Jonah Hill: At last – a public apology from someone who sounds like they mean it

The actor was recorded using homophobic language, but unlike so many others before him, he said he was sorry without any qualification


I’m sorry, they say. They don’t mean it. They’re sorry if you took offence. While they must point out that things didn’t go exactly the way everybody’s saying, they’re sorry for any misunderstanding. They’re sorry you didn’t quite get it. If anyone thinks they weren’t a nice person, they sincerely feel upset about that. They’re sorry their publicist or spin doctor made them issue this statement which they had no hand in writing. They’re sorry you’re such a total, total scumbag, and they’re sorry you’re making them do this, and they’re sorry you were born. Mistakes were made. By your mother when she agreed to go on that date with your father. THEY’RE SO SORRY.

These days, public apologies are almost never “made”; the appropriate word is “brokered”. Last week Lord Rennard issued an apology to the women who accused him of sexual harassment. By doing so in a letter in which he quoted his own appeal document rather than stating his sentiments directly, he gave what may have been the most underwhelming display of contrition in recent memory. “He would,” he didn’t write, “like to apologise sincerely for any such intrusion and assure them that this would have been inadvertent.” In other words: “I don’t accept it happened, and if it did I didn’t mean it, but if it did then I’ll say sorry, because I’ve been cornered into it, but I won’t do it in the first person, since that would seem to display some semblance of genuine remorse.” Richard Nixon was more heartfelt.

Then there’s Justin Bieber. After the Sun revealed his repeated use of the N-word in two five-year-old video clips, he didn’t really have much option but to self-flagellate; as self-flagellations go, though, it was a pretty mild affair. The whole thing, he said, came out of the ignorance of childhood. He praised himself for telling the truth, even though his team supposedly fought tooth and nail to keep the video a secret. And, crucially, he didn’t say it. He statemented it. When people really mean things, in my experience, they tend to say them out loud.

By observing these shortcomings, I suppose one feeds more change into the bullshit meter. But they do matter, actually. If we use verbs like “apologise” to describe these mealy-mouthed inadequacies, we devalue the term for everyone.

A surprising new moral standard-bearer hoved into view yesterday: Jonah Hill, he of Superbad and 22 Jump Street, who was recorded using some fairly incendiary homophobic abuse at the weekend. In an appearance on a US talk show, he tried something revolutionary, a PR move so crazy it just might work: he said he was sorry without any qualification. He spoke sincerely and seriously and at length; he said nothing to mitigate or justify his actions; he rejected any quid pro quo for forgiveness. As a result, of course, genuine forgiveness immediately moved a step closer. And the reason it worked: he sounded like he actually meant it. He must have a very strange publicist.

That’s good for Jonah Hill. But it’s good for the rest of us, too. The reason the claim that “some of my best friends are [hated group]” is so damning is that it is universally issued as part of a statement that fails to realise the gravity of the offence – and, all too often with mistakes of this nature, it is the very lack of acknowledgement that constitutes the most grievous part of the error. By making a straightforward apology and allowing the world to move on, Hill reminds us that, even in the fraught category of bigotry, there are offences of the mind and offences of the tongue; the only way of understanding the former better is to own up to the latter. If you disagree, I can only say how sorry I am that you’re going to have to read this piece again and reflect on it.

Is your doorstep safe enough for a delivery?

Everyone has the occasional problem with deliveries. Last month I chanced upon a parcel with my name on it on the front steps of the block three doors down; once, when I was a student, my neighbour blithely accepted the pizza I’d ordered by card and ate the whole thing with the explanation that he had “thought I was out”. Still, you have to feel some sympathy for Leila Daswani, who recently bought a £450 Mulberry handbag from Selfridges – only to be told that her postcode was “too risky”.

Ms Daswani lives in a £500,000 flat in Brixton, which either says something about property prices, or Selfridges, or both. If half a million quid still isn’t enough to secure you delivery peace of mind, one wonders what will. It counts me out of the luxury handbag stakes, I regret to say.

Mulberry’s items are generally inspired by celebrities; the Alexa [Chung], for example, or the [Lana] Del Rey. We can’t be far from the point where the only people entitled to be sent one are the superstars they’re named for. My only hope is to be deemed worthy of an “Archie”.

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