And now, the latest in our ongoing series about the nation’s most tedious obsession – the quality of our public apologies.
The latest is that of Ryan Lochte, the U.S. Olympic swimmer who completely Lochte’d up a trip to an impromptu bathroom and led two nations and the global media to throw a battery of conniptions on a raft of subjects.
To which we say, “Have at it, kids. These are the Olympics, where the inspiring meets the meatheaded.”
We now depart from the Olympic part of this to hone in on Lochte’s apology for contorting and embellishing his brush with whatever passes for law enforcement here. This is that apology.
It was your standard celebrity apology – barely enough mea, and deliberately vague on the culpa, as is required in these situations. He shaved enough crust off the original lie while commingling it with the truthier elements of his story and leaving the essence of “I was kind of mischievous with my kidneys, but I’m charming and my hair is sort of green, so let’s call it a draw, okay?”
And of course everyone hated it, because in this society, the apology is actually more important than the crime, and Lochte, true to his nature, bollixed it up to the point where he could not have done a worse job if he’d consigned it to a sock puppet.
We put a lot of stock in apologies. We grade sincerity, earnestness, the desire to do right and even basic human value in them, as though they weren’t what they actually are – a pro forma rite of nonsense that nobody ever means and in any event has no use.
Well, that’s probably a bit strong. Take, as a counterpoint, the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s Elliotte Friedman’s abject yet admirable acknowledgement of error for confusing Lochte and Michael Phelps during his call of the 200 meter individual medley. He took all the heat the earth’s core could generate and is likely to wear this mistake as a hair shirt until the day of his retirement, which viewers across Canada essentially said en masse that they hoped would not happen for another 70 years or so.
He didn’t just fall on his sword, he rolled around on it to make sure no vital organs were missed. He did what we think apologies should be, and then some – absorb all blame, and deflect all credit for absorbing said blame. Frankly, you were begging him to stop by the end.
Well, those days of the unreserved prostration are gone, kids, and apologies have become tactical typing exercises done by others, especially in statement form so as to avoid having to face up to demands for a more personal acknowledgement of sins before the high priest of scorn and approval that is the Body America.
Screwing up and owning it unreservedly is passé. Hedging your bets, spreading the blame, even going with the “Hey, I’m human, I screw up, I’m wacky that way. What do you want from me?” all has devalued the entire concept into a briefcase full of gobbledygook, from the House of Arglebargle.
But we still hold stock in the idea of the apology as a barometer of one’s inner character and, for those of you of a more metaphysical bent, soul. It isn’t. It is at best a tedious societal nicety used to measure one’s essential insincerity in the face of overwhelming, well, conjecture painted as facts.
We’re pretty sure what Lochte and his three swimming pals actually did that fateful night at the gas station, thanks in large part to a New York Times story on the incident that pieces together the shards of fact into a mostly coherent time line. But we stopped worrying about that yesterday. Now it’s about his incomplete, blame-shifting, lads-on-holiday apologette, which satisfied nobody on a subject which most people demand satisfaction.
Or at least the right to condemn him further for not apologizing better.
Fine. Just so we know this is no longer about bladders gone rogue or guests acting out in someone else’s home, but about the social convention of crafting a legally impregnable admission of vague wrongdoing while pretending to achieve the proper level of prostration from people in the public eye, and whether it is found pleasing to that eye.
I mean, if you want to know how a worthwhile old-timey apology ought to work, take Elliotte Friedman’s and shave off 15 percent for excessive flagellation. If you want to know how they don’t, give Ryan Lochte’s another read.
But don’t think that you’re providing yourself with a noble cover for what is essentially an exercise in pointlessness. Once the apology became a function performed by committees, it stopped mattering as social convention, and at this point, let’s be honest, apologies don’t matter any more.
Except for the one apology you never hear from anyone, ever, for any reason, and the one that is almost always the most sincere of all:
“I’m very sorry I got caught and that I have to stand here in public and pretend I feel bad about it to you scum.”