Sunday, February 21, 2010

Aqua Seafoam Shame... The peculiar economy of apologies. (Nonsportsmanlike Conduct!)

What's an apology worth, do you think?

To me, an apology is worth nothing. I never want anyone to say I'm sorry, and here's why:

It's too easy. It's free and nothing could be more simple than rolling those words... I'm sorry... off my tongue and then heading on my merry way.

In fact, apologizing is so easy and so cheap that I have often said, and I'm saying it now, I will apologize for anything. Anything at all. You name it, I'll apologize for it, if it either gets me out of trouble or makes me money.

Among the things I am ready to apologize for if it gets me out of trouble or makes me money are "Scientists making up velociraptors in an effort to keep the public interested in dinosaurs," and "Colonialism in Africa in the early 20th century" and "Everyone having to suffer through hearing about/listening to "We Are The World" not once, but twice in their lifetime" and even "Kristen Wiig."

I'll apologize for all of those, right here and now: I'm sorry.

There. I'm off the hook -- and/or making money.

This thinking -- about apologies, and about why people keep insisting that Kristen Wiig is funny when she's not -- was prompted, of course, by Tiger Wood's apology the other day.

At first, I was of the opinion that Tiger Woods did not need to apologize. Who does he have to apologize to, I wondered, other than his wife and kids? Sweetie set me straight, though, pointing out that Tiger should apologize to people who were his fans, and who looked up to him, people, in fact, like me. Sweetie reminded me that I'd originally looked up to Tiger Woods, as one of my sports idols and also as the reason, back in 1997 or 1998, that I'd taken up golf, a sport I hadn't played at all since I was little.

"You said you wouldn't be his fan anymore, after it all came out," Sweetie reminded me, and while I knew all of that, I hadn't looked at it as Tiger should apologize to me, or to people like me, because I don't really value apologies. Not the way America values apologies.

In America, you can apologize your way out of almost anything and into money, almost any old time. Did you make up a story and call it true, duping everyone into buying your story and duping Oprah into having you on your show? Apologize, and within 18 months, you'll have a new three-book, million-dollar-plus deal. Did you go nutso during your divorce and smash a paparazzi's car with an umbrella? Apologize, and you'll be able to spend $100,000 to renovate your bathroom.

Almost anything: You can't yet, in America, apologize your way out of racism, even if Jerry Seinfeld helps you. (Which means we're pretty much done with John Mayer as a cultural phenomenon.)

But other than racism, you can apologize your way out of every single terrible thing you say or do, and people will forgive you for it. They may not let you buy into an NFL team years later, but they'll continue to listen to your radio show and pay attention to you. There isn't anything, it seems, that a person can do (other than be racist) which will forever tarnish their image or keep them from making millions and millions of dollars. And sometimes the apology helps them become even bigger than they were before. David Letterman apologized twice, at least -- once to Sarah Palin (who should apologize to all of us for constantly being around) and once to his audience. He's number one on the talk show list, right now. Hugh Grant apologized in 1995 for picking up a hooker, and he's been in fourteen movies since then. Fourteen big movies, movies in which he starred. Prior to that, he was really nobody -- he'd had one minor hit with Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Which begs the question: Why? Why do we even bother to make people apologize anymore? Why bother just letting them say I'm sorry? Why not just assume they're sorry and let them get back to taking our money for mediocre movies or football careers? Why not treat I'm sorry like the NESTL-R of the Wheel of Fortune?

You do know what I'm talking about, right? The "NESTL-R?" I'll have to explain that:

NESTL-R, pronounced nes-lee-are, is a phrase that I use for when something should just be assumed, letting us all move on. It comes from when I was a kid and would watch Wheel of Fortune. The final puzzle always allowed people to choose five consonants and a vowel, and people always chose "R-N-S-T-L" and "E". They chose it so often that I rearranged it mentally to "NESTL-R," as shorthand.

Yes, as a teenage boy, I actually watched
the show for the puzzles. Why?

