Should being a superstar in your field allow you to make whatever repugnant comments you want off the job without repercussions?
Jeanne Beker tweeted this argument today about British designer John Galliano, who has been fired from Christian Dior after making some truly horrible anti-Semitic remarks on camera at a Paris restaurant, as well as in a video from 2010. "He's a creative genius," Ms. Beker said on Twitter, "and his work, in this case, must be separated from his personal p.o.v."
In fact, even Dior seems a bit conflicted, since with a few days to go until Friday's catwalk show at Paris Fashion Week, it's still not clear if the fashion house's show will be cancelled. Natalie Portman, however, the spokesman for Dior perfume and a superstar in her own right after Sunday's Best Actress Academy Award, has been unequivocal: "As an individual who is proud to be Jewish," she said in a statement on Monday, "I will not associate with Mr. Galliano in anyway." At the same time, model Chanel Iman came to his defence, calling him "caring and loving."
To recap what Mr. Galliano did: After an incident in a Paris restaurant, when he was apparently drunk, he was questioned by police for allegedly making anti-Semitic statements to a man and woman - he has denied the allegations and filed a defamation suit against the couple. But meanwhile, a 2010 video has surfaced, showing Mr. Galliano saying "I love Hitler" and ranting in another restaurant at a group of patrons he considered "ugly," making anti-Semitic remarks referencing the deadly gas chambers the Nazis used during the Holocaust. Is that really just a point of view, or more like hate speech?
Technology is doing a fine job unearthing, or encouraging, all sorts of despicable or stupid comments from celebrities and other high-profile people who might have otherwise kept it to themselves. (Haven't they figure out yet that someone is always filming, listening or taping?) Some don't even try to be discreet anymore: Think Charlie Sheen. Or Jeffrey Cox, the significantly less-famous deputy attorney-general of Indiana, who suggested on Twitter that police should use "live ammunition" to break up a union dispute - and was fired for it.
Make all the free speech arguments you want. Make the case for "the brilliant are eccentric," if you must. But come on: Anybody else who slagged their boss publicly, or made even a lame joke advocating the likely killing of protesting citizens - from a government office, no less - can count on getting the heave-ho. (In Mr. Sheen's case, of course, we'll see how long he's actually gone from television.)
Dior, after all. has a public image to maintain - and a brand-new Oscar winner to keep happy - and Mr. Galliano's comments were far from mild. It's certainly hard to see how anyone could enjoy watching his creations on Friday with his remarks on their minds.
Would you be canned for mouthing off like John Galliano? And do you think Dior should cancel its catwalk show on Friday?