Why Mark Wahlberg should be free to leave his past behind

Neil Ross

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Topics USA

Actor Mark Wahlberg has hit the headlines this week for seeking a pardon from the state of Massachusetts for a crime he committed at the age of 16. Wahlberg, now 43 and a married father of four, assaulted two Vietnamese men in the Boston suburb of Dorchester in the late 1980s and spent 45 days in jail. This crime, alongside other allegations of racially motivated stone-throwing, DUIs and drug use, paint a picture of Wahlberg, even before his Marky Mark days, as a young violent thug.

What has struck me about the coverage of this story is the outrage from columnists, offended by the fact that Wahlberg would even dare to ask for a pardon. These moralising pundits have made it abundantly clear that, in their view, Wahlberg does not deserve to be pardoned. From cries of white privilege to accusations of racial insensitivity, we have been given plenty of reasons to loathe Wahlberg. We are told he should apologise to his victims, that he should offer them restitution. (It doesn’t seem to matter that the man he allegedly blinded has apparently unofficially pardoned him.)

Echoing the case of footballer and convicted rapist Ched Evans in the UK, the fact that Wahlberg has served time for his crime seems to be irrelevant to his critics. They seem to think he should be treated like Sisyphus, that stone-pushing figure of Ancient Greek myth who was punished for eternity.

But there is an even deeper, more anti-human undercurrent to this anti-Wahlberg campaign. And that’s the idea that people (be they celebrity convicts like Wahlberg or Evans, or just regular law-abiding citizens) are permanently stuck in their ways. This fallacy, based on a fatalistic and deterministic understanding of human lives, underestimates people. It seems better suited to a worldview that puts justice and forgiveness in the hands of the gods. And it certainly underestimates a fundamental human trait: our ability to change.

What defines humanity is our ability to reason, our passion, our drive to better ourselves and our desire to improve the lot of those around us. We adjust, we grow, we develop our ideas. And therefore we shouldn’t be judged forever because of actions we took in the past.

If we didn’t have faith in the ability of our fellows to change, what would be the point of engaging one another in debate, arguing for a cause or making the case for a better life? People do change their minds, their habits and their outlooks every day, and that is what makes us all rational beings in charge of our futures. Just look at Marky Mark circa 1992 and compare him to Mark Wahlberg today – they are almost completely different people. So here’s to an unashamed celebration of second chances and self-transformation.

Neil Ross is US programme director at spiked.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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