Years later, I happened to be watching Wheel at the health club while I jogged on the treadmill, and I noticed that now, for the final puzzle, Pat would give people "NESTL-R" and then have them choose some more letters. Wheel's doing that made me realize that they, too, had come up with the understanding that people were just going to keep choosing those letters.

So now, in life, when something should just be assumed, you can say it's Nestl-R -- and that's what we should do with apologies, right? Just assume people have said them and get back to the rest of our lives?

Why not just do that? Why not assume Tiger Woods has said I'm sorry and let him get back to golfing -- which we're going to do anyway, and now we'll do it sooner rather than later -- instead of making him go through the kabuki of apologizing to his mother, an executive from Nike, and someone from his sports agency? (those being three people who had front-row seats for Tiger: The Apology on Friday.) What do we gain from having that ritual of apology -- from Mark McGwire's tearful confession of something everybody already knew, to Pete Rose's numerous attempts to apologize his way into the Hall of Fame:

(The Hall of Fame in baseball is, on reflection, the only other area in American culture where an apology won't cut it. Pete Rose apologizes incessantly. Most of the steroid users of the past 15 years have apologized ad infinitum ad nauseum, too, and yet the odds are none of them will make it into the Hall of Fame. So in America, you will not be forgiven for racism or for hurting the sport of baseball. That really, really says something about our culture, but it's something I don't want to think about because if I do, I'm certain to get depressed about things and I'd rather not.)

We know we're going to forgive people -- or, you will. I never forgive. I carry a grudge like Horton carried that Who: Carefully, guarding it from all outside interference, willing to go to the ends of the earth to save it, and, ultimately, letting it flower into something beautiful. And revengeful. But the rest of you, society, you're going to forgive Tiger, and the others, even though you won't let them into the Hall of Fame, and you're going to start buying their stuff again and start cheering them at sporting events, and it'll all be forgotten after a few quick Jay Leno jokes -- Jay Leno being yet another person who's going to be forgiven even though we all hate him now. In fact, I'm pretty sure that this will be the opening monologue for Jay's show when he returns:

It's The Tonight Show... with Jay Leno! "Good evening. Great to be here. Great to be back here in the studio, especially with all that's happened. It feels like I've been spending all my time apologizing, over and over, and I didn't even get to sleep with all those women!" [Kevin Eubanks laughs.] You like that, Kevin? You're laughing because you're the one who got to sleep with all those women. [Kevin Eubanks slaps knee, texts wife this phrase: he's kidding]. You know, speaking of Tiger, he said he's been resting up since his big press conference, and he's looking forward, with the start of spring, to getting back out there, maybe doing a quick eighteen... and then the reporters said "You're talking golf holes, right?" [Audience laughs, Kevin Eubanks mumbles something about the back 9.]

And with that, Tiger will be back at the Masters, putting on the green jacket and never hearing about it again. A year from now, you'll be buying a Buick because you saw Tiger driving one in an ad.

(Doubt me? In 2005, Kate Moss was photographed snorting cocaine. She apologized, and in 2007 was the second-highest paid model in the world. Her name is now on everything from a line of clothes to an upcoming set of handbags.)

So why do we make them apologize at all? There's some value, with little children, in making them say I'm sorry, because it can be a humbling experience for a kid. When I make Mr F go say he's sorry to Mr Bunches -- or try to, at least, because neither of them talks very much and they don't listen to me very much, either -- it can be a humbling experience, an apology serving as an admission that one was wrong and forcing the person to acknowledge that to the person they harmed.

But does anyone believe that Tiger Woods was humbled by his apology? Does anyone believe that Tiger Woods found it humbling to speak to a hand-picked group of people and over closed-circuit TV, without taking any questions or having to explain anything? Does anyone out there think that Tiger Woods was thinking anything, during his little speech, other than "Screw you, America, I'm going to say this and then you're going to give me money again and shut the hell up?"

