Like You Mean It

Public apologies are nothing new in politics, but what about their place among celebrities?


I have a very distinct memory of the first time I told my brother I was sorry and meant it.

I was five. We had been fighting over whose turn it was to take command of the television when the conflict escalated. He called me names. I kicked him. He retaliated. On the brink of World War III, I pulled back as if to admit defeat. He stood victorious, but only until I marched over to a shelf that held our favorite movies, plucked his most beloved, special edition Power Rangers VHS from its depths, and gruesomely tore out the film.

Even in familial fighting, there are rules to warfare and I knew I’d broken a cardinal one.

I suppose the crime seems small now. And yet I can still summon that first guilty,       sink-y sense that I needed to apologize. Some people, I think, find it easy to say they’re sorry, but I was not — fine, am not — one of them. Maybe that weakness explains why I so admire people who manage it gracefully. It might also rationalize why I sometimes sympathize with those whose mistakes and misjudgments play out on a public stage. Apologizing privately is hard enough.

Publicized scandal is hardly unique to this age, but it does feel especially prevalent these days. Earlier this month, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie complicated his presidential aspirations after a series of damning emails exchanged between members of his staff leaked and evolved into the scandal since dubbed “Bridgegate.” On Friday, Madonna paired a photo posted to her Instagram account with a caption that included the N-word. On Monday, style icon Miroslava Duma found herself in hot water after her website published a photograph of Russian socialite Dasha Zhukova perched atop a chair in the likeness of a black woman, created by the Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard.

In keeping with the grand tradition of those publicly condemned, Christie, Madonna, and Duma have each responded to the uproars.

Christie fired the aides involved and told constituents that he was “heartbroken” at their disloyalty.

Duma apologized on behalf of the Buro 24/7 team publicly on Instagram, and also issued a statement, via a spokesperson:

The chair pictured in the Buro 24/7 website interview is an artwork created by Norwegian artist Bjarne Melgaard, one of a series that reinterprets art historical works from artist Allen Jones as a commentary on gender and racial politics. Its use in this photo shoot is regrettable as it took the artwork totally out of its intended context, particularly given that Buro 24/7’s release of the article coincided with the important celebration of the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr…

Meanwhile, Madonna replaced the offending caption with one that now reads: “#get off my d—k haters!”

So, should we? Celebrities are not politicians. Should they be expected to apologize for personal indiscretions? What kinds of moral lapses require public apologies? Can PR-mediated statements ever come across as genuine? If so, which have? And does issuing one via social media make it feel more genuine or less so?

It took several attempts to properly phrase my long-ago apology to my brother. (“I’m sorry that you started it,” apparently doesn’t qualify as an expression of remorse.) Eventually, I looked him square in the face and just said, “I’m really sorry.” But would a celebrity who framed her apology so simply be as readily forgiven?

Ali MacGraw once said, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Unfortunately for the rich and famous, I think fame means you do. The question is…do you?

Let’s talk about it.

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  • Quinn Halman

    People are offended way too easily. Everyone has this idea that the whole world is out to get them when in reality very few people have harmful intentions. Just apologize to the person or people you hurt. Those are the people it affects and if it’s an outsider looking in, they don’t exactly have place in other people’s business. Apologizing directly to the people is more meaningful and it’s harder. If you’re apologizing to mass crowds, I think social media is fine. It’s probably the way that a celebrity has access to the most amount of people.
    This is why Ellen always says “be kind to one another”

  • Josie Fillat

    My boyfriend and I often say there is nothing to be sorry about. Everyone is sorry because other people say they should be. Maybe sorry should be replaced with “I am guilty”. Instead of apologizing for our actions (and other persons) we, everyone, should own up to them, including famous people. I feel as though apologizing sweeps things under the rug. People are not sorry, it’s just something we’ve been trained to say. People say sorry for everything when it either is not necessary or not enough.

  • Aubrey Green

    I think it sometimes depends on the situation and what exactly was said/done.

    However, most of the statements/tweets/etc that anyone,celebrity or not post/make are more likely than not thought out on some level, no? If so, what they said, they meant – therefore their apology seems like a lie (I’m only apologizing so I don’t look like a complete asshole), which when you think about it, you already look like an asshole to a lot of people, who when they see/read your apology are probably going to roll their eyes and still have the sentiment that you are an asshole. So, I guess I personally don’t think their apology is sincere, especially when done on a mass level.

    I also don’t think most people’s apologies are sincere to be quite honest. You’re just sorry that the other person finds you (insert word here) and/or you got caught doing something.

    On the same note, it’s kind of like when someone says, “I didn’t tell you because I knew you would get mad…” – it’s like, okay, so it’s okay to do the bad thing, as long as I just don’t know about it.

    I also think that what someone does/says is taken out of context, within the scope of texting/tweeting/etc in this particular situation. There should be 3 “are you sure you want to say that” before someone clicks “post”. – maybe this would help with having to apologize in the first place…

  • s.a.

    most of these public figure incidents come down to ignorance. and/or stupidity. those who care shouldn’t seek an apology from Duma/Buro team – she can gain back respect by showing she learned from that ignorant mistake… like a child learning to grow up.

    • Mattie Kahn

      too true. how does a celeb demonstrate “growth,” though?

  • Brie

    being easily offended is not a good thing. sometimes you have to shrug it off, if it does no physical harm (or mental harm) to your person why are you so upset? the problem, in my humble opinion, is that people WANT to be offended over something. they don’t just want to disagree with you, they want to get mad! and then they want an apology b/c that makes things all better? i guess? what do those words do to rectify why you are upset? they’re just words, people say them and don’t mean them all the time. honestly, if i think about this too much my brain starts to hurt and i end up hating people…

    • Hereshoping Themayanswereright

      “There’s a great big world out there…full of people waiting to get offended at something.” read this true.

