Brendan O’Neill

Kevin Hart is the offence archaeologists’ latest victim

Kevin Hart is the offence archaeologists’ latest victim
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Another day, another scalp. Another public figure put in the stocks for 'speechcrimes'. Another individual forced out of a job because he has the wrong opinions and because he made ‘inappropriate’ jokes. This time it’s the American comedian Kevin Hart, who has announced that he is stepping down as the host of next year’s Oscars because people found old tweets in which he said jokey or mean things about gay people. Get rid. Cast him out. Another blasphemer to be thrown on the metaphorical fire.

Hart — a stand-up comic turned star of blockbuster Hollywood movies — went from Oscar presenter to persona non grata in a stunningly short period of time. Forty-eight hours, to be precise. That’s how long it took for the tragic trawlers to discover that Hart has indeed committed crimes against political correctness. ‘Offence archaeologists’, as the American leftist Freddie deBoer referred to them: that ‘little army of online busybodies who comb reports of behaviour, comments and written work from a person’s past to identify material perceived as transgressing contemporary norms’.

That’s exactly what they did to Hart. And they were proud of it, too. ‘I did a search for every time Kevin Hart tweeted 'fag', 'homo' or 'gay'', said a reporter for Buzzfeed. As if that is a good, normal thing to do. As if it isn’t entirely weird and more than a little Mary Whitehouse to excavate everything someone has ever said in the hope that you might find something you can use against them in order to destroy their reputation. Buzzfeed is often at the forefront of offence archaeology. If you ever walk past a Buzzfeed office and wonder what all those millennials are doing on their expensive computers, now you know: they’re looking for evidence that a famous person once said something bad.

The bad things Hart said included: ‘Yo if my son comes home & try's 2 play with my daughters doll house I'm going 2 break it over his head & say n my voice “stop that's gay”.’ He said that seven years ago. Who cares? Seriously. Even longer ago — eight years — he said during a stand-up routine that he wouldn’t be happy if his son turned out gay. ‘Keep in mind, I’m not homophobic, I have nothing against gay people, do what you want to do, but me, being a heterosexual male, if I can prevent my son from being gay, I will’, he said.

Some people will disagree with that. Others — brace yourselves, people who think you are right about absolutely everything — will agree. There are dads out there who don’t want their sons to be gay. Is that the worst thing in the world? I don’t think so. Is it the best thing in the world? No. It just is. It’s life. What are you going to do — go out and find every father who has ever said ‘I don’t want my son to be gay’ and re-educate him to be more accepting?

It might come as a revelation to the morally and socially cocooned practitioners of PC that there exists such a thing as a traditionalist parent, a parent who dreams of their children being straight and getting married and having kids, but to the rest of us this is about as shocking as the sun coming up. People are morally varied, they have all sorts of opinions, they parent differently — who knew?

What’s worse is that Hart has previously explained — in those eight long years since his supposed 'speechcrimes' — that in some of those instances he was merely joking and in others he has changed his mind. He told Rolling Stone magazine in 2015 that his skit about not wanting his son to be gay was actually an attempt to mock ‘my own insecurities’. The joke is that ‘it has nothing to do with [my son], it’s about me’.

He has also said that he wouldn’t tell that joke today — ‘because when I said it, the times weren’t as sensitive as they are now’. So you’ve already won, PC police. Hart had already decreed, three years ago, that he would no longer joke about homosexuality because he knows there will be blowback. But none of that matters. His comedic explanations for what he said doesn’t matter, his assurance that he won’t say it again doesn't matter; all that matters is that we hunt him down and punish him for having once or twice, many years ago, transgressed against the new social norms. Because it’s the thrill of that moralistic chase, and of punishing moral transgressors, that really gets the PC mob going these days.

There’s a nastiness to this. A vindictiveness. It is indistinguishable from when stiff, religiously inclined conservatives would wage moral war against people who said irreligious or sexually risqué things. In all cases, people are punished for daring to divert, however slightly or humorously, from the moral orthodoxies of the age.

So good on Hart for initially refusing to apologise. The Academy said he could stay on as Oscars host if he publicly said sorry for his ancient comments. He said he would ‘pass’ on such public self-flagellation. ‘I’ve moved on and I’m in a completely different place in my life’. To those of us who value individual freedom, that’s enough. But to the PC brigade it isn't, and only the sinner’s scalp will suffice. And, now, it looks like they’ve got that from Hart too. Worn down by the barbs of the Twittermob, he has backtracked on his refusal to apologise and expressed regret for the ‘insensitive words from my past’. They got him. What an ugly spectacle.

Written byBrendan O’Neill

Brendan O’Neill is Spiked's chief politics writer

Topics in this articleSociety