If you did think Tiger was humbled, then think again: This morning it's already being reported that his caddy has announced he won't tolerate any heckling of Tiger once His Woodness returns to the course. What will the caddy -- a grown man whose job is carrying someone else's stuff -- do to any hecklers? It's not clear, but in the past, Tiger's caddy has forcibly taken cameras from off-duty cops, and Tiger has threatened to "break the f***ing neck" of a photographer who dared to snap a photo during his swing.

(If you're wondering where golfer ranks in the world of athletes, remember this: Baseball players, a generally out-of-shape bunch, hit a curve ball while 60,000 people scream and throw things. Golfers have a hissy fit if someone sneezes while they try to strike a stationary object with an oversized club.)(And they have to have someone else carry their gear, lest they get too tired walking around.)

(Tiger, by the way, didn't apologize for threatening the life of someone who was just doing his job. But he was urged to offer a formal apology by some people, for no apparent reason other than that it would look good.)

How humble can Tiger be, even after formally apologizing (because we Americans would never accept an informal apology. No -- we don't want your apology hastily scrawled on a Perkins' receipt. We want formality) if he then lets his caddy make implied threats to physically harm people who might heckle him? Not very humble.

(On that subject: I will give $100 to anyone -- anyone -- who attends a golf event where Tiger Woods is playing, and shouts "How's the whores?" during his backswing. Send me the video, I'll send you the money. Don't worry about getting Tiger and his caddy mad; they'll never catch you. Tiger's got a bum knee -- he couldn't even outrun Elin, and he was in a car-- and his caddy's a fat old man.)

Above: Tiger attempt to break
his caddy's neck for copping a feel
on him during his backswing.

(As an added incentive, keep in mind that yelling that out is almost certain to Kerrigan you into fame, the way Joe Wilson got his career boost during Obama's speech. So if you're dreaming of minor-league fame, or if you're a minor-league famous person trying to hit the bigs, you can earn a quick $100 and vault yourself from almost-nobody to almost-somebody faster than I can say "I'm not above milking an invasion of privacy to further my career.")

Admit it.
Nobody knew who she was before that .

(If you're keeping track, Congressman Joe Wilson apologized.)

Tiger is not humble at all-- and won't be. He's already refusing to take questions about it, he wants people to shut up about it, and he'll be back on top of the golf world and the advertisement world again before long. Which gets back to, then, why do we make people apologize? Why are apologies the lingua franca of entertainment and sports -- when they are worth nothing?

Or, are they worth nothing?

Apologies cost nothing, after all-- that's why I can apologize for anything you want, anything at all. I'm thinking, in fact, of starting a company called Apologies, Inc., in which I'll officially apologize for whatever it is that needs apologizing, thereby jump-starting my career as an apologist and formalizing the formal-apology industry. It's a brilliant business idea: the apologies cost me nothing, not even my self-respect, while they earn me billions, potentially.

That back end of the deal (get your mind out of the gutter, Tiger, I'm talking business) is the true value of apologies, after all. Apologies seem to be worth nothing because they cost nothing... but in reality, an apology is a commodity which is highly valuable despite how common it is, a commodity which belies the traditional law of supply and demand: the more apologies there are, the more valuable they become.

This peculiar economy is true because even though I'm not clear, and you're not clear, probably, on why we demand an apology, the fact is that we do demand an apology; apologies are the key hidden under the door mat, the way we get back in even after we've left our regular keys at the bar where we were drinking much later than we told our wives we would, the bar where we spent even the money we'd planned on using to buy her flowers on the way home. Apologies unlock the door -- the door, in this case, being the door to riches. We demand them, they supply them -- and we demand more, and pay more for them.

Chris Brown beat the bejeezus out of Rihanna, apologized, and then was backstage with the Duchess of York and some other B+ listers at a benefit for Haiti. Did Haiti want Chris Brown's help? Nobody asked. But Chris Brown wanted Haiti's help, since his apology alone didn't exactly boost his album sales -- but an appearance at a big event, reported on blogs and celebrity shows, would. His apology opened the door to the charity event, which offered him free publicity, and upped his album sales.

