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Should we be friends with bad people?

The internet has been up in arms recently over photos of former President, George W. Bush, and talk show host and national sweetheart, Ellen DeGeneres, schmoozing at an NFL game. Bush, an outright obstructor of same sex marriage, should have been the last person that Ellen, one of the first modern LGBT icons, should have been cosying up to; he is vehemently against everything she is and represents. This seemed to be the general consensus online, along with the people who highlighted the war atrocities that occurred in Iraq during Bush’s presidency. 

This is not the first time something like this has happened though. How about Kanye openly wearing a MAGA hat and having meetings with Trump in the Oval Office? Or GCN referring to Leo Varadkar as one of their #RainbowIcons? What about Roseanne Barr with her (and her characters) outright support of Trump, and her series’ ultimate cancellation? Where do we draw the line with people and bodies we admire and support who have opinions which are regarded by wider society as wrong? 

Cancel culture has become rife in society, with every day seeming to have another public figure say or do something horrendously offensive, or an old comment pulled up of the same nature that causes so much public backlash that the person often hides from society for a while or disappears from public consciousness altogether. When we look at the case of Roseanne Barr, who has said some pretty racist things in the past, her reboot of her eponymously named show was cancelled after she tweeted racist comments about a former Obama advisor. While she did later apologise, this followed a list of other missteps and she has since drifted from mainstream entertainment. But why is it okay for some people to hold these views and not others?

Kanye West has been a vocal supporter of Donald Trump since the latter’s election in 2016. His appearances with the president have become the source of endless memes and jokes, and his sporting of a MAGA cap on more than a few occasions is brushed off as a funny nuance rather than a very serious, very real endorsement of a man who many view to be completely out of step with the views of wider society, not to mention his numerous sexual assault allegations. Yet, when Roseanne’s television character, one of American televisions most recognisable, was a vocal Donald Trump supporter, much like Roseanne Barr herself is, social media and society at large criticized the show, and Barr, for being biased and normalizing some of the language Trump uses, accusing her of making the fictionalized version of Trump much more acceptable than he actually is. What is really the difference between these two cases? Why is it still okay to be excited for Kanye’s new album, but not cool to rewatch old episodes of Roseanne? Why is it one rule for some and another for others?

The idea that you must excommunicate anyone for holding a different opinion from you is insane, and potentially dangerous. Look at the example of Northern Ireland. If it hadn’t been for the leaders from the two different groups putting aside their differences in opinion then, we would not have the Good Friday Agreement that we enjoy today. Neither side agreed with the others primary goal, but they put their differences aside for the greater good. Years after the agreement had been made, Ian Paisley, the leader of the DUP, and Martin McGuinness, the Northern Irish leader of Sinn Féin, once sworn enemies who had actively tried to kill colleagues and comrades of the other, were said to be very good friends right up until Paisley’s death in 2014, after which McGuinness said “Our relationship confounded many. Of course, our political differences continued; his allegiance was to Britain and mine to Ireland. But we were able to work effectively together in the interests of all our people.”

All that being said, I completely understand the fury over Ellen’s rendevouz with Bush. She is not just a normal woman with a friend whom has questionable opinions. She represents and to many people is the face of an entire community, a community that has been negatively impacted by Bush’s actions. Her response was ill-judged and tactless, ignoring much of the criticism she faced. But it is the tone of that response that highlights a greater issue with this debate: shouting at people and telling them their opinion is wrong is not going to make them change their mind; it only reinforces their opinion. We will get nowhere if we do not have debate. The world centres around differing opinions and how we find common ground. By shutting down opinions and labelling them as ‘stupid’, or refusing to listen to someones reasoning as to why they believe something, we are not doing anything to improve society, we are only making it more hostile. Look at Brexiteers or Trump supporters. The more we shout at them and tell them they are wrong, the more they double down and think they are right, retaliating with the usual “snowflakes” or “triggered”. There has to be room for debate, but the right tone must be struck.

I have friends who I vehemently disagree with on many major issues. I have friends with very different political ideologies to me. However, I choose to remain friends with them because the things we do have in common are more important to me than what we do not. To quote the late British MP, Jo Cox: “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”