A Brief History Of the Evolution Of Celebrity Apologies in 2017

This was the year that sorry really was the hardest word....

A Brief History Of the Evolution Of Celebrity Apologies in 2017

by Lily Peschardt |
Published on

2017 has been a properly horrendous year. At times, it has felt like a pair of huge invisible alien hands have reached down from space and shaken the entire world, like a child with a snow globe, turning everything upside down and watching to see how long it takes for everything to settle again. There have been hurricanes and wildfires and nuclear missile tests and secrets that have been bubbling under the surface for decades have finally been exposed – and in their wake, come the apologies.

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Three months ago (although it feels like a million years in 2017 time) The New York Times published its first report alleging that one of the most influential men in Hollywood, Harvey Weinstein, serially harassed, assaulted, intimidated and exposed himself to a series of women over the span of three decades – at time of writing, 66 women have come forward with allegations. Faced with an onslaught of negative press, think pieces and the rumblings of the complete collapse of his career, Weinstein did the inevitable: he released a statement. However, rather than post it on social media, which has become the method of apology du jour, he sent his statement directly to the New York Times.

The ‘Sorry, Not Sorry’ Apology

Putting aside the fact he quoted Jay-Z, or in actual fact, misquoted Jay-Z, and that he made a joke about the NRA (National Rifle Association), the apology itself reads like that of a man who unequivocally believes he shouldn’t be punished for his actions. Because, as he reminds the reader, 'I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s...That was the culture then'. See, it’s not his fault, it’s the past’s fault. He continues, 'I've brought on therapists and I plan to take a leave of absence from my company'. You can practically hear him shaking the next days newspapers, condemning his apology in the face of some lawyer who hasn’t slept in 48 hours and shouting, 'What more do these people want from me? I’m seeing a fucking therapist!' – as if that might be helpful to the dozens of women who have had their careers, self-esteem and lives ruined by this man.

We didn’t know that this expose would cause a social movement, with waves of women reaching back into their past and pulling out the stories they had kept buried for so long and saying #MeToo. Hollywood stars fell from grace like a pack of dominos and, inevitably, then came their attempts to salvage their careers: the apologies.

There were the old school movie stars and TV personalities, who, like Weinstein gave their statements directly to major national newspapers. There was Louis CK, the once beloved 'feminist' comedian who admitted to masturbating in front of numerous women without their consent. His apology was considered, he addressed the women involved directly, he made it clear that he understood the power dynamics at play – and so, we congratulated him for it, even though he never said the one crucial word that is necessary for an apology to carry an weight. He never – not once – said the word: sorry.


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The ‘It’s Not Me, It’s Society’ Apology

Similarly, Charlie Rose, co-host of an American morning show who when he was accused of making sexual advances towards eight women, issued an apology directly via the Washington PostWashington Post that stated: 'All of us, including me, are coming to a newer and deeper recognition of the pain caused by conduct in the past, and have come to a profound new respect for women and their lives'. Rose is seventy-five years old. He has spent his entire life being so entitled, so safe from harassment, so secure in his employment that he never took a moment to think about what life might be like for the eight women (we know of) that he made unwanted sexual advances towards, or indeed, for any woman. When he says 'all of us', he doesn’t mean everyone in the world – he means straight, white, rich men, because this is the first time they've actually been made to listen to the women they took advantage of.

The ‘I Don’t Remember It So It Didn’t Happen’ Apology

There were others who posted their apologies directly to their social media accounts. Like Ben Affleck or Kevin Spacey, whose apology was perhaps the most callous and revolting of them all. He too, took to social media to release his statement, saying: 'I honestly don’t remember the encounter… but if I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology'. So sincere that he blames it on 'drunken behaviour' and then uses his 'apology' to announce: 'I choose now to live as a gay man', as if that is in any way a surprise, or in any way appropriate.

The Straight Up Denial

But for all the lacklustre apologies, there are so many more that simply never materialised. There have been hold-outs, men who refuse to apologise, who are adamant that they never mistreated women. Men such as the President of the United States who is now trying to deny it was his voice on the infamous 'grab her by the pussy' tapes or, James Toback who instead of apologising toldRolling StoneRolling Stone, that anyone who accused him of harassing women was, 'a lying cksucker or ct or both', before adding, 'Anyone who says that, I just want to spit in his or her f**king face'. There was Ed Westwick who simply posted a screenshot of Notes on his Instagram that read: 'I do not know this woman. I have never forced myself in any manner, on any woman. I certainly have never committed rape'.

