Why is sorry the hardest word? – The modern stars with their non-apologies

Some years ago I wrote an Unapologic Guide To Saying Sorry but I feel there are some celebrities who might need a refresh.

If you’re anything like me, the chances are that before last week you’d never heard of Logan Paul, perhaps you still haven’t and if so, I’m really sorry to bring him up.  I’m not one who is really into celebrity culture, let alone Youtube culture.  I always grimmace when now even on the BBC they invite the general public to give their opinion…. I don’t want the opinion of people who are even more clueless than I, I want experts.  Experts on the events in the news, experts on screen whether it be real singers, not talent show wannabees, or real comedians, not teenagers who happened to be lucky enough to grow up in the era of Youtube and think they matter in any way at all.

Apparently Logan Paul is a big star in some quarters, not mine of course.  I actually wondered why Alan Rickman stopped making movies for 10 years until I later found out he had made plenty but were all Harry Potter which I never watched.  So if one of the finest actors of his era went off the radar for me then some largely talentless guy who seems to have his first name and surname the wrong way round was never going to make it for me.

He came to my attention as the latest video the 22 year old released to his 15 million subscribers has been widely criticised for posting a horrifically insensitive video that documented his visit to the Aokigahara forest in Japan, the site of frequent youth suicides. It was titled “We found a dead body in the Japanese Suicide Forest…”

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Just as the internet raised Paul to the apparent status of celebrity or at least the very definition of a Z-lister, so too can it take away everything in an instant. The backlash against the video has been widespread and almost unanimous for the bad taste and offense that it caused.  Like anyone trying to save a flaundering career, Paul duly reacted to the outcry and issued a public apology for his actions. The only problem was that the apology caused further offense.

He apparently wrote his mea culpa on the iPhone’s Notes app, screen-shotted it, and then shared it on Twitter. Captioned, “dear internet”, and including such lines as “with great power comes great responsibility”, the response came across as cocky, self-aggrandising and pompous .  Almost as if he thought he was ‘somebody’ rather than an idiot who rose to prominence for short videos of braindead pranks. Even worse,  the words even included a personalised promo hashtag.

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To me it seems 1% apology and 99% a damage limitation exercise trying to protect a celebrity brand art all costs.

The reactions to Paul’s apology came in as swiftly as his video was taken down. Breaking Bad actor Aaron Paul took to Twitter writing, How dare you! You disgust me. I can’t believe that so many young people look up to you. So sad. Hopefully this latest video woke them up. You are pure trash. Plain and simple. Suicide is not a joke. Go rot in hell.

Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner expressed her dismay at Paul’s attempt at remorse. You’re an idiot. You’re not raising awareness. You’re mocking. I can’t believe how self-praising your “apology” is. You don’t deserve the success (views) you have. I pray to God you never have to experience anything like that man did.

And what sort of apology finishes with a marketing tagline.  It would be like Coca Cola branding “Coke is it” on an apology for a bilboard with an Isis fighter taking a drink after beheading someone.

Of course it isn’t just a celebrity issue, there was a time when politicians would resign on principle, doubly so if they had lied.  These days most carry on regardless and so if even people in society who we are meant to respect don’t really apologise then some idiot in a Japanese forest wearing a stupid hat isn’t going to.

Logan Paul Suicide Backlash

Logan Paul – An idiot in a stupid hat in Japan’s Aokigahara or suicide forest

The last year has seen a growing number of celebrity public apologies that don’t really say sorry at all.

In his book, Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology, linguist Edwin Battistella says that an effective public apology is built on four main features: saying out loud what you did wrong and thus showing a level of moral understanding and awareness; being specific and taking ownership with your language; indicating that the apology is leading somewhere; and not making excuses for your actions. The modern public apology certainly utilises some of these charachteristics; in others, it falls pathetically short.

To make matters worse, it seems obvious to everyone but celebrities that apologising in anyway on social media seems to make the situation worse.  It is as though if something needs apologising for then social media is not a serious enough platform for it.    And why should it be?  If you did something bad to a family or friend, to apologise properly you do it to their face and if you have offended millions of people then perhaps to a television camera.   To do anything else makes it come over rather insincere, as if one is just going through the motions.

Tweeting out loud, should not be confused for saying something out loud. And not making an apology in person, or in front of a camera has brought out mild profanity in some of the apologies with Paul writing “I do this sh*t every day”. Both examples seem to run against Battistella’s point about using specific language.  If you were to apologise to someone’s face or on the television news then it’s likely you wouldn’t swear or appear to be taking matters too flippantly.

