The facts, which you no doubt already know: a failed bus driver by the name of Ariel Castro abducted three young women, raped and abused the holy hell out of them, and held them captive in his nondescript Cleveland basement for ten goddamned years. His neighbor, Big Mac fan and “definition of a man, bro” Charles Ramsey, saved said women from said house of horrors, made a meme-worthy 9-11 call, and delivered a series of amusing anecdotes to a cavalcade of talking heads like Anderson Cooper and George Stephanopoulos. In the process, Ramsey became a folk hero, the kind only a 24-hour news cycle and sound bite driven culture could create.
Additional facts, which you no doubt also know because of the aforementioned 24-hour news cycle: Ramsey has been charged three times, in 1997, 1998 and 2003, with domestic violence. 2003’s incident resulted in a felony conviction for beating his then-wife; he served eight months in prison. Curiously enough, the normally bloodthirsty American public appears to be nonplussed by this information. By and large, no one has denigrated his character in internet comment sections. A cursory glance at Twitter shows that, in spite of Ramsey’s violent past, the overwhelming majority of people are of the consensus that he’s a hero and nothing but.
To which I respond, well, duh. The fact that Ramsey’s sudden fame has put him in a position of power – I mean, he saved three people’s lives, for Christ’s sake – is why we’ve chosen to ignore the fact that Ramsey has served jail time for crimes similar to (yet obviously not as heinous as) Castro’s. Who cares that he hit a few broads? He saved three of ‘em! And white ones, at that! Give him a break!
A man’s violent past or present, if presented under the right circumstances (i.e. if he’s well-respected or a celebrity), can be and often is expunged from the public record. Fame, time and time again, renders our moral compasses useless. Take, for example, Chris Brown, a.k.a. Entertainment’s top Woman Beater™ 2009-present. Even though his fists famously sullied the beautiful visage of former girlfriend Rihanna, he still has a tremendously successful career in pop music; his last album opened at number one on the Billboard charts. Granted, he’s also been the subject of a great deal of public vitriol, but that could probably be seen as more as a byproduct of his relentlessly shitty personality and less as an example of society’s collective righteous indignation.
Ramsey, on the other hand, has a fantastic personality. He’s warm, engaging, charismatic and humble. He rebuffs the label “hero,” reminding his fans, “I’m an American. And I’m a human being. I’m just like you.” McDonald’s, his gout merchant of choice, wants to work with him. Why wouldn’t they? He’s famous, bro, and rightfully so. He’s also the latest addition to a long list of lionized domestic abusers.
No one gives a shit about the fact that Sean Penn bound, gagged and beat Madonna when the two were married; after all, he’s the same guy who, a couple decades later, single-handedly “saved” Haiti from itself and compassionately played a developmentally disabled Starbucks employee in I am Sam.
In divorce paperwork, Bill Murray’s then-wife claimed he had hit her on several occasions, once telling her she was “lucky [he] didn’t kill her.” But, y’know, Murray was in Ghostbusters and all those Wes Anderson movies the twee kids love, so he’s given carte blanche to remain a living legend.
Charlie Sheen has been arrested multiple times for domestic assault; in spite of this, he was once the highest paid actor in TV, earning $1.4 million per episode of Two and a Half Men. Even after his much publicized meltdown, he recaptured his former glory by negotiating a ridiculously profitable deal with the inexplicably popular FX show Anger Management. The son of a bitch never stopped, and never will stop, “winning.”
Tommy Lee. Mel Gibson. Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson. Blah blah blah. Mike Tyson went to jail for raping a woman, for fuck’s sake, and then put on a one-man-show directed by Spike Lee. All of these men, and dozens more, are still high-profile celebrities. The only difference between them and Ramsey, however, is that they’re legitimate celebrities. Their star power has staying power. When Ramsey’s no longer a star, just a colorful character living in a shitty neighborhood in Cleveland, the vultures will circle. The claws will come out. Then, and only then, will society feel the need to once again judge him for his crimes. The shelf life of a meme is not long. He’d better enjoy this ride while it lasts. I get the feeling he will.