Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
The University of Maryland has seen its share of apologies lately, from both the administration and the community. One of the most recent apologies has been that of Asher Meerovich, an alumnus of this university and the former lead vocalist of the College Park-based band Tomato Dodgers. Meerovich allegedly took non-consensual photos of young women and posted them online.
The Tomato Dodgers released a statement on their Facebook page discussing Meerovich’s misconduct and the future of the group. Meerovich addressed the issue himself in a since-deleted public post, where he hints at his offenses, rails against himself and apologizes to those he negatively affected. But despite its appearance and sorrowful tone, Meerovich’s post only masquerades as an apology.
This phenomenon is not uncommon. In the #MeToo era, a time when people are being held to standards of respect and courtesy, superficial apologies are plentiful. So plentiful, in fact, that an entire methodology seems to have formed around the concept of publicly apologizing — apologist culture.
Essentially, apologist culture refers to a performative apology. Like a theater production, the apology is dramatic, epic and ultimately not real. The words have been staged and carefully chosen for maximum effect, and the solidity of The Apology falls with the curtain.
Such public apologies tend to center less on the person or people who should be receiving it and more on the person making it. Meerovich’s post details his shortcomings, while skirting the substance of the allegations against him. While this oversight may be due to a fear of legal retribution, the fact remains that his post fixates on his self-contempt rather than the reality of what he did. This pattern can be seen in other places — Matt Lauer’s statement concerning his sexual misdeeds also prioritizes his position over a direct apology for his actions.
In some cases, the apologist doesn’t even acknowledge their wrongdoing, choosing instead to declare that they would never partake in such actions despite previously doing so. One such example is comedian Norm Macdonald’s “apology” for defending Louis C.K. and Roseanne Barr. Following his comment that “the victims didn’t have to go through” what C.K. and Barr went through, Macdonald tweeted that he “would never defend their actions” and that “if my words sounded like I was minimizing the pain that their victims feel to this day, I am deeply sorry.”
In all of these instances, the apology has become more of a call for attention and pity — the perpetrators have realized their wrongs, or have realized that people will not accept their actions and want everyone to know about the new leaf they’ve turned over. Their statement may include a suicide threat or an ultimatum that suggests this person will do harm to themselves as a result of their crimes being brought to light. Though suicidal thoughts, ideation and self-harm should be taken seriously and treated accordingly, they should not act as bargaining chips the perpetrator uses as leverage to evoke concern and compassion to replace the anger and judgment directed at them.
An apology should shift the focus off the perpetrator’s future and plans and concentrate on the futures and plans that have been exploited and destroyed by the perpetrator. Forgiveness, from the victims and the perpetrator’s followers and communities should not be expected.
When an apology prioritizes the desire for forgiveness over the necessity of acknowledging a wrongdoing, it is no longer an apology — it becomes a way for the perpetrator to garner sympathy and possibly escape negative judgment. Such an “apology” then functions as a way for the perpetrator to preserve their image; they have appeared to take responsibility for their actions and feel truly terrible without actually motioning to address victims.
While public apologies have been often performed badly, the formula for a good one is simple. A true apology acknowledges wrongdoing and expresses contrition to those the speaker has hurt. That is all. While other elements can be added into the mix, the focus should be on those who have been hurt, not on the guilt or self-loathing of the perpetrator.
This discussion does not even touch upon the predatory environments and situations that prompt public apologies. We aren’t even talking about the ramifications of the crimes, as an apology doesn’t retract one’s actions. Ideally, this column would address that issue, or possibly not even have to exist at all. But as demonstrated by the statements from Meerovich and his ilk, we’re not there yet.
CORRECTION: Due to a columnist error, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Meerovich allegedly took non-consensual photos of underage girls. He is alleged to have taken non-consensual photos of adult women. This column has been updated.
Jasmine Baten is a junior English major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.