope of sex creeps.
That seems like a great segue into mentioning that O'Connor's tirade was meant to protest a huge pedophilia scandal that, at the time (meaning since forever and still today), was snaking its way through the Vatican. Kind of makes that Buttafuoco comparison seem like the biggest dick move ever, right? "Who's got time to worry about kids getting raped when one douchebag in Long Island talked his girlfriend into shooting his wife?" That's basically the message behind Madonna's modified version of the protest. If anyone deserved to get shit on, it was her.
If not for that, then for so many other things.
The problem here is timing. Child sex scandals in the Catholic Church didn't really become huge news in this country until the Boston Globe tipped the first domino with a damning investigation of the archdiocese in that city back in 2002. Once that happened, similar accounts and investigations started popping up all around the country, and we officially knew we had a problem on our hands.
Well, O'Connor knew that in 1992, and she was willing to risk her career to tell us. It's just that we were way less willing to listen. So, given what we know now about how the various Catholic Church pedophilia scandals played out over the years since she tore that picture to pieces, how much of what you read in the previous paragraphs would happen if she pulled that stunt today?
For one thing, she'd probably be hosting, and 2 Chainz would be the music guest.
There would still be plenty of outrage. I don't doubt that for a second. But, this time around, there would have been ample amounts of something that was almost completely absent when the incident actually happened. That, of course, being support for her side of things. In 1992, she basically put herself in a "me against the world" kind of situation, and it didn't end well.
She would still have had a bumpy road ahead of her if she had done this in more recent years, especially today -- since everyone apparently loves the new pope. But knowing what we know now, it's highly unlikely that a protest against child sex abuse in the Catholic Church would make O'Connor the most hated woman in the world, which she seemed to be for quite a while after the SNL incident. In retrospect, that was a complete and total shame.
Janet Jackson's Super Bowl Nipple
I haven't crunched the numbers, but I would suspect Janet Jackson has the most expensive right nipple in history. She let everyone see it (but not really) during the Super Bowl halftime show back in 2004, and the ensuing rage from the Federal Communications Commission was such that they fined CBS a record $550,000 (later overturned) for letting such indecency sully the airwaves.
Jackson was criticized for what felt like years after, to the point of maybe even being blacklisted in some circles. Was any of that fair? Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell didn't seem to think so in this 2014 interview with ESPN, where he rightly pointed out that not only was the treatment of Jackson a bit over the top, but the lack of criticism for Justin Timberlake was just as absurd.
Yeah! How about that? This was way more than an exposed nipple caused by faulty double-sided tape. He ripped her shirt open. What's more, the choreographed reaction afterward made it appear as if it happened against her will. So, it was sexual assault as entertainment, basically, and the victim got 100 percent of the blame for it.
Would that happen today? No. Fuck no. There's a damn good reason why it did though, and that reason is the Internet. Here's the thing, the Internet has been around for a long time, but not as we know it now. This happened on Feb. 1, 2004. There was no Facebook (it was actually founded three days later), there was no Twitter, and, as a result, no single gathering place for people to share their opinions on the matter. Almost all of the talking points at the time were coming from TV news networks and such. If there were pockets of society that thought Timberlake deserved a bit more scorn for being the rapey half of the affair, they didn't have a way to form one loud, angry voice yet.
How did we live?
Hell, to give you an even better idea as to what the state of the Internet was at the time, consider that not only had YouTube not been created yet, but when it was, it happened as a direct result of this incident. Co-founder Jawed Karim claimed that his frustration -- over not being able to find the video easily online in the moments after -- was what inspired the idea for the site.
All of those things exist now though, so even if it seems like it wasn't that long ago, enough time has passed that the fallout from this would be radically different today. This was, for all intents and purposes, corporate America piling up exclusively on the black-female half of the fiasco, while the white-male half, literally, suffered zero repercussions.
Well, McDonald's did say they were disappointed in his actions. I mean, not enough to fire him as their spokesperson, but still, that scolding had to sting JT at least a little.
I bet that's when Oprah took this picture of him.
That shit would not fly today. Jackson took all the blame for this because the people who might have supported her (or at least supported Timberlake less) had nowhere to do it as a group. Would she still get tons of bad press if this incident happened today? Yes, of course. It's just that this time, she'd take Justin Timberlake down with her.
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