Monday, February 16, 2009

Fake Male Apologies? Obama, Phelps, Drugs

There’s an editorial the weekend’s Advocate called “Pointless apologies for victimless crimes.” Boring title, but the first few lines caught me: “American men learn early to apologize, whether we think we've done anything wrong or not. Any husband married longer than 10 days knows he's required to do this often, even if he has no clue why. Women demand contrition, even after we've denied any wrongdoing, made it clear we aren't sorry and guaranteed that the apology they're about to receive is completely insincere.”

Initial reaction: What IS this drivel?
I only make my husband apologize for very specific things, like complaining about the pediatrician interview I set up. I’m tired of doing boring grunt work, then having someone complain about my performance on that grunt work. If you don’t like my pediatrician selection methods, get off your butt and make a few tedious phone calls yourself. You’re sorry? Thank you; that takes away some of the sting of your rudeness, even if your rudeness was unintentional.

Next reaction: Oh, I see, it’s cute intro commentary about Barack Obama’s apology related to Daschle. Your point is that Barack didn’t have to apologize, but he was the bigger man and did so. Want to get on my good side? Say something nice about Barack. You can even make mean generalizations about women to set up a Barack compliment. That’s fine. No problemo.

But then, the author, UConn professor Mark Drought, goes into the Michael Phelps situation. I was actually just thinking about Michael Phelps, and how he’s just a young man, and how even though he won 8 gold medals, chances are, he’s going to do some of the many dumb things that young men do. Honestly, a bong hit is probably one of his least dangerous options, because it didn’t put his life or the lives of others at stake. When I was in college, we had several students die or get severely injured in alcohol-related incidents. Driving drunk, or getting so drunk that you fall down a flight of stairs (that happened twice at my school- one person died, one was paralyzed) are among the more dangerous dumb things Phelps could do. Drought calls Phelps' bong hit a "victimless crime." I'm not endorsing bong hits here, or marijuana use in general, but I can basically agree with that part of Drought's idea.

Drought also says that Phelps “has nothing to be contrite about.” I do not fully agree with that. Phelps should apologize. Because to kids, that bong hit is confusing.
We tell kids that drugs are bad, because, well, they often are. Drought points out that alcohol can be bad too. Right, but alcohol use is legal; you don’t have to score alcohol from a shady dealer. You’re not breaking the law if you drink alcohol over the age of 21. You are breaking the law if you are caught with drugs.

Phelps’ apology: "I'm 23 years old and despite the successes I've had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner people have come to expect from me. For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public it will not happen again."
Essentially, he said, “I’m young; I did something dumb. I realize I let the public down.” That’s a pretty accurate and reasonable statement. It’s dumb to do illegal things, especially around people who are going to take your picture and then sell it. I was disappointed in Phelps; not so much that he’d done pot, but that the kids I know had to see that.

I agree with Drought that Phelps does not need to apologize to adults; we know young men do careless things, especially at parties, especially when drinking. Phelps does need to apologize though, for the sake of all the kids who idolize him and now need to figure out if it’s cool for them to do bong hits, too.

I know it’s parents’ jobs to explain this stuff to their kids, but I think it’s silly that Drought seems upset that Phelps felt like he needed to apologize.

In general, I found the tone of this article to be too flippant. I completely disagree with the last 2 lines: “I have no idea whether Phelps is genuinely sorry for his victimless crime, or merely kicking himself for jeopardizing his endorsements by getting caught, like a husband feigning remorse for sins he's clueless about. Either way, the American public should get over it, and be mature enough to realize that Michael Phelps is moral enough to sell Sugar Frosted Flakes to our nation's youth.”

Yes, adults are mature enough to get over it, but a 10 year old does not have the life experience to put that public bong hit in perspective. As the author himself acknowledges in the last line, the issue is the message it sends to young people. So, while Phelps is probably about as moral as the rest of us, a smiling Phelps on a Kellogg’s box doesn’t quite jibe with the image of an unshaven Phelps huffing pot. Advertising isn’t about maturity and realistic expectations of people, it’s about selling an image.

