James Corden and the Art of the Non-Apology
It was the great philosopher Lee Ryan who said, along with his Blue bandmates and Sir Elton John on 2002 hit single Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word, that sorry seems to be the hardest word.
Those words proved true once again this week, as James Corden found himself having to issue an apology for jokes he made about the multiple sexual assault allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein.
I've always made it my mission to tell every American I meet that we hate James Corden in the UK. Now they know why. pic.twitter.com/nXl3mGVYl5
— Stephen Patten (@StevePatten) October 15, 2017
but to shame him, the abuser, not his victims. I am truly sorry for anyone offended, that was never my intention. (2/2)
— James Corden (@JKCorden) October 15, 2017
Let’s unpack that apology for a second. “Sexual assault is no laughing matter,” states the Brit chatshow host. So why make the jokes in the first place? Either it’s in the acceptable realms of comedy or not.
He states that he wasn’t trying to make light of Harvey’s behaviour. Note the use of Weinstein’s first name. Corden credits Weinstein with the success of his career in the US, incidentally.
And so, on to the apology. “I am truly sorry…” Go on. “…for anyone offended.” Ahh. It’s one of those non-apologies people make in which they apologise for the offence taken by others, not their own actions.
By my reckoning, Corden’s apology would score 3 on US writer Teju Cole’s hierarchy of apologies.
I was wrong, I'm sorry. > If I was wrong, I'm sorry. > If I offended you, I'm sorry. > I'm sorry you feel offended. > Fuck you.
— Teju Cole (@tejucole) June 28, 2014
Over the years, there have been some wonderful examples of non-apologies.
Even an apology seemingly without caveats isn’t always what it seems. Let us look at this recent example, from Hollywood’s Ben Affleck.
I acted inappropriately toward Ms. Burton and I sincerely apologize
— Ben Affleck (@BenAffleck) October 11, 2017
On the surface, this would rank as a 1 on the hierarchy of non-apologies, but can a 10-word, unpunctuated tweet two decades too late really be considered an apology at all?
Some would argue that apologising isn’t easy. Even when an apology is written by a lawyer and is accompanied by the payment of substantial damages and legal costs, some may feel obliged to tweet it at 2am in the hope that nobody sees it.
A true apology, though, must surely be delivered in person and with complete sincerity. Dapper Laughs, you’ll recall, briefly lit up our screens with his own critically-savaged ITV2 series having built a substantial following on the now defunct Vine app.
Having had both his ITV2 show and his tour cancelled because, for whatever reason, people didn’t like rape jokes, Dapper Laughs gave what proved to be funniest performance of his career when he appeared on Newsnight wearing turtleneck to show contrition and claim that he was simply playing a character who was satirising lad culture.
History’s greatest non-apology, however, happened in September 2014 when tax avoider Gary Barlow, after months of criticism about his tax avoiding, tweeting the following apology.
I want to apologise to anyone who was offended by the tax stories earlier this year.
— Gary Barlow (@GaryBarlow) September 2, 2014
Barlow is operating on a whole different level to Corden et al here. This isn’t an apology at all. He’s telling us that he wants to apologise. He’s not saying sorry, he’s informing us of his desire to apologise at some point in the future.
But look again at his words. He doesn’t want to apologise for the tax avoidance. He doesn’t even want to apologise if you’re offended by his tax avoidance. He’s apologising if you’re offended BY THE STORIES ABOUT HIS TAX AVOIDENCE. I’d assign that a score of 5 on the hierarchy of apologies. A clear “fuck you.”
Whatever he said, whatever he did, he didn’t mean it.