What To Do About Rihanna or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Math

miloHey Pal!

Your first plunge into sports writing tells me it better not be your last. In fact, I just sent an email to Sport Illustrated letting them know I have found their next football columnist. I told them your eloquence and passion when talking about your favourite game is inspiring. (Don’t worry – I did not mention your spotty prediction record.) Expect a call in the near future. I look forward to your next sports composition, whether it appears in this esteemed blog or in the pages of SI.

Now I have to talk about Rihanna (there is no elegant segue from football to Rihanna). Did you know she’s on the cover of Rolling Stone this month? I find that troubling — so much so that I wrote a letter to the editor. I argued that Rihanna does not deserve a cover story until she dumps that no good abusive boyfriend of hers. I said here’s a woman who could have any guy in the world, but she chooses her abuser, and this makes her a terrible role model for our daughters. I was pretty upset. I even wrote this sentence: “The only person who deserves a cover story less than Rihanna is the vile unrepentant scumbag who sees nothing wrong with having used her face as a punching bag two years ago.”

I admit I was a little harsh. The pop starlet is, after all, the victim of abuse, not the perpetrator of it. Nevertheless, I felt somewhere in my rant there was the essence of a valid point about good choices. I vowed to come back to the letter in a few days, re-work it, and submit.

rihanna-grammys-2013But then I saw Rihanna on the Grammys last Sunday. Her performance of “Stay” knocked me out of my chair, and her contribution to the Bruno Mars-led Bob Marley tribute was pretty great as well. Suddenly, I was less inclined to send the letter.

Isn’t that interesting? My opinion of her bad choice remains the same, but one strong performance weakens my resolve. Hmm.

It got me thinking about our willingness to forgive the misdeeds, poor choices and bad behaviour of celebrities. As a society, we are awfully forgiving, aren’t we?

Lindsay Lohan’s career still has a pulse, despite her every effort to kill it. Charlie Sheen keeps on “winning”.


Tiger Woods still has an image problem but he’s crawling back and, mark my words, by the time he slips on his next green jacket all will be forgotten.


A few years ago, Tom Cruise, fueled by Scientological madness, jumped the couch and said stupid things about mental illness and Brooke Shields; but he bounced back and remains one of the world’s biggest movie stars. In 2009, Pete Townshend was caught with a computer full of kiddie porn, but less than a year later he and the rest of the Who were rocking the Super Bowl halftime show.


Mel Gibson got hammered and said terrible anti-Semitic things, but he still gets to make movies directed by Jodie Foster and be defended by Jodie Foster and go to the Golden Globes with Jodie Foster (I guess sometimes you only need one person to forgive you).

My favourite example is Michael Jackson. He had a hell of a recording career going there for a while, but then he spent two decades producing nothing of note while descending into lunacy and freaking everybody out.  Nevertheless, his death brought on a year-long outpouring of grief and tribute the likes of which I don’t recall seeing before. Clearly, the “what have you done for me lately” principle – so lethal in most professions – does not apply to the pop star who gave us “Billie Jean”.

But our willingness to forgive celebrities is really very personal, isn’t it? It’s a funny mix of how much we like the person to begin with, and how offended we are by their misbehaviour. I was never much of a Michael Jackson fan so it wasn’t hard for me to write him off long before he started dangling babies over balconies. And I have no trouble keeping my vow to never see another Mel Gibson movie because, honestly, I don’t have high hopes for The Beaver.


On the flip side, I struggle to imagine life without the Who’s greatest album, Who’s Next, so I still crank “Baba O’Reilly” and do my best not to get the creeps when Townshend’s falsetto urges me not to cry because it’s only teenage wasteland. And as much as I may want to write off the world’s most famous Scientologist, there is no getting away from the fact that Tom Cruise is awesome in Magnolia (interestingly, playing a deeply flawed celebrity), and I’ll be damned if I’m going to stop re-watching that masterpiece every year.

tom cruise Magnolia 02

It’s a tough call isn’t it, Pal, deciding how much misbehaviour you’re prepared to tolerate from a celebrity whose work you admire?

Well good news! This no longer needs to be an arbitrary decision based on hunches and instinct. Because…drumroll, please…I have developed a formula that makes it easy. When in doubt, trust math. This simple calculation will help you decide, objectively and conclusively, whether to write off a misbehaving celebrity or remain a fan. It can apply to anyone: singer, actor, athlete, politician…whoever. It’s going to change the world, I just know it.

Here’s what you do:

math_is_fun_poster-r10123877d6834f128f214327e272bdb6_w2q_400First, decide how much you like the celebrity and his work, and give it a score out of 10 (value a).

Next, decide how offended you are by the celebrity’s misbehaviour, and give it a score out of 5 (value b).

Then, subtract b from a. ab=c

Here’s what it means:

If c is 6 through 10: You are a true fan. Continue to enjoy the celebrity’s work and defend him at every opportunity.

If c is 1 through 5: You are a moderate fan. Continue to enjoy the celebrity’s work but do so sheepishly and, in conversation, remain neutral and non-committal about him.

If c is 0 or less: You are a hater. Write the celebrity off, ignore his work and trash him publicly whenever his name is mentioned.

Let’s look at a few examples as they apply to me:

Tiger Woods: 8-1 = 7

Pete Townshend: 8-4 = 4

Rihanna’s vile unrepentant scumbag boyfriend: 0-5 = -5

I will conduct myself accordingly.

Now, back to Rihanna. Let’s see. I’d have to say 7-2= 5. Well. That tells me I better not submit my letter. In fact, I probably needn’t have written it at all. Apparently, it was really just the vile, unrepentant scumbag I was mad at.

What a system. Such clarity! Use it well, World. You’re Welcome.


As for you, Pal, I urge you to use this system when you’re writing for Sports Illustrated. I suspect it will serve you well. The NFL has no shortage of misbehaving players. The formula will help you decide how to write about them.

Later, Pal.


One response to “What To Do About Rihanna or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Math

  1. I love the game of trying to figure out who would remain positive or who I should just cut loose. I have an off-shoot problem to solve. What about songs? You know the songs that you love to sing when you are in the car alone? The ones you belt out when preparing to go out for the night? Those songs that build and make you feel invisible? What if the lyrics to those songs are non-favourable? Examples: My Chick Bad by Ludacris. Fabulous beat, great fun to sing out loud and an easy rap to remember. The lyrics? Objectifying of women and offensive. Eminem and Rihanna – Love the Way You Lie. Fabulous song but horrible message. The new song by Rihanna – Stay. Beautiful and powerful. A great one but she sings of the Scumbag who Cannot Be Named. Is there a formula for this conundrum? What do we do? When is it proper to delete it from your ipod and when is it ok to consider it a guilty pleasure?

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