Opinion

The year in maddening apologies

Guest blogger
2014 has surely been the year of the trash-talk-and-take-back

You name it, in 2014, someone in the public eye has done it, received a whole lot of social media backlash for it and then quickly gone back on what they did, grovelling for the acceptance of the masses. We may not have taught anyone to think before they act, but at least the measured folk of the Internet can force them into repentance.

The eyes-wide-shut commissioner

One of the most effective stories for feeling truly depressed about the state of humanity in 2014 was that of Ravens running back Ray Rice, whose violent behavior was matched only by that of the slow-to-react NFL. No, Commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t punch out his fiancee in a hotel elevator and then drag her along the floor, but he dragged his feet before punishing Rice. “Unfortunately, over the past several weeks, we have seen all too much of the NFL doing wrong. That starts with me,” Goodell said in an unsatisfying September press conference full of “generic apologies and earnest promises,” as The Times’ Sam Farmer and Nathan Fenno wrote. Goodell should have been turned out months ago.

The “sexist” space scientist

Even astrophysicists who have just successfully landed a camera on a comet aren’t excused the wrath of the social media world, which lead Rosetta scientist Matt Taylor found to his regret after wearing a “sexist” shirt during televised interviews. The garment was hideous, sure, but even more unpleasant was the outpouring of hatred against a guy who had actually done something pretty cool, and yet was still forced to make a teary apology for fear of the mob. Polite as it was for Taylor to say sorry, he hadn’t actually done anything wrong, so this win for the keyboard warriors felt somewhat unwarranted.

The copycat A-Lister

Actor Shia LaBeouf has made himself an even bigger contender for the “What is the Point of this Person?” award this year by reaching the Holy Grail of the under-talented and over-entitled: plagiarism. Most people would probably feel quite bad about ripping off somebody’s work, getting found out and then plagiarizing an apology too, but not so for LaBeouf, who countered with a promise to “retire from all public life,” and then rocked up to the red carpet with a bag reading “I’m not famous anymore” over his face. Is it social subversion? Is it art? Is it just a man approaching 30 walking around with a paper bag on his head? Who can say. At least watching him be weird and unconvincing in real life is cheaper than paying to see one of his films.

The casual sexist

The tech world is constantly promising that it isn’t shoddy to women, but Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella decided to stir the pot this year by being incredibly offensive toward the opposite sex for absolutely no reason whatsoever. At a conference attended by 7,500 female engineers, he decided to offer up some tips on how they could get pay raises: trusting in “karma” and “knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along.” Nadella reversed his position shortly later, but his misogynistic comments sadly reinforce that the industry takes a dim view of its female employees.

The Syrian “hero boy” fakers

The civil war in Syria is one of the bloodiest and most brutal to date. Entire cities have been reduced to rubble. A “conservative estimate” puts the death toll at almost 200,000. So how did a group of Norwegian filmmakers decide to highlight the crisis? By making a viral video that turned out to be fake, duh! The clip in question showed a young boy appearing to save his little sister from an onslaught of bullets, but in fact featured Maltese child actors just doing their day jobs on the film set formerly used for “Troy.” After being found out, a mass of criticism ensued, and the producer said they were “sorry if it makes documentation or reporting in war zones more difficult.” The fact people who put their lives on the line each day to report from the front lines may now be disbelieved because of a few imbeciles who wanted to jack up their YouTube likes is nothing short of disturbing.

The biter

The world was gripped by World Cup fever this summer, but the excitement got to nobody more than Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez, who took a chunk out of his opponent’s shoulder. This latest bizarre move was Suarez’s third offense of this ilk, landing him a nine-match ban for which he later expressed deep regret. As with the Rice saga, though, sportsmen always seem to escape any kind of real-world punishment. Maybe in 2015, the people paid millions and championed as global role models may actually be held to account for their actions.

The dog-beating CEO

Desmond Hague, then CEO of Centerplate, was recorded abusing a dog in elevator footage -- an act which promptly led to a 190,000-strong petition for his removal. He later described his actions as being “completely and utterly out of character,” but it proved to be too little too late, as he was soon (and rightly) replaced.

The accidental homophobe

Hollywood’s favorite adult baby Jonah Hill besmirched his otherwise clean record some months back after referring to a paparazzo with a gay slur. Really, Jonah? Was that the best you could come up with? The Hill PR machine then went into overdrive, lining up a slot on Jimmy Fallon in which he told the audience he was “heartbroken” by his choice of words. He seemed remorseful, sure, but it’s getting tiring watching famous people come out with these offensive terms and then saying how much they love gay people/ethnic minorities/whichever group they’ve just upset. If you’re not homophobic, don’t use gay slurs. Easy.

The offensive store

Questioning Urban Outfitters’ taste levels is definitely nothing new, but things took a sinister turn in September after the brand began marketing a faux blood-spattered Kent State sweat shirt. The chain apologized, but this is just one of many errors in recent history. Some of their priors include a T-shirt printed with the word “depression” and another that said “eat less” -- all of which seem to be grounds for some kind of ban from the retail market. There is no way Urban Outfitters should be using mental illness to make money, and the fact they keep coming out with new blunders shows that these raps on the knuckles just aren’t hard enough.

The family meltdown

The perfectly constructed empire of Jay and Bey literally took a blow this year after Solange went ham on her sister’s husband following the Met Gala. In yet another elevator bust-up, footage showed the Carter-Knowles family brawling, with the trio emerging somewhat stony-faced upon their exit from the glitzy event. Solange was clearly at fault for her actions, and the pair did apologize to each other, but having show business’ first family involved in a violent dispute really did not look good for their legions of young fans. They say they’ve moved on, but can we?

Charlotte Lytton is a London-based journalist, and has previously written for CNN, The Daily Telegraph and The New York Observer. Follow her on Twitter @charlottelytton

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