Sunday, January 22, 2012

Extremely Apologetic and Unbelievably Genuine

Two high-profile apologies caught my attention this weekend that I thought I’d write about today.  The first was Mark Wahlberg’s apology for saying in an interview that if he and his family had been aboard one of the planes hijacked on 9/11 – as he was scheduled to be – things would have happened differently.  The second was also 9/11-related when Warner Brothers apologized for running trailers for their new movie, “Unbelievably Loud and Incredibly Close,” near the site of the attacks.  (The trailer includes images of Sandra Bullock watching the Twin Towers burn.)

I believe both apologies were unnecessary and I planned on beginning with a snarky comment about how it had been “X” days since we’ve had a good public apology and that we were simply due.  I did a quick internet search for “issued an apology” and was surprised to find that zero days had elapsed since the last apology.

We’re up to our necks in apologies – more than 1,700 news stories about apologies in the past month.  We’re either too thin-skinned for our own good, or we put too many microphones in front of too many dolts.

Here were some of the Apology Highlights for the month of January, (you can follow the links to read more about each story, but do come back here to see if I can tie it all up in a bow at the end):

Vancouver police have apologized for mistakenly arresting (and roughing up) a man in his front yard.  The police were chasing a different man who was seen running from a nearby bank.  Apparently the cops couldn’t catch him, what with all the running, so they decided to literally tackle the easier target – some guy standing still.  While officers were repeatedly lowering the innocent man’s face to the ground, a fleet-footed member of the force did manage to catch up with the Bank Runner.  Interestingly enough, he was released because simply running is apparently not a crime.  He hadn’t robbed the bank, rather he was just late for something.
An Argentine daily newspaper, Pagina/12, apologized for a cartoon depicting Hitler running a concentration camp dance party at which he confided in the DJ that when the Jews relax and dance, the soap he makes from their corpses is better.  Yah.
Katy Perry’s father, an evangelical minister, apologized for some unoriginal anti-Semitic remarks he made that seemed to be geared towards bringing Mel Gibson into his flock.
And in case you think only anti-Semites say things worthy of apology, the editor, owner, and publisher of a paper called “The Atlanta Jewish Times” issued an apology for writing in an editorial that he thinks Israel should assassinate President Obama to preserve Israel’s future.  Also perhaps he should look into whether or not doctors can now reverse full frontal lobotomies.
Fashion house Dolce & Gabbana has apologized twice this month.  First for racist actions they did not take, and then a second time for those actions.  Uh-huh.  At issue are allegations that the D&G store in Hong Kong allows Chinese and other tourists to take pictures in front of the store, but does not allow native Hong Kongers to do so.  What I loved about both these apologies is that they convey the sentiments of a certain Cee-Lo Green song. 
From the first apology: “…our company has not taken part in any action aimed at offending the Hong Kong public.”  And from the second: “We understand that the events which unfolded in front of [our store] have offended the citizens of Hong Kong, and for this we are truly sorry and we apologise.”  Well done.
CBS Sports apologized for announcing that Joe Paterno had died.  That’s one of those cases where they meant to SAVE DRAFT but instead hit PUBLISH.  (I hate when that happens – and now look, between first draft of this column and publication, he has actually passed away.)
A Cardinal in Chicago apologized for comparing gays and lesbians to the Ku Klux Klan.  This too seems like a reasonable apology, though after reading his original statement, the first non-apology, and then the actual apology, I’m not 100% certain he was making that comparison.  I think he just might be really bad at making analogies.
“Pizza” chain Papa John’s apologized for a customer receiving a receipt that identified her with a racial slur.  The individual franchise offered a silly and weak apology, then HQ stepped in and did it right with an unequivocal apology and instructions to fire the employee responsible.  Good for them.  And good for them also sticking to their guns and not apologizing for the pizza itself.
There were other apologies that, like these listed above, were called for.  But what I really wanted to write about was the unnecessary apologies.  I put the Wahlberg and Warner Brothers apologies in that category.  They are apologies motivated by fear of offending, or regret at having offended people who generally have too much time on their thin-skinned hands.
The Warner Brothers apology and promise to pull the ads from public spaces close to the New York site of the 9/11 attacks was either part of a well-thought out publicity effort or much ado about nothing.
