Public contrition for outrageous actions is the expected response these days, particularly for celebrities. It usually works, too, except for Don Imus and maybe Mel Gibson. Rapper Cam’ron told reporter Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes that he wouldn’t snitch to the cops on anybody, not even a serial murderer, and later apologized. He pretty much had to. Mega record contracts were at stake. Richard Gere apologized for passionately kissing a Bollywood star at a public function in a deeply religious part of India. Of course, he had an incentive — a judge had issued an arrest warrant charging him with indecency.
Alec Baldwin called his 12-year-old daughter a “pig” in a recorded phone message conveniently leaked to the media. Wisely, he told everyone in sight, including The View TV gals, how really, really sorry he was. But you’ve got to understand how an evil ex-wife (Kim Basinger) can drive a man to do these things. He said he didn’t care if he never acted again and then trumped all his fellow apologizers by going into anger-management therapy with Dr. Phil. (It’s true. We don’t make this stuff up.)
Even that vile Durham, N.C., district attorney apologized, sort of, to the three Duke University lacrosse players he had falsely indicted for rape. But you’ll note who did not apologize in that case: the university president who had instantly suspended them, fired the lacrosse coach, and canceled the season; the 88 Duke professors who condemned them in an open letter before they had even been charged; and, most prominently, the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, who jumped on the bogus allegations from the beginning. The latter had immediately offered one of his Rainbow college scholarships to the accuser. Will he honor that now? As for Mr. Sharpton, he has yet to apologize for inflaming the Tawana Brawley hoax in 1987, so why should he now tell those rich Duke boys he’s sorry?
So expressing contrition can be discretionary, it seems. The big questions are apparently whodunnit, what’d he do, and who’d he do it to? Generally speaking, if the perpetrator himself is a member of a perceived victim group, the penalty will be minor — a quick “I’m sorry” and all is forgiven. But if the perp is, say, a middle-class white male, then God help him. Even so, taking responsibility for one’s own mistakes, especially if they injure others, is clearly the right thing to do. It is also good manners.
Which is not to say that people alive today should be held responsible for the mistakes (and worse) of their ancestors. Anyway, it is a tad late to say one is sorry for centuries-old national, cultural, and institutional iniquities, but some of the so-called best people keep doing it — presidents, prime ministers, bishops by the bucketful. The late Pope John Paul II expressed regret for the Crusades, though they preceded him by some 800 years. Likewise, neither Prime Minister Tony Blair nor former President Bill Clinton was ever a slaveholder, yet both have apologized for those ancient abominations. Perhaps they found it therapeutic à la Dr. Phil.
The opinions expressed in the Valley Observer are those of Hank Stokes. He can be reached in care of Palm Springs Life.