  • Pop

    I think its very easy to get offended over things that are not intended to offend anyone and are not even directed to a specific audience. It naive to assume that everyone carefully “thinks before they speak” in every instance of publishing something on the internet. Yes the unfortunate date coinciding with the chair picture can be interpreted as offensive, what I think is more offensive is to jump to conclusions this was meant to cause offence. People make mistakes, and last time I checked celebrities are normal human beings…. i think

    • Mattie Kahn

      I completely agree that too much is taken out of context these days and that the instantaneous nature of social media makes it hard to hold people truly accountable for what were probably fleeting thought, BUT Duma’s photo was staged, styled, shot, and published. Doesn’t she have an obligation to think through its implications before releasing it out to the great, wide world?

      • Caroline

        Don’t forget it’s a russian website. Russians think sometimes a little different then we (western world) do. The government has great power over their people. I am referring to the law against gay men and women, which is a big debate now that the olympics are coming up. And there are other conceptions that are not really consistent with the human rights. So it doesn’t surprises me that much that this picture made it so easily to its publication.

  • Jen

    At the end of the day Duma only apologized for the sake of keeping the viewers and for the reputation of Buro 24/7. She had already known about the article and she released it which means she was satisfied with the result.
    I don’t think she had to apologize for that. She saw the chair as a piece of art and nothing more. Should she have thought about the consequences before publishing? Maybe…
    Regardless most people’s perspective are so darn negative it’s ridiculous. They are entertained by the negativity of this world. Come on, gossip magazines would have been out of business by now if what I said wasn’t true. People need to just lay off and stop being so sensitive about the whole racial discrimination subject. Stop being so defensive and just live on with your lives. JUST LIVE! STOP COMPLAINING! LIFE IS TOO SHORT FOR SUCH PETTY COMPLAINTS!

  • JessieAnne

    As opposed to “scandals” like the Duck Dynasty star slurs, celebrities, SOMETIMES aren’t representing a group, business, cause, etc. That being said, many celebrities do hold endorsements and should consider those before they speak or…type.

  • Eva

    I think the fact that most of them have chosen to be public figures means that they should have to deal with these matters (in this case apologies) publicly!

  • Annie

    Sounds like someone has something on her mind…

  • UniStudent555

    I think it’s kind of comical that some people assume everything will be fixed with one word, “sorry”. But it’s even funnier that people will accept the one word to mean that the user is indeed regretful and full of remorse.
    I have seen so many celebrity public apologies and I really think most just say it to preserve their public image. Don’t get me wrong, I do think some mean it when they say sorry but for others their actions speak louder than words.

  • Anna Louise

    I am finding this an interesting conversation. Many of the comments seem to align with those of my 20 something kid, which is essentially that anyone who says or does something dick-like is obviously a dick, and will be recognized as such, calling them on it is unnecessary and obvious, moreover it is beneath the rest of us to be sensitive or react. My reaction, by constrast, it to shine the light on dick-like behaviour, however subtle, and call it like it is, in fear of thin edge of wedge. This is likely because I grew up in an era where sexism, homo-phobia, ethic and racial sterotypes, etc., were still rampant, although becoming more subtle, and hence a daily fight. By contrast, my kid grew up in a relatively open, accepting culture. I can understand both approaches, but I don’t think I will ever be able to hear/see something dick-like without saying something or forever feeling guilty about not doing so….and appreciating it when others point out my own dick-like behaviour when it occurs. I think celebs should be held to at least this same standard.

    • Mattie Kahn

      Hmmm interesting! I wonder whether people’s opinions about this varies with age/experience…

  • houseofboys

    I’m a bit surprised at many of the comments here. The examples given are not easily taken out of context or things that people are just getting their panties in a bunch over. Chris Christie put a whole town in gridlock, Madonna used a word that alienates a large swath of the population and references an uncomfortable history that the US still doesn’t know how to approach. The magazine photo was in poor taste and addresses that history as well.

    These are not off the cuff comments that got these celebs in hot water. Apologizing may seem lame and pointless but it becomes a salve for bad behavior and it’s the only way we have to take responsibility.

    Ani DeFranco,, Melissa Harris-Perry, Paula Deen… apologies serve a purpose (although one can argue that Ani didn’t really apologize) and help heal wounded feelings so that a discourse, free from emotion (ideally), can come of it. Same thing when you break your brothers Power Rangers video… you say “sorry” then he says “yeah, that was my favorite video and i’m pretty angry” and then you can sit down and watch PowerPuff Girls instead, no hard feelings.

  • The Dark Black

    Celebrities have enough money to afford proper PR. Celebs are suppose to tell their PR the truth so that PR can lie for them and make things go away. Let’s send all guilty of the outbursts to Passages in Malibu for rehab. As people w should never be sorry about anything only the way we voice what we are sorry about. I’m never sorry..but I can rethink and just wished I changed my approach. Have regrets for what??? That’s life…sheltered people do not survive it.

  • Chloe

    I think the problem is people don’t like to hold celebrities accountable for their actions. When you are a global publication such as Buro 24/7 you have to take into account that you’re readers stem from culturally diverse background and someone of Duma’s statue should know better than to post such culturally insensitive content. In our places of work we are held accountable for our so called bad behaviors, celebrities should be no different.