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The Cry-Baby Manifesto
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
There's no American equivalent to Amy Winehouse, the belligerent British soul singer whose trainwreck private life has been of continued interest to tabloid writers in both the U.K. and the U.S.A. When an American celebrity gets busted for some indiscretion — drugs, sex, drunkenness, fighting — an apologetic press release is almost instantaneously issued, and a tearful, remorse-filled press conference usually follows with the week. Amy Winehouse will have absolutely none of that. Every time she has a run-in with the law, her public response has been to abjectly refuse to apologize to anyone. She remains thoroughly unrepentant for her actions and never pretends that she's ever gonna change, and this contrariness has actually helped her artistically — her best-know song, "Rehab", is a big middle-finger jabbed at all the hand-wringers who want to see her blubber in public for her sins. Amy Winehouse may be a big old mess, but at least she's an honest mess, an artist who respects her audience enough to not fake contrition when she doesn't feel it.
While I'd hate to see Miss Winehouse end up on CNN's "Breaking News" scrawl as the latest celebrity casualty, I have to admit that a part of me hopes that she never gets clean, that she always remains stridently profane and self-destructive. It's refreshing, in this age of teary celebrity confessions, to find someone who expresses zero remorse for how she's living and shows zero desire to listen to her publicist's advice. Maybe she'll become the female version of Keith Richards, an impossible-to-kill hedonist who never allows herself to be perceived as anyone's role model. While every American sports star, politician, or actor can't wait to start wailing in front of the news cameras for past sins, Amy Winehouse, by contrast, has taken the moral high ground by saying nothing. It's admirable that she refuses to treat her fans like a bunch of saps.
I can't imagine that I'm the only one who's weary of the public apology spectacles. There's something inherently creepy and dishonest about every one of them, and they all sound the same. It must be a publicist's first task on the job — get that drugs/hooker/intern/DUI/wife beater "all purpose" apology ready for immediate use. It's remarkable how they all hit the same seven notes without fail. First, there's the apology to the family and friends, noting the "humiliation" that the perpetrator has caused. This is followed by the earnest promise that the sinner will take "full responsibility" for his actions. A personal aside to his parents is next — "this is not how I was raised" — which is then followed by the God thing ("I know He's with me, and this faith keeps me going") and the rehab thing ("I'm taking steps to change my behavior, so this week I will be admitting myself into. . . "). A wet-eyed apology to the fans — especially "the children who believed in me" — is usually the show stopper, right before the big finish which promises, "with God's help and the support of my family," a return to respectability and (hopefully) further celebrityhood.
What Tiger Woods, Bill Clinton, et al, don't get about these public embarrassments is that nobody believes a word they say. The speakers are remorseful, all right, but even the least cynical viewer can't help but see that what they're most remorseful about is that they got caught. Maybe it's just a coincidence, but it's always after they get busted when they suddenly realize what complete schmucks they've been. It's hard to trust someone like that; if they were truly contrite, they would have blown the whistle on themselves a long time ago. And the obvious coaching that goes into the delivery of these prepared statements is all too visible. You can tell that they've been primed to "show remorse" regardless if they actually feel remorse. And showing remorse is one of the hardest things to fake if you don't actually regret your actions.
But okay, maybe I'm being too harsh on human nature here — I recognize that there could be a "downward spiral" thing in effect and that only "hitting bottom" will provide the "wake-up call" that these celebrities need to "turn their lives around." But I doubt it. I've heard too many similar narratives from too many con artists to trust that storyline again. What I wouldn't give to hear a celebrity actually speak the truth at a press conference — "I took steroid because it helped me make 30 million dollars," or "The reason I slept with 85 women was because I could." Transgressive? Sure. Horribly insensitive? You bet. But a million times better than those contrived sobs and bald-face lies.
There have been a few apologies that I've actually believed, but even on those occasions there's usually something perverse and self-flagellating about the proceedings that makes my flesh crawl. It's uncomfortable to watch people in extremis beg for absolution — they have an almost desperate hunger for forgiveness, and they're always all too eager to catalogue their sins in lurid detail. It strikes me as narcissism, pure and simple, a desire to be in the spotlight even in the most mortifying circumstances.
In Tiger Woods' astonishingly robotic press conference, he did manage to say something that I believed — he said that ultimately, words are useless, and that only his actions would prove his intention to turn over a new leaf. It's ironic that he had to speak before seven cable channels and millions of watchers in order to prove how useless words can be.