A Shouldn’t-Be-Necessary-But-Amazingly-Still-Is Guide to Apologizing
A timely reminder for Justin Trudeau, Shane Gillis, and… the rest of us
We live in the age of the apology, which is why it’s baffling that so many of us are still so lousy at it.
Even Justin Trudeau, cartoon prince of Canada, has struggled with it recently. After multiple photos surfaced of the prime minister wearing blackface and brownface makeup as a younger man, Trudeau apologized right away, taking full responsibility for his actions and offering his deepest regrets — saying, in fact, little else about it. Unfortunately, Trudeau also suggested that these things didn’t seem so obviously racist in those rough, backward days of 2001. Then he kind of smiled and blamed it on being “more enthusiastic about costumes than is sometimes appropriate.” Trudeau’s second attempt went over better, but — thanks in no small part to that rushed first apology — the doubts about his sincerity have lingered.
Still, at least Trudeau tried.
Also this month, comedian Shane Gillis entered the annals of bad apologies with his halfhearted shrug over racist and homophobic jokes he’d made, which cost him a gig on Saturday Night Live. In an impressively succinct display of contempt, Gillis’ “apology” was smirking, defiant, and praising of his own artistic edginess while failing to actually express any regret. “I’m happy to apologize to anyone who’s actually offended,” he tweeted.
It didn’t go over well. And while the whole fiasco has surely won Gillis a whole new cadre of fans who will rally around his inevitable Triggered Yet???! comedy special, it has also effectively put a cap on his career, a low ceiling he’ll never break through again. If he is remembered at all, it will be for this.
Acknowledging responsibility and then explaining how you plan to address it are the two poles of any good apology and are of way more interest to the wronged party than your feelings.
All this might have been avoided. Indeed, crafting a halfway decent celebrity apology should, by now, be pretty straightforward, a Mad Libs–style…