It was really Taylor Swift who started this approach back in 2016 but perhaps the best example is that of actor Kevin Spacy.   Using the Notes app conveys more gravitas than a mere tweet as well as allowing the celebrity to explain themselves in more than 140 characters.

We are in a world where we are seemingly encouraged to share everything as soon as we think of it – a way of thinking that got Logan Paul into trouble in the first place.  Sometimes even apologies are best done after a little thought and not on the spur of the moment.

Social media and the internet has meant that allegations and controversy is passed around at previously unheard of speeds, making the celebrity feel they need to comment as soon as possible. Maybe they shouldn’t. A study by Oberlin College found that later apologies were more effective than earlier ones, and that this effect was mediated by feeling heard and understood.

Kevin Spacey’s apology may have been more effective if he had taken this point into account. In his tweeted statement, Spacey admits to wanting to start examining his own behaviour. Many commentators thought that an apology should have came after this examination, not at the beginning before the allegations even fully come to light or are digested by the public.

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Note in this apology how Kevin Spacey is to trying to cast doubt on the claim he is supposedly apoligising for.   Spacey claimed he couldn’t remember the incident brought against him by actor Anthony Rapp as he was inebriated, but “if I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years.

It is something that pretty much all of us learn at a young age that adding the word ‘if’ or any other conditional modifier to an apology makes it a non-apology.

Spacey is taking no ownership in his apology, and while the use of ‘if’ is no new phenomenon, it is indicative of how far these manipulative and weighed down by PR that such apoligies have become.

In his apology Kevin Spacey added that from henceforth he wanted to live his life as a gay man. It was seen by many as extraneous to the topic; a subconscious attempt at misdirection. The problem for Kevin Spacey is that we weren’t misdirected in any way.  If he had made such a pronouncement 40 years ago then some people might have thought worse of him for being gay.  These days though, most people couldn’t care less.  What we very well may be  interested in were the allegations made against the actor.

In the wake of the numerous allegations against him, Harvey Weinstein made a similar, albeit significantly less outrageous revelation, that he had been setting up a $5 million foundation to give scholarships to female directors at the University of Southern California. He might have thought it would alleviate some of the flack coming his way but it did nothing except to reduce effect of what his scholarships may have been trying to achieve leading it to likely collapse much like his career as a Hollywood mogul.

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Many such apologies also seem to include a sense of journey as if they all seem to realise how horribly wrong their actions have been that more often than not includes a visit to a very expensive private clinic or rehabilitation centre. As if only now when they have been caught with their pants down (often literally) are they going to even think of trying to do the right thing.

However, once again any reference to ‘the journey’ in an apology makes the accused the centre of focus as if they are also a victim and we should be sorry for them.  Spacey the victim of alcohol, Weinstein a victim of the times (the 1960s and 1970s), Paul a victim of the social media.

With public apologies now being so poorly received the question comes down to how the celebrity can ever get out of said situations? The simple answer is they don’t and shouldn’t.  Some things are too bad for any apology to make better even if such an apology is well deserved and earnestly given.
Things can’t go back to before just because you’ve apologised.  Part of making a real apology is of learning the lesson of what you have done wrong.  Kevin Spacy, Harvey Weinstein and err Paul Logan (that’s better) can’t just do a token apology and expect to go back to normal even if some of them go to jail for what they’ve done.  There is a cost to making serious mistakes and that is why some people should think more carefully about their daily actions.
I think it is almost better not to apologise if you can’t do it properly.  It is quite possible to do something most people don’t like but you are quite happy with or at least not apologetic for and in that case just either don’t say anything at all or tell everyone that it’s sad they don’t like it but I’m perfectly ok with it.  There isn’t much worse when someone or some institution apologises for something when we very much know they don’t really care less for or are only apologising because they got caught and not for any actual sorrow felt.  That though isn’t very good for a celebrity career.
For a much more light hearted look at apoligies then why not read my earlier post I’m Sorry, I’m British.
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About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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One Response to Why is sorry the hardest word? – The modern stars with their non-apologies

  1. Marilyn Liddell Hall (maiden name) Allan says:

    All I can say is we are living in a sick world!! People are only thinking of themselves these days! This is what liberalism is causing! It is truly a shame……

    Liked by 1 person

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