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Once more with feeling.

It has become an American rite, as expected as fireworks on the Fourth, for a public figure caught acting like himself to apologize. Then to apologize again. And perhaps again, each time piling on more abject adjectives. If the mass mood doesn't relent, he'll be hustled off to rehab or on to "Oprah" to discuss the childhood trauma that caused him to behave so out of character (even though he didn't particularly display any in the first place).

We've recently been treated to three ritual humiliations. After Serena Williams berated a line judge at the U.S. Open, she was forced to serve up a variety of apologies. Her penance tour continues. Then came pampered songstress Taylor Swift, who pulled up to the Video Music Awards in a horse-drawn Cinderella coach only to have her magical night eclipsed by Kanye West's ego. Stars rushed to defend the stricken ingenue. President Obama pronounced judgment. A disoriented West wept in primetime and promised to take time off to navel-gaze further.

Then there's the South Carolina congressman who launched a fetching line of "You Lie!" accessories by heckling the president during his speech to a joint session of Congress. Joe Wilson called the White House to apologize, then called conservative radio-show hosts to say that he wasn't all that sorry. Stung by his lack of contrition, the House delivered an official rebuke. (Had a Democrat interrupted President Bush's serial deceptions leading up to the Iraq War, would the GOP have lauded his courage or Nancy Pelosi bewailed his desecration of her chamber? Not a chance.)

Notable in all of these cases: no one was truly damaged. Brash people displayed their bad manners. A collective frown would have sufficed, but instead we got week-long media events. Maybe seeing the mighty grovel makes us feel superior. When else would Hollywood be able to lecture about modesty or Congress about restraint? Maybe we like letting some air out of the idols we've over-inflated, silly though it is to rule on the sincerity of their apologies when their public personae are already synthetic.

Whatever the cause, the whole spectacle--posed indignation followed by forced apology--is a farce from both sides. It would be decent entertainment if it didn't drain energy from legitimate public outrage and make repentance cheap.

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Title Annotation:CULTURE; on apologies
Publication:The American Conservative
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2009
Words:380
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