In the aftermath of the #MeToo movement, and as a long-overdue racial reckoning sweeps the globe, the role of the apology has never been more important. Some—like Halle Berry, who kept her recent expression of contrition for insensitive comments about portraying a transgender man clear and succinct—are doing it right: meanwhile, other celebrities issue lengthy Notes App apologies that seem more focused on self-exoneration than genuine reflection.
The most recent example of that latter form of apology came last weekend, when musician Ryan Adams wrote an essay for the Daily Mail addressing allegations of abuse—more specifically, a "pattern of manipulative behavior"—leveled against him by seven women, including ex-wife Mandy Moore. "To a lot of people this will just seem like the same empty bull***t apology that I've always used when I was called out, and all I can say is, this time it is different," Adams wrote.
To Moore, at least, "this time" didn't seem different at all: the actress and singer somewhat reluctantly addressed Adams' essay in a Today interview on Monday, telling interviewer Hoda Kotb that she hadn't heard from Ryan directly: ""I’m not looking for an apology necessarily, but l do find it curious that someone would do an interview about it without actually making amends privately."
Moore's statement gets to the heart of the limitations associated with public apologies. Even the most sensitive, carefully worded ones are still open to scrutiny from the world at large, rendering them inherently less personal and therefore—most likely—less meaningful. An apology should ideally serve to acknowledge wrongdoing, express remorse and hopefully establish a way forward, but Adams' apology got mired in the "acknowledge wrongdoing" stage: is it any wonder that Moore didn't feel particularly satisfied by it?
Of course, a private apology is just that—private—so we won't know if or when a public figure has offered one, or how the recipient of said apology reacted. Maybe that's okay, though: maybe we, as a culture, need to focus less on fear of "cancel culture" and more on reducing interpersonal harm, whether or not we get credit for it.
Or, as the This Is Us actress herself put it in a follow-up tweet: "And can we also just move on from giving space to this nonsense and empty, performative acts of contrition and focus on real news? Like #JusticeForBreonnaTaylor."