Albert Haynesworth apologized to Andre Gurode, the player that Haynesworth body-slammed to the ground and then spiked in the face... and kicked, twice. Haynesworth apologized, served a brief suspension, and then was named to the Pro Bowl, an honor that triggered a clause in his contract which made him a free agent and let him sign with the Redskins on a contract that guarantees him $41 million dollars. So Haynesworth can rip his coaches and teammates all he wants (and he does) without any more apologies being necessary; he's guaranteed $41 million (or $1.3 million per stitch he caused Gurode to need.)

Jose Canseco has made a career out of apologies, one that might net him more money than his first career as a major league ballplayer. He's apologized for smuggling fertility drugs, then apologized to the players he named steroid users in his book, then bashed Mark McGwire's apology, and finished up with demanding that baseball apologize to him. For treating him like an outcast. You know, for treating him like an outcast after he broke Major League Baseball's rules and cheated his way to the top for years, then made millions writing about how he did that. (Oh, and he encouraged kids to use steroids... but it's okay because he apologized for that.)

(That's a novel strategy, one I expect might be used more in the future: admit to wrongdoing, then bash the thing that you wrecked in the first place. Imagine: Pete Rose could demand an apology from not just baseball, but from Las Vegas, as well, for making gambling possible. Bill Clinton and Mark Foley could say "We deserve an apology for the government letting all these young interns run around here like this.")

Blame the system!

(At Apologies, Inc., we will, of course, handle the apologies not just for the offender, but for the system when the system apologizes back to the offender for making it possible for the offender to break its rules in the first place.)(Our first client might well be Bill Belicheat, who, having already apologized for cheating his way through three Super Bowls, can now demand an apology from the NFL, since the NFL not only made it possible for him to videotape his way to success, but it then hurt his chances at more success by destroying the evidence and taking away a draft pick.)

Apologies lead to big bucks -- or bigger bucks -- and while that shouldn't matter to Tiger Woods (because in 2009 he was estimated to be worth $600 million), it obviously does matter. Woods makes only about 15% of his income off of golf -- says Forbes -- but that 15% is misleading, because if Woods doesn't golf, he doesn't get any other endorsements, either: the world is not interested in buying anything from Tiger Woods, Sex Predator. Woods' fist-pumping, red-shirt wearing, old-man caddy-bullying golfing is the fuel that primes the pump, keeping the other income rolling in.

Which, again, shouldn't matter, because with a worth of $600 million, Woods doesn't need to golf, or shill for corporations, to keep the money rolling in.

Assume that Elin takes half in the settlement that the two have (no doubt) made, a settlement whereby Tiger will be more discreet in his womanizing and Elin will not divorce him. That settlement is necessary because a divorce would overturn the apple cart that will be Tiger's post-Whoregate career. If Tiger is divorced, he'd be single, and (as The Dan Patrick Show Guys put it), a single Tiger is Derek Jeter: Womanizer About Town. That kind of image may work for baseball fans, but golf fans are a different breed. Golf fans aren't rock-and-roll and beers and fast cars and Perkins' waitresses in the mudroom of the giant mansion. Golf fans are slacks, ideally with a relaxed-fit waist. Golf fans are iced tea. And Buicks. Golf fans don't want to buy things from Derek Jeter and his girlfriend-of-the-week. Golf fans don't want that kind of discomfort. They need to believe that their beloved golfers are good family men, if only because then their wives don't give them trouble about going to play golf themselves; imagine if you had a hobby that caused your wife to think you'd be acting like Derek Jeter. You'd never get to leave the house.

You didn't think I was going to put a picture of
Derek Jeter here, did you?

(Jeter and Woods in fact both dated Rachel Uchitel, according to this site, which must be reliable because it's on the Internet.)

(Uchitel herself got Kerriganed into a job with Extra, proving that other point I made a while back.)

