Nothing creates great stories like horrible public apologies that only make things worse. We all have to make apologies at some point in life and hopefully we avoid the stereotypical non-apology of “I’m sorry if you have a problem with what I’ve said.” There are times when apologies belie bigger problems, like deeply-rooted sexism, and they become a train wreck waiting to happen. Below are three examples from the last two weeks that blew up in the faces of those apologizing.
1) Barilla offends everyone but families from the 1950s
In a recent radio show interview, Guido Barilla, (Barilla company chairman) said, “I would never do [a commercial] with a homosexual couple, not for lack of respect but because we don’t agree with them…Ours is a classic family where the woman plays a fundamental role. … If [gays] don’t like it, they can go eat another brand.” He also went on to say, “I have no respect for adoption by gay families because this concerns a person who is not able to choose” (you know, because every child gets to choose his or her family, right?).
As one might expect when a company chairman goes out of his way to tell gay families they aren’t real families, slam a family that gave a child a home, and to tell women that they should be in the kitchen, there was a social media backlash. On Twitter there was the #boicottbarilla campaign and on Facebook, Bertolli (Barilla competitor) offered their show of support for the LGBT community (see image below). This pushed Guido Barilla to offer an apology, which according to The Associated Press, still “insisted that traditional families have always been ‘identified’ with the Barilla brand.” There is much wrong with Barilla’s response, but Jena McGregory sums it up at The Washington Post,:
What’s driving the furor isn’t necessarily that a food company doesn’t feature gay couples in its advertisements. Most food companies don’t do that. Some people apparently still have trouble with the idea of multiracial parents in a Cheerios ad, much less gay ones.
It’s that a company leader candidly admitted to a distinction between a “sacred family” and other families, seemed dismissive of the value of a whole group of consumers, and then was able to turn around so quickly and say that he has the “utmost respect” for that very group. In this case, an apology, however unequivocal it may or may not have been, may not be enough. It will probably take time, and action, to reverse the damage.
2) Gilmour, but no girls
David Gilmour, the Toronto literature professor and Giller Prize longlisted author, told Emily M. Keeler of Shelf Esteem that he’s “not interested in teaching books by women…when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women. Except for Virginia Woolf.” He added that, “Usually at the beginning of the semester a hand shoots up and someone asks why there aren’t any women writers in the course. I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.”
In his public apology interview with the National Post, Gilmour took the route that a good apology is one that basically reaffirms the first mistakes in spades. Emily M. Keeler was referred to as a faceless “this young woman” and Gilmour was sorry not for his sexism, but for the “sensibilities” of others. If he really did not think he was wrong, then why apologize in the first place?
I talked to Patrick Crean, [my editor at HarperCollins]. He was concerned that this was going to affect the general climate around the book, that some women might not like the book if they think that that’s my policy. And that’s one of the reasons that I’m apologizing. Normally I actually wouldn’t.
Nothing says sincere like apologizing to help book sales.
There have been some great responses to Gilmour’s statements. Kat Stoeffel at The Cut has a great breakdown of the problems with Gilmour’s apology (“How Not to Apologize for Saying Something Sexist“) and over at Dangerous Words, there is the satirical “Woman Down the Hall Responds to David Gilmour” piece, which is simply hilarious.
3) Rick Warren is back in the saddle
Asian American Christians were angered this last week (Sept 23) by Rick Warren’s Facebook photo of China’s Red Guard with the words “The typical attitude of Saddleback Staff as they start work each day.” This led to a series of responses online from Asian Christians who found his post offensive. Warren’s initial attempt to mend fences was not received well, as you might guess from what appears below:
People often miss irony on the Internet. It’s a joke people! If you take this seriously, you really shouldn’t be following me!…Did you know that, using Hebrew ironic humor, Jesus inserted several laugh lines- jokes – in the Sermon on the Mount? The self-righteous missed them all while the disciples were undoubtably giggling! (Source: The Huffington Post).
First, I’m certain that if I was Jesus I’d feel like saying, “uh, don’t drag me into your mess. This is your problem.” Additionally, since when is the “lighten up” approach really all that successful? Sam Tsang challenged Warren’s response on his blog Engage the Pews writing:
Imagine, Mr. Warren, the Chinese in your congregation both here in the US and in Hong Kong. Do you know what narrative is behind this picture you just posted? Has any Red Guard ever raped your mother? How about having your joints dislocated and quartered by horses? Oh, this is a great one. How about having your arms hung up in an awkward position until they’re dislocated while being beaten merciless with all sorts of torturous devices? How about being made to stand near naked in freezing temperature outside? If Mr. Warren is trying depict the Great Leap forward by Mao, does he know that more than 40 million Chinese died in that campaign?
To his credit, Warren responded in the comments of Tsang blog with an apology and later on Facebook: “Finally back home. Staff handed me a hard copy of an email from someone offended by a picture I posted. If you were hurt, upset, offended, or distressed by my insensitivity I am truly sorry. May God richly bless you.” Tsang accepted the apology. Unlike Gilmour’s blaming the sensibilities of others, at least Warren eventually recognized where the problem started. It just took a little time.