Sorry doesn’t seem to be the hardest word at all lately; not at the rate that popstars have been flinging it around so lightly. The latest culprit is Gary Barlow, who has apologised for investing in an alleged tax avoidance scheme. “With a new team of accountants we are working to settle things with all parties involved ASAP,” he wrote on Twitter. “I want to apologise to anyone who was offended by the tax stories this year.”
Ah, yes. ‘I’m sorry for any offence taken.’ Truly, never has a more maddening phrase been uttered. The tweets are weaselly and cowardly, because they’re an attempt to distance himself from the problem: the suggestion that it’s a pesky matter for his accountants to solve, the insinuation that somehow it’s not his actions but our decision to be annoyed by them that’s caused all this palaver.
No-one’s ‘offended’ by the stories, Gary. They just think you’re a greedy shit. They want you to pay your taxes like the rest of us to make up for the missing books from schools and beds from hospitals that your money should have contributed to.
Like most famous folk forced into a half-arsed apology, Barlow’s Twitter mea culpa was influenced by self-interest; have a scan of his Twitter feed and you’ll notice how quickly he gets on with the proper business of plugging a new Take That album. “We are extremely excited about it!” he said. Well, thank heavens for that! I had some outstanding questions about this tax stuff – are you going to pay the money back? Did you seriously not know what the scheme was for? – but I’ll forget all that boring nonsense now, because Take That are releasing a follow-up to ‘Progress’!
Barlow’s not the only offender. Cee Lo Green made some remarkably offensive comments about rape and consent and then tried to make amends without explaining exactly why he told his nearly two million Twitter followers that “people who have really been raped REMEMBER!!!!”
“Those comments were untrue, idiotic and not what I believe,” he said shortly afterwards (again on Twitter). So why did you say them? The idea that being famous means you need only issue an apology and be done with it when you act like a dick has been lingering for a while.
Remember Chris Brown crying into his keyboard after he won at the Grammys in 2012, because he felt it was unfair people were still dredging up the fact that he’d beaten up Rihanna: he’d said he was sorry, so no-one had any reason to call him a woman-beating scumbag any more. Issue resolved, right?
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But Twitter has allowed celebrities to squirm out of proper remorse even further. It’s a platform for snappy observations, where people share quips or jokes or pictures of cats; it shouldn’t be a medium for a contrite apology, because it gives people a get-out clause, a way of saying sorry without ever having to really engage with those justifiably irked with their behaviour. It’s a PR box-ticking stunt, a way to save face without ever looking at yourself in the mirror. And it’d be refreshing if, next time someone fucks up in a big way, they just don’t bother with the token apologies – because maybe, if they didn’t know they could magic it all away by just bashing a few letters on a keyboard, they wouldn’t be so daft to begin with.