People looking to have a successful career in a performing art can’t expect privacy online, or benefit of the doubt. Whether a dissection of the past actions or words of celebrities is deserved or not, it happens, and the more famous the individual, the more vulnerable they are to attacks on their moral character.
Although public vilification might not always be justified, it is to be expected. After all, no famous person has ever escaped scandal or notoriety in their career. In fact, the blowback from the public is sometimes what catapults people to stardom. In other instances, like with Trevor Noah, the mention of his name as a relative unknown is what pushed people to try to gain a general knowledge of who the guy was.
Comedian Trevor Noah was announced as the successor to Jon Stewart’s position as host of “The Daily Show.” Even though Noah had been a recurring guest on the show, fans were curiously silent about their opinions of Noah and his tweets prior to the announcement. Perhaps this is due to him being relatively unknown previously. Still, it doesn’t make sense that his tweets, if a truly appalling instance of human bigotry and ignorance, haven’t been mentioned before.
Trevor Noah is a biracial South African comedian who grew up during the end of the Apartheid era during which systematic segregation of blacks and whites made his conception a crime. His perspective is quite different from most Americans, and even American comedians. He has a stand up special on Netflix titled “Trevor Noah: African American.” In it, he compares South Africa to the U.S., which he only moved to later in life, and later in his comedy career. It’s understandable that he might still be adjusting to this climate of online transparency and accessibility to information as particular as outdated tweets.
Still, Trevor Noah tells jokes for a living. He should have known that not all of them would land. The permanence that social media gives to what has been said in the past, has a man being misunderstood because of things he said years ago. Unearthed, the tweets are not seen as past mistakes, because on the Internet, everything seems current. Timestamps are disregarded as irrelevant details, actual investigation of Noah’s character is overlooked, because it is more simple to forgo effort and evidence that doesn’t support first impressions.
When Noah posted those tweets, he probably thought that any feedback he got would be due to people reacting to his jokes, and not to how they thought he was as a human being. The error was in him not realizing that, as a performer, he is his craft, and his comedy, when people only know him though that there is little to no margin for error.
Wanting to believe that either your intentions are clear, or that you have an understanding audience is naïve. It is important to cater to your audience, and as a comedian, Noah’s use of Twitter isn’t unusual. Unfortunately, his situation didn’t take into account the fact that starving-artists and household-name celebrities get very different online treatment.
His foolishness would be as excusable as his tweets if he was just another person who told a failed joke. But Trevor Noah went into comedy with the intention of being good at it, of accomplishing things that would gain him fame and publicity. So, rather than someone wronged, he comes off as someone who was unprepared for the lifestyle that would accompany his successes.
His mistake was not thinking of the future, or cultivating an online presence that was robust enough to withstand a chaotic cultural climate.