The Sorry Business 

The art of saying sorry, and the need for it, ties public figures in knots.

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First of all, I want to apologize for even bringing this subject up. Everyone is sick and tired of the subject, namely, apologies, the giving of which seem to have become a national pastime. As soon as I’m done for discussing apologies, for which I heartily and humbly beg your pardon, I propose a moratorium on apologies.

The most recent apologies, of course, came from Serena Williams for threatening to shove the fucking tennis ball down the fucking throat of a terrified line judge at the U.S. Open; from Joe Wilson, an obscure Republican congressman from South Carolina for suggesting rather vociferously during a presidential speech to Congress and the nation that the president was a liar; and from someone named Kanye, who grabbed the mike from Taylor Swift at the MTV awards and proclaimed Beyoncé the rightful recipient of some singing award.

The apologies of the aforementioned luminaries were, as usual, not really apologies. Apologies, especially those from public figures, are rarely genuine. Instead of something on the order of “I’m sorry, what I did was terrible, no excuses, I’ll never do it again,” the would-be apologizer rationalizes the behavior by suggesting it was really no big deal and asserting that he or she isn’t the kind of person who does that sort of thing and so let’s all just move on, et cetera, et cetera.

The congressman from South Carolina, who has the mean little eyes you used to see in the stupid faces of people spitting on black children as they were being escorted into an integrated school, negated his apology by saying his bosses made him do it. Kanye, aptly characterized by President Obama as a jackass, is for the most part totally clueless (and perpetually drunk besides).

Serena Williams, in her serial efforts in the art of apology, was a wonder to behold. With each PR-scripted stab at making things right, she merely succeeded in digging a deeper hole. Just as scary as her racket-wielding threats directed at the cowering lineswoman was her stated wish to let bygones be bygones and give the poor woman a “big ol’ hug.” Yikes! Run for your life!

If Serena really wants to atone for her ugly behavior, she should at a minimum turn over her share of the U.S. Open purse (somewhere around a million bucks) to the woman who was on the verge, courtesy of snarling Serena, of having a fucking tennis ball shoved down her fucking throat.

As egregious and embarrassing as the apologies of Joe, Kanye and Serena were, they were only the most recent in a long line of self-serving, non-apologizing apologies. We have been entertained by Mel Gibson, Alex Rodriguez, Hugh Grant, Kobe Bryant, Marion Jones, Michael Phelps, Michael Richards, Richard Gere, David Hasselhoff, Don Imus, Janet Jackson, Alec Baldwin, and the King of Apologies, Bill Clinton, who kept on apologizing and apologizing and apologizing, and who came off not as contrite, but somehow self-congratulatory and self-pitying at the same time.

Good ol’ Bill was, of course, apologizing for having (sort of) sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky, who, curiously, never apologized for her role in the affair. Also curious is the fact that the participants in the spectacle of public apologizing seem to be mostly men. Maybe because men are worse offenders, or maybe because women don’t have any reason to apologize or don’t think they need to apologize. Whatever the reason, it may be to women’s credit that they don’t indulge in apologies, which these days aren’t really apologies anyway.

Which brings me (sorry, indulge me for just another minute) to asking why our species sees the need to apologize in the first place. What’s done is done, as they say. And given human nature, how sincere is any apology? Who really believes he or she is in the wrong?

“Never explain, never apologize,” is a quotation variously attributed to John Wayne, Wayne Newton, Benjamin Jowett, Benjamin Franklin, Franklin Pierce, Pierce Brosnan, Charles Bronson, and Bronson Pinchot, among others. The quotation implicitly recognizes the futility of explanations or apologies.

A more nuanced version of the sentiment was voiced by P.G. Wodehouse, whose novels are known for their broad and bracing comic vision. “It’s a good rule in life never to apologize. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort of people take a mean advantage of them.”

I’m awfully sorry for taking up your time. Please forgive me. Mea culpa. My bad.

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