No, golf fans can't have a single Tiger Woods running around with half-clothed Victoria's Secret models when he's not acting like a two-foot putt for par is the equivalent of brain surgery. They need a Good Family Man Tiger Woods. That's why the golf world made him marry Elin in the first place, and that's why they've convinced her to stay, and Tiger to keep her, and to keep stuff under wraps some more: So that Golf remains Family Safe, and generates money for golf, and Nike (and Tiger Woods, Inc.)

Again -- the money isn't the important thing for Tiger. That's got to be true because even if Elin is getting half, and even if the stream of money from golf and endorsements dries up, Tiger would be left with $300 million anyway, and if you've got $300 million, you can never ever ever be poor again. Seriously. You can't even be, like, kind of hard-up for cash.

Tiger is 34 years old. If he has $300,000,000 and lives to be 100, he would have to spend $4,545,454 -- that's a nice number -- each year to spend all his money. That's $12,453 per day, every day, for sixty-six years. And that assumes that he earns no more money, ever. If he took his $300,000,000 and put it into nice safe CDs at the local bank and got 3% interest annually on them, that's another $900,000 per year. (He could get it all FDIC insured by spreading it around into about 3,000,000 different banks.)

So why is Tiger apologizing, and why is Tiger going to go on playing golf? Not out of humility.

Not by a long shot.

No, Tiger is going on to play golf and apologizing because of the other thing that's true about America, and that other thing that's true is too much is never enough. Having already won every major, having hit about every... goal... he could hit, having more money than he could ever spend in a lifetime, even if you counted burning most of it as "spending," Tiger wants more.

Not just more money -- he could get that just by putting his money into CDs and avoiding the next pyramid-Madoff-esque scheme that'll soak the greedy rich -- but more of your adoration. And that, hopefully, will be the one thing that an apology can't buy.

Apologies are worth nothing, up front, because they cost nothing. (I'm sorry for Kristen Wiig's presumed humorousness. See? That cost me nada.)

Apologies are worth millions in cash on the back end, because they are de rigeur in America and nobody gets back in without apologizing first. They're the secret code phrase into the clubhouse, or back into the clubhouse and the clubhouse is stuffed with cash. Woods, and his sponsors, know that, and that's why they staged the Potemkin Apology on Friday: because you wanted it, and you won't let Woods play golf, or sell you things, until he did that. Now that he has, you're ready to buy stuff from him again.

(Technically, I should note that apologies only let you back into the clubhouse; while anyone can be Kerriganed into fame and fortune, it's hard to apologize your way into fame and fortune unless you were famous and fortunate already. Nobody cares when some poor schlub screws up and later apologizes. Or do they? Jennifer Wilbanks made a half-million for her life story, and her likeness was featured on a piece of toast auctioned on eBay, putting her in the same league as Jesus, fame-wise. But I digress.)

Plus, she has an action figure.
you have an action figure?

That monetary value is the value of the apology to me, and you, and Nike.

What's the apology worth to Tiger? Not those things; as I said, Woods apologized because he wants back in not for more cash, but for more adoration, more respect, more roses tossed at his feet and men fist-bumping him and interviews on TV, more opportunities to threaten photographers and pump his arm.

It's all there in his apology, for you to see: Woods goes through the motions of apologizing, then mentions his foundation and how it has changed lives, and goes on to say "In recent weeks, I have received many thousands of e-mails, letters and phone calls from people expressing good wishes."

See, he's saying. People still like me. I've done great things. That's not my imagination. He really did say I've done great things. Read these snippets:

"I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn't have far -- didn't have to go far to find them."
"I hurt my wife, my kids, my mother, my wife's family, my friends, my foundation, and kids all around the world who admired me."
"Achievements on the golf course are only part of setting an example....Parents used to point to me as a role model for their kids."

