Saturday, April 6, 2013

Celebrity Public Apologies

Yet another of my big pet peeves these days is the "Celebrity Public Apology". We've all seen it: some movie star or politician or musician says or does something that causes "outrage" and then a couple of days later they make a public apology.

There are a couple of reasons that I really hate this kind of behavior:

  1. It's not a sincere apology. It's just someone trying to save their reputation and / or career by attempting to "take back" something they said.

  2. It exposes the "apologizer" as a shallow person with no backbone who is desperately attempting to save themselves. I see them and think "I would never trust this person. If they lack the integrity to back up their own words, then I surely never want them ever backing *me*".

For example:

  • In 2003, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks told a London audience that she was ashamed that George W Bush was from Texas. Not long after, she issued an apology: "As a concerned American citizen, I apologize to President Bush because my remark was disrespectful. I feel that whoever holds that office should be treated with the utmost respect." Lame, Natalie, very lame. I've never been a fan of the Dixie Chicks, but now I know I will never be a fan of the Dixie Chicks.

  • In 2011, Rep. Anthony Weiner got caught texting naughty pics of himself in the course of a phone-sex relationship he was having. After a week of constant skewering by the news media, he -- wait for it -- issued an apology. Whatever small respect I had the for the man just evaporated. If instead he had said: "Yes, I did it. I lied because, hey, that's what people do when some 'investigator' starts prying into personal matters that are none of their goddamn business" I would probably have a Weiner bumpersticker on my car. And I don't even live in New York.

I could go on, but this kind of thing depresses me, so I won't.

In contrast, look at Rick Santorum. I loathe his politics, and especially his stance on homosexuality. But to the best of my knowledge, he has never apologized for any of his anti-gay rhetoric. There's a lot to loathe about Rick Santorum, but I have to admire the man for standing his ground. If -- in some impossibly contrived situation I can't even imagine -- he looked me in the eye and said "I got your back", I would trust him. Even if it's in the service of a cause I don't favor, integrity is integrity.

Of course, this is only a symptom of a larger issue: for a country that makes such a big deal out of the importance of "diversity" and "the freedom to speak one's mind", an American doesn't have to step very far away from the consensus opinion before people start lobbing bricks through their window. I'm reminded of how Bill Maher, not long after 9/11 -- on a television show called Politically Incorrect, oh the irony -- made the comment:

We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly.

As a result, he got fired and his show got cancelled. He offered a semi-apology, stating that he didn't mean to imply that the US military forces were cowards -- I'm maybe halfway okay with that, because I don't believe it was at all his intent to say "the US military are cowards". But to his credit, I don't think he ever apologized for the central point of his statement, which was basically "the 9/11 terrorists had some big balls on them". And, I mean, they did: it doesn't matter which side you're on, if you volunteer for a suicide mission and carry it out, you have Big Balls. Am I a terrible person for saying that? Should I preface it with a disclaimer, ala "I really hate those 9/11 terrorists, but I have to admit they had big balls"? Does that make it 'better'?

I guess what annoys me most is when someone says something true, yet gets condemned for it -- often for an extremely stupid reason. The grandaddy of all such incidents is probably the case of David Howard: in 1999, Howard used the word "niggardly" in reference to a budget. You know the punchline: people took it as a racial slur, Howard lost his job, etc. Or, to put it another way, Howard lost his job because people who were too stupid to know the meaning of a word got upset. The then-chairman of the NAACP, Julian Bond, said "You hate to think you have to censor your language to meet other people's lack of understanding" and "David Howard should not have quit. Mayor Williams should bring him back — and order dictionaries issued to all staff who need them." I think that this helps to highlight that this wasn't some kind of "race issue". It was a "stupidity issue".

[For the record: with the exception of Rick Santorum, I'm never been either a supporter or a detractor of any of the people I mention as examples]

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