Thursday, July 26, 2012

Should Kristen Stewart Have Apologized?

It’s a sad day when young people take their moral cues from the behavior of celebrities, but, alas, it’s happening in America today.

Yesterday, a website published pictures of celebrity Kristen Stewart cheating on her live-in boyfriend, celebrity Robert Pattinson. Stewart and Pattinson star in a series of enormously popular vampire movies about Twilight.

In the pictures, Stewart was wrapped in an amorous embrace with film director and married father of two, Rupert Sanders. He had recently directed her in a movie about Snow White.

Since Stewart is extremely famous and recognizable she could not have just gone and gotten a room. Of course, making out in public did not exactly solve the discretion issue.

Us Weekly reported that Kristen left the Hollywood home she shares with Rob on July 17 and spent the afternoon driving around LA with Sanders — who’s wed to British model Liberty Ross — “in search of secluded places to make out.” They were pictured kissing in a car and later canoodling and hugging at a park in what was described as a “marathon make-out session.”

Apparently, Pattinson had already known about the escapade and was deeply humiliated by it all… to say the least.

After the pictures appeared, Stewart issued a contrite apology via a representative:

I'm deeply sorry for the hurt and embarrassment I've caused to those close to me and everyone this has affected. This momentary indiscretion has jeopardized the most important thing in my life, the person I love and respect the most, Rob. I love him, I love him, I'm so sorry.

To which Jessica Coen has responded by saying that Stewart erred in apologizing. She does not, Coen said, owe anyone a press release.

In some part, Coen is right. When you allow someone else to apologize in your place, you have not, by definition, apologized.

If Stewart had gone before a camera and read the statement, I would have thought better of her. She would have been closer to a real apology. 

As you probably know, Jessica Coen is an extremely talented young writer and editor. She edits Jezebel, an excellent site.

Now, Coen wants people to believe that Stewart should not have apologized at all, except to her live-in boyfriend, Pattinson.

Coen senses, correctly, that celebrity apologies are especially vacuous. If you make a living, as Stewart does, pretending to be someone you are not, any statement of apology, no matter how anguished, is going to smack of insincerity.

When you allow a representative to deliver the statement, you might just as well, Coen reasons, not have done it at all.

Worse yet, in the moral universe of celebrity the apology is normally not accompanied by a price paid. When someone apologizes sincerely he usually accepts a penalty; he resigns his position or withdraws from public life for a decent interval.

In Stewart’s case, the apology, Coen explains, is intended to protect the franchise. Apparently, the Twilight franchise is very lucrative, indeed, and publicists are working hard to protect it.

If that is the primary concern, then apology can only be insincere. 

And yet, how many young people are going to draw moral lessons from this debacle? How many of them will learn that if your apology is not sincere you would do better not to offer it at all? How many of them will learn that, while Stewart did something that was, in Coen’s word, "wrong," we should take into account the extenuating circumstances and not, she implies, be so judgmental.

This incident raises a number of important moral issues.

First, if an apology is not sincere should it be offered anyway? If you do not mean it, should you say it? Or better, should you do the right thing when your heart is not in it?

Take a less charged example: should you send a thank-you note when you do not feel grateful? Ought you to write out the note when you do not feel the feeling you are expressing?

Coen seems to be saying that you should not; Confucius said you should.

Confucius would have advised you to perform correct social rituals, even if your heart is not in it. By his thinking, the more you do the right thing the more you will understand what it the ritual means and the more your gestures will become sincere.

Or, if I may quote myself, I once put it this way:

If you want to build character, it’s better to pretend that you have it than to prove that you don’t.

The words that were released under Kristen Stewart’s name do express a high level of anguish. That they do not rise to the level of a sincere apology means simply that Stewart has something to work towards.

The second point is: if an apology is larded over with explanations justifying the failure or mistake, then it is, by definition, insincere.

The same, I suggest, applies to Coen’s tactic of denouncing Stewart for having done something wrong while at the same time offering a laundry list of extenuating circumstances.

In these paragraphs Coen piles on the rationalizations for Stewart’s behavior:

This is the matter of a girl cheating on her boyfriend, and that kind of feels like a high school fuck up. Fodder for the gossip mill, sure, but not at the level of publicly begging for forgiveness. Even the overwrought apology (your boyfriend is "the most important thing in my life" — really?) sounds like a kid with a case of the swoons.

Kristen Stewart is 22, a very young adult. Find me one person who didn't screw up, in ways large or small, a relationship at that age. And Robert Pattinson is just her boyfriend, as in they aren't married.… Moreover, Stewart exists in a very permissive Hollywood bubble where celebrities can generally behave however they please, and she didn't violate the sanctity of some social/legal contract. Nor was she involved in any criminal acts (as far as we know, anyhow, but there could've been some hot Bonnie and Clyde role playing); adultery isn't illegal in California. And who the hell knows the state of her relationship?

It is easy to imagine that young women reading this advice will conclude that cheating on your boyfriend is not all that wrong.

But, cheating is one thing. Humiliating your boyfriend or significant other in public is quite another. 

Coen grants that Stewart owes Pattinson an apology, but we should consider the fact that once you have humiliated your live-in boyfriend in public, a private apology will no longer suffice. 

Moreover, Stewart damaged her public reputation. She ought to work to restore her good name. If she apologizes she is saying that the indiscretion was a mistake, that it was not characteristic of her, and that it will not happen again.

But she also damaged her boyfriend’s reputation, making him look, in the eyes of the world, like the unmarried equivalent of a cuckold.

After offering all the excuses she can think of for Stewart’s behavior, Coen says that Stewart’s behavior is not excusable.

In Coen’s words:

None of this makes Stewart's behavior even remotely excusable because it's not, not even if the relationship is on the rocks or he's the world's most popular vampire. Say it with me: Cheating is wrong! Kristen Stewart Did a Bad Thing. She acted like a crappy person. But she did it to her boyfriend, and she's young, and chances are she's learned her lesson. Assuming Pattinson and Stewart's relationship was in an otherwise happy place full of hearts doodled on notebooks, she certainly does owe him an apology. She doesn't, however, owe him — or any of us — a press release. Stupid girl did something stupid. The end.

Since when are 22 year olds considered to be girls. Last I heard they were women, adults with a sense of moral responsibility.

A stupid girl she does not bear the same moral responsibility as an adult cohabiting with another adult.

Since Stewart is an adult and a public figure, she owed Pattinson an apology. But she also owed her public an apology, however insincere.

She would have done better to have offered the apology in public, in her own words and in her own voice.

She has, I daresay, room for improvement. But that does not meant that she should not have apologized or that we should excuse her behavior on the grounds that she is “very young.”

After all, what is the message going out to young people here. Why would a young man ever want to have a girlfriend if he knew in advance that she could cheat on him with relative impunity because they were not married? And why would he not read Jessica Coen and say to himself that if those are the rules of the game, then he has the right to cheat himself?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't think we should excuse her behavior at any age...
Everyone knows, from the earliest of dating ages, that cheating on a boyfriend or girlfriend you've committed to is wrong.
But I think the real person who has to decide whether or not to accept her apology is her boyfriend himself! For the rest of us, we should really only use this as an example of what had behaviors NOT to follow. She likely aopologized to US because she was concerned about HER reputation (therefore HER ability to get the next role)
I have had the misfortune of being on the receiving end of someone's infidelity. And in 2 out of three cases, the person was clearly apologizing out of anguish of being caught, not out of shame or sorrow for hurting me...