Resurfacing. It’s a word you see everywhere online these days. Not in the sense of a swimmer coming up for air between strokes – more like a bloated corpse washing up on the shore after being inadequately weighted down. Problematic tweets, offensive interview clips, racist comedy sketches: these are the things that tend to “resurface” in the modern era. The moment they rise above the water, the gulls descend.
The latest celebrity to be caught in a “resurfaced tweets” furore is filmmaker and actor Taika Waititi. The 46-year-old New Zealander recently directed the Marvel blockbuster Thor: Love and Thunder, and was in the news yesterday (9 August) following his surprise wedding to pop star Rita Ora. The tweets – shared by Waititi almost a decade ago, in January 2013 – were, many have argued, transphobic and offensive. After making a string of disparaging comments about a beauty pageant, he wrote: “No disrespect to men who want to be/dress as women. I should have just said their make-up looks manly.” Another tweet saw him write: “My trans friends can walk in heels. but you’re right, actual kathoey are better looking.” (“Kathoey” is a Thai term with a complex history of meanings related to transgender people, particularly women.) Waititi was not a well-known public figure at the time – a small role in Green Lantern and his relatively obscure indie film Boy were his most noteworthy credits – so the remarks failed to elicit any substantial backlash until now. Responses have ranged from disappointment, to demands for an apology, to somewhat gleeful condemnation. But even if we all agree that his tweets are objectionable, is diving 10 years into the past for a quick “gotcha” really doing anyone any good?
Micro-scandals like this – online PR setbacks that never threaten to actually jeopardise a career – usually follow the same sort of pattern. After the offending material is circulated online sufficiently widely, the celebrity is forced to acknowledge their wrongdoing and vows to change, in a standardised act of self-preservation: repentance as brand management. In the past year or two, we’ve seen this happen with celebrities including (off the top of my head) actors Neil Patrick Harris and Ellie Kemper, comedians Joe Rogan and Randy Rainbow, game show presenter Ken Jennings – and many, many more. Not all of these transgressions are as serious as others, of course. I’m sure few would argue that Waititi’s tweets merit the same backlash as Rogan’s past use of the “N-word” or Harris’s decision to serve a meat platter modelled after Amy Winehouse’s decaying corpse at a Halloween party. But the process is always the same, and, more often than not, ends in a grovelling apology. (Waititi has yet to respond to the criticisms he has received; The Independent has contacted a representative for comment.)