Jewish World Review Nov. 12, 2002 / 7 Kislev, 5763

Leonard Pitts, Jr.

Leonard Pitts, Jr.
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Consumer Reports

Winona, just say, 'I'm sorry' | I'm sure you're just as relieved as I am at the news that Winona Ryder probably won't be going to jail. I'll bet you've lost sleep and appetite at the thought of her being traded around the prison yard for smokes.

Well, we can all breathe a little easier. Though Ryder was convicted last week of one count each of grand theft and vandalism for walking out of a swanky Beverly Hills store with more than $5,500 in stolen goods, prosecutors say they won't be seeking jail time for the 31-year-old actress. And there's more good news. The consensus, according to published reports, is that being a convicted felon won't damage Ryder's career.

Quite the contrary, in fact. As casting agent John Srednicki told a reporter, "The town is behind her. She's even more sought-after now."

Not just sought after, but MORE sought after. Wow. I always knew that death - witness the booming careers of Elvis Presley and Tupac Shakur - was a great career move in the entertainment industry. Turns out shoplifting is, too.

So that's it, I guess. All's well that ends well. Presumably, Saks Fifth Avenue gets its merchandise back, Ryder gets her career back, celebrity trial watchers get their lives back. And I'd be happy to leave it at that, but I can't.

It's not just the suspicion that if Winona Ryder from Hollywood was Keisha Jones from South-Central L.A., she'd be wearing a prison-issue jumpsuit by now - though certainly, that's part of it. There is different justice in this country for those who are white enough or wealthy enough to afford it, and Ryder - lucky girl - was both.

That annoys me less than this whole notion of Hollywood announcing - immediately after the verdict, yet - its eagerness to forgive and forget. I guess that's no surprise: the actress is still a bankable commodity. But that doesn't make it any less disappointing.

Don't get me wrong: Ryder stole clothes; she didn't set fire to an orphanage. There's no reason in the world the film factory should not welcome her back to work. It's just that it would be nice if she first expressed the tiniest bit of remorse. Or displayed even the smallest evidence of mortification. Or simply accepted responsibility for her behavior.

Ryder, though, has said nothing about her legal woes, unless you count joking about them in an appearance on "Saturday Night Live" or wearing a "Free Winona" T-shirt on a magazine cover. Through her attorney, she has repeatedly proclaimed her innocence.

Maybe she is innocent. Maybe the whole thing was a frame job carried out by a cabal of celebrity-hating department store salesclerks and security guards, aided by rogue elements of the CIA and the National Security Agency. Maybe she wasn't really a thrill-seeking little rich girl who just wanted to see if she could get away with it.

And maybe O.J. is closing in on the real killers even as we speak.

In recent years, we've developed a ritual of sorts for the rehabilitation of misbehaving celebrities. Call it the Hugh Grant Process: confession; contrition; chagrin. Follow the script, and you'll usually come out unscathed on the other side. Heck, if you're lucky, you might even get a best-seller out of it.

We don't ask much. We're easy. We just want to know that the celebrity in question gets the moral of the story, acknowledges that he or she done wrong. But if Hollywood is reading us right, we don't even need that much anymore.

And if that's the case, it seems to me further proof - not that any was needed - that the notion of shame has become politically incorrect. That "judgmental" is now a four-letter word. And that we have disconnected misbehavior from consequence.

I swear, I'm not out to pin a scarlet letter on Winona Ryder. I'm all for forgiving her. But is it too much to require that she ask for it, first?

Granted, it would be a humbling and unpleasant experience she'd not want to soon repeat. But that's kind of the point.

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