The Culture of Apology

“I’m sorry.”

Those two words have been elevated to quasi-religious status in America. You know the drill. You’re a politician caught with his hand in the till or on a Senate page; a celebrity spewing a drunken diatribe; an athlete caught doping or hanging out with dopes at a strip club shooting; or a broadcaster wandering beyond the ever-changing PC boundaries, and the dispensation once given only by Christ or a priest can now be attained only by uttering that two-word phrase in a public forum.

The apology must be offered quickly, and it must be offered repeatedly. (It’s also helpful to prostrate yourself before self-appointed advocates for the offended group.) You must say it to Oprah or USA Today or in some other widely-disseminated media confessional. You must use those words to begin the cleansing process which may or may not allow you to be publicly rehabilitated. Forgiveness can only come from a media consensus that you’ve groveled sufficiently.

It’s important that the words be sincere (tears are helpful), and they mustn’t seem too studied. The precise forums for the mea culpa must be chosen carefully. You must appear vulnerable and contrite. You mustn’t be too vague. (“Mistakes were made” and “I’m sorry if I offended anyone” have become insufficient.) Medical conditions or early childhood traumas, if not too far-fetched, can provide some cover.

In this age of cell phone recordings and the instantaneous nature of the internet, your misstep will be seen and/or heard by millions around the world in a heartbeat, and it’ll be played and replayed on TV and radio talk, news and celebrity shows 24 hours a day.

The days when you could make your apologies in a private, sincere manner have passed. We all want to see and hear them now. We all want to be a part of the process. In this age of reality TV, we want our vote to count. It’s contrition to the masses. Repentance to the rabble. Atonement to the mob.

Who will be next?


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