I suspect the film, like the book upon which it is based, deals with the tragedy and loss around 9/11 in a meaningful and respectful way.  I say “suspect” because I haven’t read the book and doubt I’ll see the movie.  Why?  I don’t feel the need to relive the tragedies; however, I also don’t begrudge others their right to do just that.  Tragedies just aren’t really my thing, not if I can help it.  And if it involves the premature death of a parent with young children, or children themselves, yeah, I’ll take a pass on that.
If the Warner Brothers trailers were for the film adaptation of “9/11 The Musical: Let’s Roll…and Rock” I could see that being upsetting – not just to people who lived through the attacks first hand, but for most.  But they weren’t.  They were somber, serious trailers for a somber, serious film. 
Pulling the trailers from locations in lower Manhattan is silly.  If the images upset people, they’ll upset them everywhere.  Should the marketing department track the location and movement of everyone impacted by 9/11 to ensure they don’t run the ads near these people?  In a way, the implication is insulting to the rest of us: people who live and work in lower Manhattan feel real pain, the rest of us are pikers.
The studio overreacted.  Or they played it perfectly, earning some extra ink by using traumatized victims to help build buzz for the film.  I hope that wasn’t the plan.
Mark Wahlberg, a proud family man with a history of real life violence, (as a youth, he was banned from the South Boston Boys & Girls Club he used to attend and now financially supports), said, “If I was on that [9/11] plane with my kids, it wouldn't have went down like it did -- there would have been a lot of blood in that first-class cabin and then me saying, 'OK, we're going to land somewhere safely, don't worry.'"
He was saying that if the lives of his children were being threatened, he would be compelled to act, putting his fists where his mouth is.  Now the blood all over First Class may well have ended up being his, and nothing would have changed from a historical perspective, but why can’t he express those thoughts? 
His apology, which, by the way, was actually top notch and classy, gives us a clue.  He said, “To suggest I would have done anything differently than the passengers on that plane was irresponsible. To speculate about such a situation is ridiculous to begin with…I deeply apologize to the families of the victims that my answer came off as insensitive, it was certainly not my intention."
The apology implies that some were offended because they thought Wahlberg was saying he is braver and loves his children more than the passengers on the plane.  Really?  Do they genuinely think Wahlberg thinks this?  I mean, really and truly.   I don’t.  And guess what, it doesn’t matter if he does.  He’s just a person, entitled to an opinion.  An opinion I don’t think he was expressing, and even if he was, it says more about him than about the 9/11 victims.
And guess what?  I’ve had similar thoughts, (without the First Class bit).  And I’ll bet we’re not alone. 
We’ll never know for sure everything that happened on the planes that were flown into the Twin Towers; for all we know, some passengers, like those on United 93, did rise up against the hijackers and were killed for their efforts to get back to their families.
I simply don’t believe it’s disrespectful to try to imagine how you would have reacted if you had been placed in that terrible situation.  Asking yourself “what would I do?” is what makes us human.  And I think it’s a question every American asked after the 9/11 attacks.  It doesn’t lessen the memory of those who died, if anything, our reflecting on the horror they faced keeps their memory and courage alive.
Wahlberg did not need to apologize for what he said.  His involvement in “The Happening,” however, is another matter.
The reality is, I think there’s too much apologizing going on.  Public figures and companies are often quick to apologize for things that will hurt their image or sales, and they usually don’t really mean them.  Not one contrite word.
For example, Mel Gibson’s apologies, (like those of Katy Perry’s father) are completely hollow.  They are not sorry for what they said.  They are sorry we heard them.  And they absolutely still hold those beliefs, and they always will.  They can, as Susan Ross (Heidi Swedberg) from “Seinfeld” said, “stuff those ‘sorrys’ in a sack.”
This endless succession of publicly expedient apologies that the politically correct and easily-outraged demand, and the accompanying hand-wringing, tersely-worded, and legally-non committal statements, and in some cases the shedding of gallons of crocodile tears, devalue the genuine apologies.  Apologies like Mr. Wahlberg’s.
Before we demand apologies and threaten boycotts we should ask ourselves two key questions.  First, does this situation truly merit a public flogging and apology or am I just a little grumpy today?  And second, will the apology matter or will I not believe it?  If the answers are “no,” we should probably just put the incident behind us and get on with our lives.

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