Celebrity apologies increasingly taking main stage
Singer Kayne West apologizes for his strange behavior on the Jay Leno show Monday night (Courtesy NBC).
Entertainers, politicians and athletes have one big thing in common these days: They’re doing a lot of apologizing.
The most recent example is singer Kanye West, who’s lived out a three-day drama of shame after he stole the microphone from Video Music Awards winner Taylor Swift and declared Beyonce deserved the prize.
But West's rude interruption is just the latest celebrity slip requiring a mea culpa, with Serena Williams and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) also appealing for forgiveness in recent days.
“Disrespect is at epidemic proportions,” said Lori Weiner, an etiquette expert and co-author of "Good Manners Are Contagious." “You wonder who else now is going to have a meltdown.”
Disgraced entertainers, politicians and athletes must make orchestrated apologies to calm public scrutiny in the age of TMZ and twitter, media experts say. And while we loathe crocodile tears, we also love to watch celebrities act out, said Robert Thompson, a pop culture expert at Syracuse University.
“We enjoy this stuff. Celebrities are like mercenaries we hire to do things for our entertainment,” Thompson said.
Showy apologies have been around for decades. With the advent of Hollywood in the 1920s, PR agents helped clean up celebrity mess through chummy relationships with reporters, Thompson said.
As television became more universal in the 1950s, public figures turned to the airwaves to make their case. Today, celebrities can extinguish flames through Twitter or blog posts. But big slip-ups require immediate damage control, said Lori Levine, a Manhattan entertainment consultant with Flying Television talent firm.
“Their agenda is, 'How is this going to affect my bottom line and reputation,'” Levine said. “Those tremors are felt quite deep.”
Whatever the motive, celebrities need to admit guilt, as they have increasingly become our role models, Weiner said.
For entertainers, the best strategy is to reach out to the offended party, then announce mended relations together, Levine said. A televised apology must seem sincere and in character, said John Tantillo, a marketing psychologist.
New Yorkers thought West’s apology smacked of insincerity.
"It was only prompted by public outrage,” said Patrick Miller, 42, of Manhattan. “I agree with the president, he's an idiot."
Ironically, bad behavior can benefit celebrities through increased publicity. After West disrespected Swift, “The View” invited the 19-year-old country singer respond Tuesday. Jay Leno, meanwhile, gave room for West's emotional catharsis Monday on the host's prime time premiere before 17 million viewers.
“For Kanye, I think it was a publicity stunt no matter what,” said Luis Valentin, 25, of Queens.
Disgraced public officials, however, need to apologize and hope the media moves on, said Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University history professor.
“The first step is to say you're sorry and hope the story goes away,” he said.
The American public has grown increasingly cynical in the face of so many apologies, Thompson said. Still, people enjoy watching stars act human, said Diana Kirschner, a Manhattan psychologist.
“We like to see celebrities fall to their knees,” Kirschner said. “It's humbling. It's like the great novels about people who fall from grace.”
Jason Fink and Emily Ngo contributed to this story.