I'm an over-apologiser. I'll apologise for accidentally brushing past you on the street or for not being quick enough to bag up my groceries at the supermarket. I once apologised to a chair I'd walked into. I've apologised for apologising. But even by my standards, we've gone too far. Looking back on 2018 it feels like everyone from Emmerdale to Hollywood has something to be sorry for, and while I'm usually reluctant to describe any movement as having 'gone too far', I'm embarrassed by our cultural obsession with accountability and the mob mentality that has grown alongside it.
From an early age we are taught to apologise when we have wronged somebody. The apology disarms the injured party and helps repair the relationship, but today's apology culture has rendered this currency almost worthless. Last year's headlines were littered with forced apologies, no doubt scripted by an anxious agent or PR advisor, from celebrities who had said or done something which the internet had deemed offensive.
Kim Kardashian said sorry for bragging about weight loss while Matt Damon made some regrettable comments about the #metoo movement. Pop singer Lorde apologised for insensitively captioning a photo of a bathtub with the lyrics 'and I will always love you' after the world and its mother pointed out that Whitney Houston had drowned in a bath. Television presenter Megyn Kelly said sorry for questioning why blackface was considered racist on live television – a crime for which she was swiftly fired – and actress Katherine Heigl was forced to issue a public apology after posing for a silly photoshoot in a New York cemetery. Each solemnly expressed their regret for any offence that they may have caused and begged forgiveness from us, the Almighty Public.
But rather than jumping on the bandwagon of insincerity, Kevin Hart recently opted out of our apology culture when he elected to step down as host of next month's Academy Awards ceremony, rather than apologise for his Tweets of old. In a video he published on Instagram, the actor and comedian revealed that the Academy had asked him to either publicly apologise, once again, for derogatory and homophobic remarks he made as far back as 2009 after they resurfaced on Twitter, or they would find someone to replace him. 'Guys,' he said, 'I'm almost 40 years old. If you don't believe that people change, grow, evolve as they get older, I don't know what to tell you.' And with that, he stepped down.
While the content of some of Hart's Tweets is pretty appalling, I can appreciate that they stemmed from a place of ignorance and that people are capable of change. The onslaught of public wrath does nothing to foster compassion or sincere remorse and seems less about righting wrongs and more about exercising our own self-righteousness and satisfying our bloodlust. It's the modern equivalent of casting stones except now we don't even need to get our hands bloody.
Take Roxanne Pallett. This Carlisle-born soap actress is up there with the Kardashians, Ariana Grande and Meghan Markle as one of the most Googled names in 2018 because of the controversy surrounding her 'Celebrity Big Brother' appearance. Ofcom received over 11,000 complaints after the episode aired in which she falsely accused her fellow housemate of assaulting her. Despite apologising twice, once in a 'CBB' exit interview and again on the 'Jeremy Vine' show, the actress was axed as a presenter on Minster FM and reportedly missed out on a pantomime opportunity as a result of the incident.
It's not that I don't think Pallett's actions merited an apology, but watching her character and career unravel in a matter of days for our own sense of mob justice and voyeuristic entertainment got me thinking about whether we are capable of forgiveness in a viral society. Our once righteous indignation has lapsed into a kind of smug sense of moral superiority, and instead of using these moments as springboards for change or progressive dialogue, our perpetually outraged viral culture seizes every misspoken word as an opportunity for social emasculation.
The ensuing tearful mea culpas
and prescribed apology statements are not indicative of a valiant battle fought hard and won in the name of progress. Rather, our insatiable appetite for apologies, particularly from those whose voices seem bigger than our own, is symptomatic of our own desire to feel that when we speak it matters. It's striking the match just to watch the fire burn, and says more about our own feelings of alienation and insignificance as a culture than it does about the people we take down in the flames.