Perfecting the predictable art of the celebrity apology

By Hana Kapetanovic

Another day, another celebrity apology. Although I couldn’t tell you what the most recent one is, the form of the apology, unlike the subject matter, is quite predictable. So predictable, in fact, that there is a ‘Celebrity Perv’ apology generator and even an apology bot created exclusively for Lena Dunham.

For those composing their own apologies to share on social media, there is, of course, the iconic medium of the iPhone Notes app, as used recently by Logan Paul. In said apology, he claimed that his video filmed in Japan’s ‘suicide forest’ was merely a means of raising awareness about suicide. A statement like this somewhat detracts from the original aim of a sincere and honest apology.

This is a tactic that had previously been similarly used by others, such as when Ariana Grande in 2015 claimed she was trying to raise awareness about obesity when a video leaked in which she licked a doughnut and said that she hated America. If I had to apologise every time I did that, then maybe I’d tweet more.

When demanding apologies, we seem to forget that we too are imperfect

The Ariana episode is a prime example of apology-dodging, conforming exactly to Rachel Parris’ guide to the public apology in a segment on the new satirical news show The Mash Report. She has identified the two most frequent characteristics of celebrity apologies – the ‘it was taken out of context’ and the ‘if I did that’ qualifiers, both of which feature in Ariana’s apology.

Parris looked at two mid-January apologies to make her case. The first is that of Jo Marney, then-girlfriend of UKIP leader Henry Bolton, who made the innocent mistake of expressing fears that Meghan Markle’s “seed” will “taint” the Royal Family, which was accompanied by an array of racial slurs. Just a few days earlier, Conservative MP Ben Bradley announced his plans to reform the image of Conservatives. Unfortunately, a week later it surfaced that he had suggested in 2012 that benefits claimants should have vasectomies, a statement this time accompanied by classist slurs.

In an effort to make these mishaps relatable, Rachel Parris fairly pointed out that, “We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve accidentally made an egregious racial slur or suggested an unemployed person should be sterilised. That kind of thing can slip out of anyone’s mouth.”

Who are the people trawling through years-old tweets anyway?

Although this is a satirical exaggeration, it is true that we all make mistakes. This is a fact that we seem to forget when we ask celebrities to apologise for everything they do and have ever done. This quest for perfection leaves no space for discussion, openness, and progress. Constantly looking for more dirt to dig up on celebrities allows us to ignore our own behaviour. And who are these people trawling through years-old tweets anyway?

The answer is usually critics of the person in question. For example, Amena Khan, a British Muslim, recently quit a L’Oreal campaign after old tweets of hers were unearthed in which she attacked Israel during the Israel-Gaza conflict of 2014. The people that found these tweets were from a right-wing US news outlet, whose website also featured headlines such as ‘These DACA Recipients Are Out There Just Living The Dream, Smuggling In Other Illegal Immigrants’ and ‘OK, Dude — Dem Congressman REALLY Reached For This Comparison Of Trump And Nazi Germany’.

These people have clear motivations: to trip up that person and point out their flaws. This is not a reflection of how we actually live our lives. Unlike on the internet, not all discourse is written down, and so we are not able to scrutinise everything someone has said in normal conversation, nor would we want to as we are aware of the fact that we all say the wrong thing sometimes. I’ve said “you too” when someone has wished me a “happy birthday” – sue me, society.

In reality, unlike on the internet, not all discourse is written down and recorded

When someone does apologise after revelations such as these, it just feels insincere to me. Am I really supposed to believe that Jo Marney’s texts were taken out of context and that she truly apologises for offence caused?

That being said, people do say some truly horrific things and these incidents should be scrutinised and apologised for. This is particularly true when it comes from someone in a position of power and the comments are directly relevant to their position. There is a difference between my problematic 13-year-old self’s Facebook statuses and Ben Bradley’s blog posts as an adult in which he writes about a “vast sea of unemployed wasters’” He can act on those views; I’m not in a position of power to. But at least if I get there, I’ll have this handy guide to writing public apologies.

Photograph: p-a-t-r-i-c-k via Flikr

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