The Social Media Sorry Statement

After the disgraced men came the women who sought to save them. There was Lena Dunham, who defended one of the writers on her hit show Girls, Murray Miller, who was accused of raping a 17-year-old in 2012. Dunham and Girls’ executive producer Jenni Konner released a public statement of support for Miller, stating that they believe 'this accusation is one of the 3% of assault cases that are misreported every year'. The backlash Dunham faced was swift and immense, especially by women who were disappointed that a woman who has positioned herself as a feminist warrior was willing to so publicly undermine a woman who had come forward with an allegation of sexual misconduct. Ultimately, she posted a screenshot of an apology she’d written in notes to Twitter, saying 'every woman who comes forward deserves to be heard, fully and completely' – but her apology didn’t really satisfy anyone. Zinzi Clemmons, a female writer of colour posted a statement to Twitter saying she would no longer write forLenny LetterLenny Letterand encouraged other writers, especially writers of colour, to do the same.

There was Donna Karan, who apologised for responding to question about Weinstein by saying, 'are we asking for it by presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality?' and then insisted that she was 'taken out of context'. And of course, Hillary Clinton was dragged into the fray for accepting campaign donations from Harvey Weinstein during her 2016 Presidential campaign. Her statement read: 'I was shocked and appalled by the revelations about Harvey Weinstein. The behaviour described by women coming forward cannot be tolerated'. The truth of her statement has been since undermined by Lena Dunham who insists that she warned Clinton of Weinstein’s actions.

The IRL But Still Not An Apology Apology

But there were plenty of apologies outside of the #MeToo framework, too. Boris Johnson apologised on the floor of parliament after severely mishandling of the situation for a British-Iranian women, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is currently in prison in Tehran. Johnson apologised to Parliament for suggesting that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been teaching journalists during a visit to the country in 2016, when she was arrested. 'I apologise to Mrs. Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family if I inadvertently caused them any further anguish', he stated. Then, instead of saying he misspoke, Johnson doubled-down on his assertion that he didn’t actually say anything wrong, rather that he just wasn’t clear enough. 'I apologise for the distress, for the suffering that has been caused by the impression that I gave that the government believed, that I believed, that she was there in a professional capacity', Johnson said.

And, Finally, The Actually Pretty Decent Apology

At the tail end of this year, the rapper, Stormzy, was called out on social media for some homophobic tweets sent between 2011 and 2014 that were unearthed by Pink News. Stormzy responded on Twitter with a thread saying the views he expressed in those tweets do not represent him as a grown man. He continued, 'the comments I made were unacceptable and disgusting, full stop. Comments that I regret and to everyone I’ve offended, I am sorry, these are attitudes I’ve left in the past...That isn’t an excuse, I take responsibility for my mistakes and hope you can understand that my younger self doesn’t reflect who I am today. Again, I’m sorry to everyone I’ve offended. To the LGBQT community and my supporters and friends, my deepest apologies'. Anyone who needs to issue an apology in 2018, take note – this is what a real, honest to God apology looks like.

Sorry Still Seems To Be The Hardest Word

Celebrities apologise because any PR worth their salt will tell them it’s the fastest way to move the story on and the most efficient way to start re-building their once sparkling careers that are now lying in tatters. Where old media still send their statements to the New York Times or the Washington Post, the younger generation post their statements to their Twitter or Instagram accounts. But with the exception of Stormzy, regardless of what method these celebrities use to get their message out, it’s done using the same phrases over and over again. It’s done using PR tropes like 'as the father of daughters' or 'it was a different time'. In fact, it’s done in such a mechanical and formulaic way that American writer, Dana Schwartz was able to create a website called the ‘Celebrity Perv Apology Generator’ that was so astonishingly and depressingly accurate that it somehow became hilarious. Schwartz leaned heavily on the most cliched elements of celebrity apologies and spat out stale, meaningless PR friendly statements – statements that were almost identical to the ones that we’d been forced to hear over and over again over the second half of 2017.

Maybe these apologies would have worked back in the early 2000s, when our interactions with celebrities were confined to reading the pages of tabloids and glossy magazines. But their canned apologies are no longer satisfying their fans who are used to being talked to by celebrities on social media as if they’re friends. We see photographs of their babies, their houses, their workouts, their promo-tours. Social media meant that celebrities tore down the wall between their privacy and their fans, the paparazzi weren’t snapping long lens photos of them on a night out anymore, they were taking those photos themselves – and then uploading them to Instagram. The thing no one predicted about sharing parts of your person life with your fans is that the more you show them, the more they come to expect of you. And in 2017, their apologies failed to meet even the lowest of expectations time and time again

*Illustration By *Lianne NixonLianne Nixon

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Follow Lily on Twitter @LilyPesch

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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