The Case of Jussie Smollett and the 'Antihero' Culture

by Dr. Carla Cornelius, Christian Examiner Contributor |
Jussie Smollett, Los Angeles, March 11, 2016. | Photo: Dominick D/Wikimedia Commons

The often-sanitized image of those in the public eye can often lead to disillusionment when other facts come to light which call into question this image. We want those in the public eye to show us what it's like to be a "hero" exuding courage, self-sacrifice and honor and putting the good of others above their own perceived needs and well-being.

In just 22 days from January 29 when he filed his assault claim, up to February 20 when he was charged, Smollett went from being the sympathetic victim of a racist, homophobic attack – a victim who resisted courageously his intended lynching – to an alleged criminal who masterminded a terrible fraud on the Chicago police and the American public. How quickly the pendulum can swing from being someone who is highly esteemed in the public eye to someone who loses their social standing, career and reputation. The court of public opinion is very fickle. Jesus said, "woe unto you when all mean speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets" (Luke 6:26, NKJV). The false prophets were very skilled in telling the people what they wanted to hear because they did not want to fall out of favor. They failed to realize that they were only delaying their inevitable judgment when the truth would eventually come to light.

This article does not aim to throw stones at the beleaguered Smollett. God knows he has had enough of that, and there is no doubt much more to come. We can all learn from this unfolding scandal; it has much to teach us about ourselves and our culture. If indeed recent reports are true that he fabricated his story about being attacked by a couple of racist, homophobic, MAGA-hat wearing thugs, then it begs the question why someone with this level of Hollywood prestige would stoop so low. If indeed the attack was scripted, staged and paid for, it was clearly done with the intention of worsening the already heightened political and racial tensions in America.

Smollett is charged with disorderly conduct by filing a false police report – a class four felony charge which could result in a prison sentence of one to three years. He pled not guilty in court today.

We live in a culture whereby acts of genuine heroism do not garner the media attention or attract the limelight the way that acts of selfish, malicious intent seem to do. What is evil and salacious seems to attract more attention than what is virtuous and admirable. Although the outcome of Smollett's case is yet to be determined in a court of law, in recent times there has been such an upturn in the number of people who file inaccurate reports with the police that computer software is now being rolled out which will be able to spot from the voice of the claimed victim whether or not they are telling the truth.

An antihero may be defined as someone who puts the good and well-being of others first at his or her personal expense or sacrifice. According to Merriam Webster dictionary, it refers to "a protagonist or notable figure who is conspicuously lacking in heroic qualities." Part of the antihero typology is a victim mentality. He or she craves sympathy or attention, and may lie or exaggerate to get it. On the contrary, honor is the hallmark of a hero. Wikipedia defines honor as, "the idea of a bond between an individual and a society as a quality of a person that is both of social teaching and of personal ethos, that manifests itself as a code of conduct, and has various elements such as valor, chivalry, honesty, and compassion." It involves taking responsibility for one's actions. If indeed Smollett is guilty, the most honorable thing to do would be to plead guilty. The longer he were to maintain his plea of innocence, the worse it will be for him in the end, for not only will his conscience become hardened but his sentencing will be more severe, and his many supporters will end up more disillusioned.

Our culture is desperately in need of heroes. Jesus Christ is the ultimate hero to whom we can all look for inspiration. After teaching his disciples the truth that, "greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends" (John 15:13, NKJV), he does just what he has taught them by laying down his own life. But he goes further, and lays down his life for the sins of the whole world, including those who do not believe in him or think nothing of blaspheming his name. He did not shrink from his earthly mission – which was to make a way for all humanity's sins to be expiated. He did this at great personal cost to himself – standing in our place to feel what it is to have our sins separate us from Father God. For that brief but agonizing moment on the cross, he cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34, NKJV). The awesome power of God resurrected him from the dead, and God promises to do the same for all those who simply welcome his plan of salvation into their hearts and lives.

The antihero may invite pity or ridicule, but the real heroes are few and challenge us to a higher standard of thinking and living, for the good of all. We are left with the choice – we can be pitiful or powerful, and we can pass on our wounds or our wisdom.

—Dr. Carla Cornelius is a Director and Editor at Jesus Joy Publishing. Her Ph.D. in Biblical Counseling has equipped her to trace humanity's problems back to faulty thinking and values which fly in the face of the Maker's instructions. She has a passion for exposing the distortions of truth spun by the media and popular culture which leave sick souls in their wake, souls desperately in need of spiritual detoxification. She is the author of five books including Culture Detox: Cleansing our minds from toxic thinking, Captive Daughters: Breaking the chains and No Way Out: Keys to avoiding suicide.