By JJ Mortimer
I am about to use two of the stupidest (but arguably correct) examples to make a point about an imbalance in social forgiveness. Here we go!
Have you ever noticed how sometimes the most terrible of human beings can make one simple act of kindness, and nearly every one of their deceitful actions prior can all but be forgotten? On the flip side of that coin, did you ever notice how a person, otherwise known as a perfect, stand-up, overall great human being, can be completely derided by society for making one mistake, never to be forgiven or trusted for the rest of their lives?
Just for fun, here is an example of the first kind of person and how we perceive them in that particular situation:
In the 80s, I was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles kind of kid. I was totally on board with the Turtles as the heroes, and Shredder was just an untrustworthy, dangerous, sociopathic, overall bad guy. Every episode found a new way for the viewers to despise him, and fear him, and for the Turtles to beat the ever-living shit out of him. But, there was one episode in general, titled "Case of the Killer Pizzas", where (in a nutshell) alien eggs or something were disguised as meatballs that, once microwaved as a pizza topping, would hatch and grow to become a yellow xenomorph-looking creature from the movie Aliens. At one point near the end of the episode, the aliens get out of hand and neither the Turtles or Shredder, with his goons alone, could defeat the creatures.
So they team up. For the first time in the series, we see the Turtles, their master Splinter, and their murderous arch nemesis join forces to fight a bigger problem. And I was TOTALLY on board with this. In that very moment, I forgave all of the evil deeds that metal-headed bastard had committed, and had hoped that the union would be more than temporary. Of course it turns out that once the threat was defeated, so was the pact between rivals, and so the show continued on with Shredder as the enemy of Splinter and his shelled boys.
What makes me curious now as I think back about the situation was how easily I forgave Shredder for all the shit he had done because of the ONE INSTANCE where he could be viewed as a good guy. His intentions indeed weren't necessarily to help the Turtles, but to get the best team up possible to defeat an enemy that threatened himself, as well. The Turtles were just extra pawns to be used in his overall plan, but still...he teamed up with them. And in that moment I didn't care about all the people he murdered, all the crimes he committed, all the pizza he wasted - he was a good guy in my eyes, and all it took was for a moment where he kicked and punched alongside OUR heroes.
Now, on to the other more dubious situation - a good person never forgiven for ONE deed. And I'm going to use a very touchy individual as an example.
Retired officer Mark Fuhrman, better known to many as a racist police detective who was accused of planting evidence to "frame" O.J. Simpson for the murders of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson in a racially motivated situation, was a highly decorated officer in his 20-year tenure with the Los Angeles Police Department. Before the trial and his eventual perjury conviction, he was the recipient of 55 commendations during his service as an officer, as well as a Vietnam veteran having served his time as a United States Marine sergeant (for which he was honorably discharged after his time in the war).
On paper, this is exactly the kind of man any officer would look up to, and the kind of man you want on our streets, looking out for us and kicking ass on the bad guys.
I'm not going to go into too much detail about the bullshit Simpson case (because you all know O.J. WAS the murderer), but Fuhrman made the one mistake of entering O.J.'s estate without a search warrant. And he was arguably forced to convict himself in a line of questioning that resulted in him perjuring himself in his use of a racial term.
My point being that, to this day, everyone remembers Mark Fuhrman as a "racist" and as the only person in the Simpson case who actually had criminal charges made against them.
Reading that last sentence brings one of the most cringe-worthy thoughts to mind - that no matter how good a person you are, no matter how glowing your record is, no matter how many lives you save or crimes you prevent, you make one noticeable mistake and EVERYTHING BEFORE THAT is forgotten. You forever wear a rendition of the "scarlet letter" upon your forehead, never to be forgiven for a perceived "misdeed".
My point is this - whether you understand the point-of-view of the bad guy being too-quickly forgiven, or the good guy being derided for an inexcusable amount of time for one failed deed, it's safe to say that people, even characters in movies, are much more interesting when they're bad-turned-good.
Hell, look at the way you felt when I even brought up Mark Fuhrman's name, and how feelings of disdain and anger seemed to ooze out of some of your faces, while the excitement some of you received at the concept of Shredder joining forces with the Ninja Turtles was almost palatable.
Nobody likes to see a hero fall from grace. That's basically the entirety of the 1970s cinema movement prior to Star Wars in a nutshell - good guys gone bad. Nobody likes to see their hero make a mistake. People don't like a black spot on their white coat.
But, what people DO like are the villains who have that momentary change of heart, because the amount of effort it takes for an evil man to change his ways in order to benefit an action of "good" far outweighs the weakness it takes for an overall "good guy" to forget his oath of righteousness.
It's unfair, but it's the truth. The truth is nobody can be "perfectly evil" OR "perfectly good". We are humans, and humans make mistakes. Humans can also redeem themselves. One good deed when it's least expected can change the world forever in the most positive of ways, while one bad deed when it's least expected can tear it down to the rat-and-turtle infested sewers. Just don't be so quick to forgive one person while turning your back on another when that other person may very well have done quite a bit more to receive your pension of nicety.