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.
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.