“(T)here’s an art in being abject. When done right, a mea culpa can do more than save your career, it can bolster it. Just ask Hugh (I-Did-a-Bad-Thing) Grant. Here are some tips on getting contrite right.”
— from the U.K. Guardian’s
U.S. News Blog, July 26, 2012
Is it just me or has apologizing become North America’s favourite pastime?
Conservative MP Rob Anders is sorry for suggesting that NDP Leader Tom Mulcair “helped to hasten” the death of his predecessor, Jack Layton, by spurring him on to fight a tough election at a time when his health was fragile.
Married country singer Jason Aldean regrets drinking too much and acting inappropriately at a bar, cosying up to “American Idol” contestant Brittany Kerr.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is so contrite it took a whole book for him to list his transgressions — cheating on this wife, fathering a child with another woman, keeping his spouse out of the loop on his career choices. Maybe he’ll find catharsis on the talk-show circuit.
Actress Kristen Stewart regrets having been unfaithful to her “Twilight” series love interest and real-life beau Robert Pattison, and issued a public apology that has been praised for its savviness.
“I’m deeply sorry for the hurt and embarrassment I’ve caused to those close to me and everyone this has affected,” she said. “This momentary indiscretion has jeopardized the most important thing in my life, the person I love and respect the most, Rob. I love him, I love him, I’m so sorry.”
The U.K. Guardian has given that apology a big two thumbs up, saying it “has quickly become a model for the modern-day celebrity apology: it was brief, it was restrained and it was issued on the People website.”
Stewart’s “momentary indiscretion” was with Rupert Sanders, the director of her new film, “Snow White and the Huntsman,” who is married and the father of two young children.
Not to be outdone — and, frankly, who could outdo his overwrought prose? — he made his own public declaration:
“I am utterly distraught about the pain I have caused my family,” he told People magazine. “My beautiful wife and heavenly children are all I have in this world. I love them with all my heart. I am praying that we can get through this together.”
The cynic in me suspects these heartfelt protestations were more about protecting brand and shoring up fan support and box office attendance than anything else.
After all, wouldn’t the apologies be more effective if they were delivered in private to the wounded parties rather than issued to the public in a manner that only repeats the hurtful truth?
They have their place
Don’t get me wrong — there are occasions when nothing less than a formal, public apology will do.
In 2005, for example, then premier Danny Williams apologized on behalf of the province to the Inuit who had been relocated from their homes in the Labrador communities of Nutak and Hebron.
In June 2006, he apologized to Newfoundland and Labrador’s Chinese community for the imposition of a head tax on Chinese immigrants between 1906 and 1949.
These past actions by past governments had a profound effect on the people involved. Making public apologies in those cases was the right thing to do.
But they start to seem less right and more for effect in circumstances where, if the person had simply exercised some common sense in the first place, there’d be nothing to apologize for.
Celebrities and politicians are in the public eye, and they must know that any indiscretion of theirs will be magnified through the lens of public criticism, exacerbating the hurt and humiliation to their loved ones.
Those types of mea culpa are so common now, they’re meaningless. Still, websites and self-help books abound offering how-to tips on saying sorry.
The website perfectapology.com offers examples of celebrity apologies that were effective and those that bombed. Reading them, it quickly becomes obvious that not everyone takes the advice of their publicist or spiritual counsel.
In talking to Rolling Stone magazine in January 2011 about having used the offensive N-word, American singer John Mayer offered this quizzical apology: “I will continue to make these worldwide dignity mistakes as often as it takes to not make them anymore.”
Of course, it’s not just celebrities who fall from grace. Politicians often run afoul of prudence and find themselves trying to gather a few shreds of credibility with which to patch up their tattered reputation.
One of the most bizarre revelations from the States involves a rookie Kansas congressman who found himself having to bare his soul to the electorate after baring everything else during a 2011 trip to the Sea of Galilee.
I guess no one told him it might be considered offensive to skinny dip in the place where Jesus is thought to have walked on water.
Kevin Yoder apologized to The Kansas City Star on Aug. 19.
As the Associated Press reported, he said: “The gravity of the situation and the actions I’ve taken are not lost on me, and I feel certainly regret at what has occurred, and I just want to apologize to my constituents for a momentary lapse in judgment.”
Yoder was among 20 other politicians who decided to take a dip. Problem is, he’s the only one who went in au naturel.
Now, no one expects celebrities, politicians and other public figures to walk on water, but perhaps if they spent a little more time on forethought, they’d be less likely to have to defend their boneheaded behaviour on the world stage.
Just ask Bill Clinton.
Pam Frampton is a columnist and
The Telegram’s associate managing editor.
She can be reached by email at