See? He had money, fame, a foundation, kids all around the world who admired him. Tiger thanked the players on the PGA Tour (For what? For getting a chance to finish first for a change, keeping the green jacket warm?) , a reminder that they are secondary to him, that he will once again dominate the tour and the headlines.

That's what the apology is worth to Tiger: Your undying, unquestioning respect. He will apologize, but he will not answer questions. He will apologize, but he will not tolerate heckling. He will apologize, but he will thank you thereafter to keep your mouth shut and buy his stuff.

Unfortunately for Tiger, apologies don't work that way. In America, you can apologize your way back into society easily (except for racism, remember.) You can apologize your way into riches and Haiti fundraisers and seven-figure three-book deals. You can apologize your way into the 11:30 p.m. Eastern time-slot and people's living rooms as they doze off. Apologies, costing nothing, are worth millions in that sense.

But apologies are worthless when it comes to buying respect. When people think of Tom Brady and Bill Belicheat, they think first Videogate and second Super Bowls. 11 years later, Bill Clinton still faces jokes about womanizing and isn't treated as an "elder statesman" but intead a politician. Nobody writes about Ashlee Simpson's music anymore, even though she apologized for lip-synching on Saturday Night Live. We've forgiven Britney -- but we still make fun of her. 91 years later everyone still knows who the Black Sox are... and Shoeless Joe has appeared in a Kevin Costner movie, but not in the Hall of Fame. Barry Bonds' famous baseball has an asterisk on it.

Apologies can be traded for thirty pieces of silver, apparently -- but they can't be used to buy back respect, and Woods will learn that sooner, and later. He'll get back on the golf course, and refuse to answer questions, and will win major after major. He'll eventually retire, the winningest and richest golfer ever, and when he retires, the stories about him will begin:

Tiger Woods, whose career was once almost derailed by extramarital affairs and domestic violence...

So what's an apology worth? Depending on what it is you're trying to trade it for, an apology is worth everything.

Or it's worthless.


Hewl said...

Great post!!

I'm with you in this one

First of all, I don´t really understand the need for an apology in this case (except to his family, of course).
What's the point? Sorry, people of earth for ******* the ******?
The only thing he is sorry about is being caught. He knows it. We know it. Maybe Nike and Accenture didn´t know it??

And second, it's just crazy that we give a shit about all this. He´s only a sportsman (or not, because golf is NOT a sport). I can understand when it happens to a politician, because what they do can actually have a effect in our lifes... but a golfer?

Again, SORRY for my english. I read it Ok, but when I have to write it... PLAFFF

lisapepin said...

I find everything about people's reactions to this almost charmingly naive. The idea that people idolize a grown man who makes his living whacking a ball with a stick is just sad, as is the idea that anyone would be shocked by a sports figure cheating on his wife, when the opposite would actually be more astounding. Grow up, America! Tiger Woods didn't do anything to you! Stop working yourself into a frenzy over the public apologies of famous people who've done you no wrong whatsoever! Why can't he do what he wants with his personal life and still be fun to watch as a golfer?

Briane P said...

Sweetie's point -- which I agreed with -- was that by becoming a megastar, people like Tiger end up being role models, like it or not, and that they are especially so when their marketing and money depend on the "good guy/family man" image they create. So they owe an apology to those people who they bilked into believing one thing is true when in fact another one is.

(That's why Keith Richards never has to apologize; he doesn't pretend to NOT be Keith Richards.)

On the other hand, I don't particularly care if he apologizes or not, because I no longer respect him as an athlete.

Which is Lisa's point, I suppose -- that people shouldn't idolize him. I looked up to Tiger as a great athlete and great golfer. His image as a family man (or not) didn't factor into it much. His pouting and tantrums have more to do with my not wanting to root for him than his affairs, but the fact is, too, that character is character, and sometimes people aren't worth looking up to anymore, even if the reason has nothing to do with their career.

The thing is that people can be fun to watch play AND have affairs -- Derek Jeter, for example -- but people can't have it both ways. YOu can't have affairs and be known for being clean cut.