Pop Culture

Soothe Your Entertainment Conscience With Our Celebrity Offensiveness Index

"So you heard what Polanski did, too?"
"So you heard what Polanski did, too?" Paramount Pictures
The question of how hard we should work to separate art from the artist has dogged us for centuries, but it’s arguably never been so contemporaneously problematic as it is now. Twitter and Instagram provide us with access to famous folk unimagined in the old scandal-sheet days of Hollywood, while the cable and online infotainment outlets – informing in inverse proportion to how many “expert” panelists they employ – constantly require new grist for the 24-hour news mill.

Up until recent decades, artists’ actions still required a certain level of cruelty to warrant censure. And even then...take director Roman Polanski, one of the most infamous examples of this theme, who fled to Europe in 1978 prior to his sentencing for unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, yet has continued to both direct and receive accolades for his work.

Polanski wasn’t the first creative type to throw his fans into a moral dilemma because of his actions, and since he buggered off to France, our awareness of the phenomenon has only grown. With it, questions of how far our personal entertainment quarantines should extend. Should we enjoy Woody Allen’s pre-(alleged) abuse filmography? How much shit do we give Justin Long for appearing in Jeepers Creepers, a movie directed by known child molester Victor Salva? Should Meryl Streep be shunned for giving Polanski a standing ovation when he won Best Director in 2002?

If only, you may be thinking, there was some easily digestible formula to determine how much outrage I should feel. Well, you’re in luck, because I’m unveiling the Celebrity Offensiveness Quotient (COQ), a painstakingly researched* mathematical construct designed to guide you through the treacherous labyrinth of unacceptably boorish behavior. To wit: (S*F)/(T+M) = COQ

Here, “S” = severity (roughly analogous to the crime's penal classification). “F” = frequency, the product of which is divided by the sum of “T” (time elapsed) and mitigating factors “M,” if any.

Confused? Perhaps an example would help. Take Johnny Depp. Depp was accused by ex-wife Amber Heard of domestic abuse. We’ll rate that S=7 (for purposes of this exercise, consider jaywalking a “1” and murder a “10”). The abuse allegedly took place over five years (F=5), giving us an S*F of 35. Divide that by T (the last instance occurring a mere one year ago), and add to that M, which is an unfortunately esoteric designation factoring in things like Depp’s reading to sick kids as Captain Jack Sparrow and donating one million pounds to the Great Ormond Street Hospital. So let’s say T equals…4.**

That would give Depp a COQ of 35/4 = 8.75. Anything over a 1 is troubling, so even though we’re only considering an individual’s most heinous offenses (and not, say, his dubious claims of Native American ancestry), 8.75 is pretty bad. Go see Baby Driver instead of that new Pirates movie, in other words.

A final note: Your atrocity mileage will vary. You might put Michael Vick's abuse of dogs higher than someone who considers property crimes more heinous. Maybe you think Willie Nelson deserves greater censure for his tax woes, in which case you're the real monster, pal.

* scrawled on a paper towel while on my third beer as I was watching Jaws 2.
** maybe it was four beers.

The Offender: Mel Gibson
The Offense(s): I mean, do you go with the misdemeanor battery charge that led to a restraining order filed by then-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, or his documented anti-Semitism and racism?
Mitigating Factors, If Any: As I’ve said in reviews of Apocalypto, that Jew hater really can direct a good action movie.
COQ: ([8+4]*1)/(10+1) = 1.09
The Verdict: Watch The Road Warrior in the privacy of your home, if you must.

The Offender: Mark Wahlberg
The Offense(s): Committed (non-lethal) hate crimes before the current administration made them fashionable.
Mitigating Factors, If Any: Wahlberg is involved with several women's and children's charities. He's also apologized, but probably only because he wanted to get a felony conviction removed from his criminal record.
COQ: (6*2)/(30+.5) = 0.39
The Verdict: Hasn't enough time passed that we can judge Wahlberg not for his youthful acts, but for the overall shittiness of his movies?

The Offender: Bill Cosby
The Offense(s): Oh, man.
Mitigating Factors, If Any: I can point out his early stand-up was pretty decent while acknowledging he is apparently a garbage human of the highest order.
COQ Score: (9*50)/15+0) = 30
The Verdict: Ignore those reruns of The Cosby Show guilt-free.

The Offender: Caravaggio
The Offense(s): Killed a man in Rome, possibly just to watch him die.
Mitigating Factors, If Any: His style influenced everyone from Rubens to Rembrandt, and he is considered one of the fathers of modern painting.
COQ Score: (10*1)/(400+100) = 0.02
The Verdict: Seriously?

The Offender: Mike Tyson
The Offense(s): The rape of Desiree Washington, which he was convicted of in 1992.
Mitigating Factors, If Any: Created the Mike Tyson Cares Foundation; will probably die of dementia.
COQ Score: (9*1)/(25+3) = 0.32
The Verdict: I don’t really agree with that low a result, but it’s a moot point, considering he already appeared in two Hangover movies and an Adult Swim series.

The Offender: Roman Polanski
The Offense(s): Unlawful sexual intercourse with 13-year old Samantha Geimer (nee Gailey), a charge to which Polanski pled down from rape. He fled the U.S. when he heard the judge was going to reject the deal and send him to prison.
Mitigating Factors, If Any: He’s apologized to Geimer, and she says she forgives him. Also, Chinatown is pretty good.
COQ Score: (9*1/40+5) = 0.2
The Verdict: The case is a mess, with both Geimer and the prosecutor agreeing Judge Rittenband cared less about the legal outcome than he did about the spotlight. On the other hand, dude screwed a 13-year old.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar