FAUX taxidermy it is called: mounting animal heads on walls like the hunting trophies of old, except in this case the nappers belong to soft toys – giraffes, bears, pandas and the like. It is quite the interior fashion in this ecologically aware age; ironic, savvy, a talking point.

If you want to be truly up to the minute on the decorating front, how about putting the head of an “old, white man with reactionary views” above the fireplace?

The description comes from a film critic for the German paper Tagesspiegel, reacting to the news that the British actor Jeremy Irons has been made president of the Berlin Film Festival’s international jury.

Irons is the latest high profile figure to finds his past comments chasing him like The Mummy in a old horror film.

On women, Irons is on record as telling the Radio Times: “If a man puts his hand on a woman’s bottom, any woman worth her salt can deal with it. It’s communication. Can’t we be friendly?”

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Then there was another comment, this time to the Huffington Post, about gay marriage. Could a father not marry his son to dodge inheritance tax, Irons mused to the interviewer.

The quotes unearthed, commentators rush to criticise the appointment, saying it sent the wrong message at a moment when the film festival, like the industry as a whole, was trying to reinvent itself.

One observer said: “If [the festival] really cared about the necessary change in the film industry, they would not have chosen a jury chairman who has played down sexual harassment in the past, but a person who fights with determination for a non-violent and equal industry and world.”

Should Irons find himself promptly uninvited (for now, the festival is standing by him) he could be a candidate for the “old white man with reactionary views” gallery.

In recent months the place has been filling up fast. Before Irons, there was a push to have director Terry Gilliam’s head stuffed and stuck on the wall for telling The Independent that he was tired, “as a white male” of being blamed for everything that is wrong with the world. “I didn’t do it!” he pleaded.

Another frequent resident of the trophy room is John Cleese, who has not said anything controversial for at least two minutes.

Then there is Boris Johnson, the first among equals of old (or in his case middle-aged) white men with reactionary views. He has several claims to a space on the wall.

Now, it is a tough gig trying to defend old white men with reactionary views. Poor souls. They have had things all their own way for thousands of years, and suddenly they are out in the cold, unloved, unwanted, called to account.

In the case of Irons and Gilliam, it is difficult to understand why anyone would take the thoughts of actors and others in the entertainment industries seriously enough to be upset by them. These are people who play dress up for a living, and they get paid rather a lot for it (another reason no-one is queueing up to defend them).

In the case of Irons, though, the plea in mitigation is not that hard to frame. The comments he has been slated for were made nine and seven years ago respectively.

So what, you might think, they are still offensive. But the crucial difference here is that Irons has acknowledged he was a pillock (my term, not his), at least in the case of his comments on gay marriage, and moved on. As the row over the Berlin Festival shows, not everyone is prepared to do the same.

Irons finds himself scolded because of our inability or unwillingness to leave a person's past behind, and our suspicion of those who change.

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Actors are particularly at risk of being lashed with old quotes because every time they are in something they have to publicise it. That means singing for their supper with interviews. If they are not to be insufferably boring or po-faced, which does not work either, they relax and go with the conversational flow.

The industry’s classiest interview acts, the Helen Mirrens and Julie Walters and Roger Allams of the world, know this. They are perfectly capable, just like most non-actors, of chatting for 20 minutes without causing offence.

Previously, only those who found themselves in the public eye had cuttings files. Now anyone who uses social media has a digital folder to lug around. Comments, photos, your past and present self is out there, and accessible at the click of a mouse. It is too late to close the box now.

Knowing this, you might think people would be more forgiving and understanding of mistakes, but if anything they are more condemnatory. Have evidence, will judge. Should people be allowed to draw a line under a comment? Can't there be a statute of limitations on being a numptie?

It depends. Politicians used to steer clear of digging up anything that happened before the age of 21, which seems reasonable.

After that, it depends on what has been said, how recently, and how relevant it is to your current position. Some sentiments are stone cold wrong whenever they are expressed. See several of Boris Johnson’s comments.

He has dismissed these as just one of those things that happen when you write columns. They are not. Crucially, he has never said that he was wrong, which is reason enough to keep his head on the wall.

By not having a statute of limitations on being a pillock we are saying that people are incapable of changing. What a dull, judgmental world it would be if we were to condemn people for ever and a day, despite, as in Irons’ case, acknowledging that they were wrong.

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One of the best things about the human species is its capacity for change. We need to believe that people can be better, can change their views and habits, otherwise we are all in trouble.

As for Irons, he has done a pretty good job for the Berlin Film Festival if for no other reason than people are talking about his association with it.

Time, in this case, to forgive, forget and enjoy the movies.