And, I just don’t think the clueless husband metaphor holds up in the Phelps situation; surely he understands why people are upset. He’s young, maybe he’s dumb, but I doubt he’s clueless.

Final reaction: at least this column was written by someone local- a UConn professor- and isn’t one of those generic national columns.

Actually, looks like Phelp did get a DUI, 5 years ago at the age of 19. Thanks, Wikipedia! So, Phelps ain’t no saint, and if that tarnishes his rep, and ruins some sponsorships, so be it. I really don’t care. But I’m OK with him apologizing. It’s OK to apologize for setting a bad example for young people, especially if you do feel badly about it, for whatever reason.

From Wikipedia: In November 2004, at the age of 19, Phelps was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in Salisbury, Maryland. He pleaded guilty to driving while impaired the following month and was granted probation before judgment and ordered to serve 18 months' probation, fined $250, obligated to speak to high school students about drinking and driving and had to attend a Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) meeting. Questioned about the incident later that month by Matt Lauer on the Today Show, Phelps said it was an "isolated incident" and that he had "definitely let myself down and my family down...I think I let a lot of people in the country down."


Leadhyena Inrandomtan said...

OK have to comment here. Many men DO feel like they're apologizing for things that make absolutely no sense. This is a legitimate phenomenon, and usually it signals some breakdown of communication on the part of the couple. The male should have the courage to stand up and admit that he has no idea what he's apologizing for, and the female should have the self-reflection to know that the male can't always read her mind. But in reality, the apology shouldn't even take place, because it's inherently not true. I'll get to that. Let me start by saying that I agree with you that Phelps isn't making these apologetic comments simple because he's male. He's doing it to save his media skin.

Let's face it: Phelps is an awesome swimmer and a talented athlete, but the dude does like to party and can be an ass when he does. You might be able to put it into an adult perspective, but I lost a lot of respect for him because of the DUI incident, and feel that he probably should have been prosecuted for the "bong hit" (while I don't think smoking weed should be against the law, it is on the books so protest it or respect it but don't flaunt it) or the events that allegedly surrounded it (google for "phelps beer pong gambling" for that little tidbit), but he's gotten away with it again.

I have little respect for darlings of the media that get these slaps on the wrist because they have influence to manipulate the local law enforcement. Just because you happen to be good at something doesn't mean it gives you free reign to stomp on the laws. Phelps has known for years that he has the scrutiny of the media; for him to have acted so irresponsibly and then to just get away with it by just apologizing just sets another example for those who aspire to greatness that once you get there you can lose respect for other people. When you have that great a talent and you bring it to the world spotlight you have an equally great responsibility to set a good example to follow, as unfair as it sounds. Getting DUIs and losing a couple of Gs on beer pong is not the right way to go about it, and I simply cannot waive it off with some form of "adult perspective".

Anywho, back to the original point. Apologies are inherently dishonest. As you have accurately reflected, all it does is take some of the sting of the rudeness, and holds no real weight of contrition. True contrition is shown via action that either shows a symbolic form of penance or some level of reversal or compensation of the harm caused. Phelps's apology is another example of that: "I'm young; I did something dumb. I realize I let the public down." Let's set this totally straight: 1) He's not young anymore (can vote and drink legally, not like he was when he was 19), 2) we all know he did something dumb, and 3) he has more than 5 years of experience in the public spotlight to know that he did more than just "let us down".

In short, I also agree that he doesn't need to apologize to adults. He really needs to show us some real contrition. And he needs to realize that forgiveness won't come so easily in the future. He's not getting any from me at any rate.

Adam Bernard said...

"I'm sorry" and "you're right" are inherent phrases all (smart) males say more times than they can count just to avoid unwanted conflict with their significant other.

As men we often admit to wrongdoing that we don't feel is wrong just so we can get on with our lives and not have any kind of extensive discussion about it. Same thing applies to arguments where we know we're right. If our g/f is convinced the world is flat there's no point in arguing, a simple "you're right, honey," ends a potential fight before it can start.