On Valentine’s Day we think about loving and doing the right thing for those we love. It’s an upbeat, happy day that will touch us in different ways; the sun seems brighter and the moon more lustrous if we share time with our loved ones. It’s a time we want to do worthy things and win our intended’s heart, mind and soul.
But other days, our misdeeds threaten to topple us and our dreams and plans for a rosy future. We work against those we count on – lovers, family, constituents, business partners, fans and consumers and find ourselves wandering alone and outcast down a different, humiliating path to despair. Unless we can make that perfect atonement. And that’s where we find ourselves in Who’s Sorry Now? a fascinating documentary on how misbehaving famous people and companies have attempted to build their lives through forgiveness and redemption while saving their dollar value.
Award-winning director Marc de Guerre looks back at some of the greatest public gaffes in recent public memory, the subsequent apologies and our feelings about both the apologies and the apologizers. De Guerre finds that apologies are hard wired in our nature, as is the ability to forgive and move along. But what if the perps and their crimes are unforgivable? And what’s the cost of forgiveness?
The documentary notes an apology “boom”, a trend towards letting it all hang out with a teary-eyed, throat-clearing mea culpa while desperately hoping for forgiveness that will allow us to move forward in the best case scenario, without missing a beat or a paycheque. Yes, the bottom-line is money, imagine that.
This trend is big business; some people can get mighty fat from a misdeed. High-powered (“expensive”) spin doctors are heard from including 42 West’s Allan Mayer who speaks like a man who’s led a few spin charges. His agency is part of a growing sector in business that manages crises, making silk out of sows’ ears at least and somehow spinning gold out of it at best. Spin doctors take charge of the tone, look and feel of the necessary public apology and attempt to rehabilitate the broken image and for this they are well paid, and things being what they are, in demand.
Whether it’s the BP oil spill in the Gulf and the fate of BP’s flippant spokesperson, the reworking of dogfighter Michael Vick into a crusading dog protector, the sincerely emotional apology made by the head of a Canadian meatpacker who went against the advice of his lawyers speak and saved his reputation, spin is in. We see Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Mel Gibson and others under the harsh glare of public ill will, what they did about it and where they stand today.
De Guerre investigates successful apologies that redeem the wrongdoer, and unsuccessful ones that leave the wrongdoer flapping in the wind because a key ingredient of the apology formula was missing. There’s also the impact of the apology that comes too late and the attitude, look and tone of the apologizer.
Of course, spin goes back to our earliest days as a species, but we’re talking electronic age. What makes the things we do more somehow “meaningful” today, that is, increase their impact in countless ways, is the fibre optic speed with which our deeds circle the globe online. The spin business is good business and at its heart, provides public entertainment of the most grisly, universal and to quote a practitioner, “delightful” kind.
Who’s Sorry Now? airs on the CBC’s Doc Zone Thursday, February 16 at 9 p.m. It repeats on the CBC News Network Friday, February 17 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.