By Jonathan Shuffield
Apologies, they are on my mind a lot lately. They are a necessary part of existence. I’ve had to swallow my pride on many an occasion and apologize to someone I care about. I believe the ability to apologize is a sign of a strong character. Realize, of course, I refer to the sincerest definition of an apology; an expression of one’s regret, remorse, or sorrow. We live in a day and age of mass media, instant information and sound bites; within that frame work the very act and intention of an apology has taken on a far different definition.
I am reminded of two recent “apologies” of sorts. First let’s talk about Dr. Ben Carson – I mean we might as well, everyone else is. Ben Carson is considered a strong contender as a candidate in the 2016 GOP presidential primary. Recently, during an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Carson expressed this bit of insight into his psyche:
“Marriage is between a man and a woman, it’s a well-established fundamental pillar of society,” Carson told Hannity. “And no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn’t matter what they are. They don’t get to change the definition, so it’s not something that’s against gays, it’s against anybody who wants to come along and change the fundamental definitions of pillars of society – it has significant ramifications.”
The backlash was instantaneous, including students from Johns Hopkins University Medical School where he had been scheduled to give the commencement address. The University released a statement stating: “We recognize that tension now exists in our community because hurtful, offensive language was used by our colleague, Dr. Ben Carson, when conveying a personal opinion. Dr. Carson’s comments are inconsistent with the culture of our institution.”
Less than a week after his nationally televised interview, Carson began what I like to call the apology dance. Side stepping with claims of being quoted out of context, sliding to the left stating he had been misunderstood and finishing strong with an open letter to Johns Hopkins University saying he was “sorry for any embarrassment this has caused. But what really saddens me is that my poorly chosen words caused pain for some members of our community…” and this: “Although I do believe marriage is between a man and a woman, there are much less offensive ways to make that point.”
Now let’s look at the recent comments by Dolce & Gabbana. The famous gay designing team recently granted an interview with the Italian magazine Panorama in which they stated, “The only family is the traditional one. No chemical offspring and rented uterus. Procreation must be an act of love. I call children of chemistry, synthetic children. Uteri for rent, semen chosen from a catalogue,” The interview prompted celebrities like Elton John, Madonna, Ricky Martin, and others to publicly criticize the pair and for Elton John [and his husband David Furnish] to call for a boycott of D&G.
Let the apology dance begin – the pair took to CNN faster than a disco beat stating they had chosen their words wrong; “We love gay couples. We love gay adoption. We love everything,” Gabbana told CNN Wednesday. When asked if he supports IVF he stated, “Yeah, I don’t have anything bad, because the beauty of the world is freedom.”
My issue is honestly not with the subject matter or opinions stated, to which I am diametrically opposed on both instances. I truthfully believe that people have a right to their opinions, as I have the right to disagree. The troublesome spot for me begins with the apologies themselves. As stated earlier a sincere apology is one that comes from regret, remorse or sorrow. I do not believe that in either case this motivation exists. What does exist is the cold, hard motivation of money and power, the oldest incentives in existence. I would speculate that the half-hearted apology from Dr. Carson was not at all toward any one offended within the LGBT community, but to the powers that be at Johns Hopkins and the Republican National Convention, groups that can directly affect his candidacy in 2016. For Dolce & Gabbana to not-so-subtly attempt to do a 180, you would have to be completely ignorant to miss the concern for their bottom line.
Apologies have become a type of social currency, a quick way to buy yourself out of a smudge to your reputation without having to be sincere about your intentions. It seems like such a shady way to present yourself to the world. I would much rather know exactly what you think and have you be authentic, so that I can make a clear and personal decision on who I support and where I spend my money.
It’s an idealist’s view of the world, I admit. Manipulation is the fastest way in which to influence people and apology is an accurate weapon. I think what really bugs me about these “apologies” is the fact that it assumes a lack of intelligence on the world itself. To even expect that presenting us with a statement like, “there are much less offensive ways to make that point,” and think that should be considered a way to wipe the slate clean simply infuriates me. Stand by what you say, be honest about your thoughts, and take the ramifications like an adult!
I know that as a person in media I am judged harshly, I accept that I will tick people off whom I did not intend to and some that I did. I even know that there will be moments where my foot finds its way to my mouth. I will have instances where I will have the option to apologize.
In that moment I can only pray that my convictions stay strong and that I am not swayed by the fear of what I might lose if I choose to stand by what I said. I hope that each and every time I apologize in my life, it is because I feel the true regret or remorse or sorrow for my actions. If a person is only as good as their word, it is in these moments that we find what value our word truly holds. In these two instances their word has proven valueless.