The Death of the Apology

Megan Garber in The Atlantic:

In november 2017Louis C.K. wrote an apology. Its four paragraphs, published in The New York Times, were a matter of expediency: The paper had just confirmed long-standing rumors that the comedian had, on several occasions, masturbated in front of unwilling female colleagues. But the apology was notable because—compared with those offered by other celebrities who’d been caught in the #MeToo movement’s accountabilities—it was a relatively good one. It clearly admitted wrongdoing. It acknowledged the women C.K. had harassed. It suggested that he would find ways to atone. “The hardest regret to live with is what you’ve done to hurt someone else,” C.K. wrote. “And I can hardly wrap my head around the scope of hurt I brought on them.” A year later, however, a very different Louis C.K. emerged. In a December 2018 stand-up set that leaked to YouTube, the formerly apologetic comedian was now apoplectic: He raged at political correctness; at the student survivor-activists of Parkland, Florida; at the way his career had met the business end of #MeToo. Whatever C.K. might have done, the more salient fact, apparently, was what had been done to him. “My life is over; I don’t give a shit,” he fumed. “You can—you can be offended; it’s okay. You can get mad at me. Anyway …”

Louis C.K.’s devolution was at once baffling and predictable. There was a time in American public life when atonement was seen as a form of strength—a way not only to own up to one’s missteps, but also to do that classic work of crisis management: control the narrative. (“I’m the responsible officer of the government,” John F. Kennedy said of the Bay of Pigs. “This happened on my watch,” Ronald Reagan said of Iran-Contra. “I take full responsibility for the federal government’s response,” George W. Bush said of Hurricane Katrina.) Bucks stopped. Power came with responsibility. Apologetic Louis C.K. operated within that old paradigm. Apoplectic Louis C.K., however, occupies a newer one—in which the true sign of power is not responsibility but impunity.

More here.