Patrick Carden interpolates puppetry and Cilla Black’s Surprise! Surprise! to explore apologising in the social media age.
Multidisciplinary designer Patrick Carden's graduate installation Apologise! Apologise! is an innovative exploration of apologising in the social media age. Social movements like #MeToo, Time's Up and Black Lives Matter have rose to prominence, abetted by social media virality. As a result, it has become harder for those in the public eye to bury their misdemeanours, on internet servers that never forget. Carefully cultivated public personas, political careers and celebrity auras are only ever one dredged up old tweet away from a PR catastrophe. It is debatable whether this has actually improved life in the real world. In the U.K. for example, a homophobic or racist faux pas may impact a celebrities bottom line for a quarter, but you only have to look at the MET's handling of the Stephen Port murders or the Rwanda deportation scheme to realise that systemic homophobia and racism are being entrenched rather than combatted. One wonders, is an apology worth anything in a society that continues to reward wrongdoing anyway? After all - Britain's elite spheres are defined by failing upwards. Or is it as simple as a mistake always justifying an apology? We chatted to the designer to find out more about the process behind the puppetry.
Why were puppets your chosen medium for this piece?
These caricature puppets were my medium of choice for a couple of reasons. Puppet shows traditionally comment on the social-cultural situation of society through its satirical manifestation of current behavioural norms which was something I was aiming to do with Apologise! Apologise!. Using the blueprints of Cilla Black’s television show Surprise! Surprise! I wanted to evaluate and question what is considered light entertainment within spheres of apologetic society. Is watching Cilla Black publicly ‘call out’ and ‘drag’ high-profile wrongdoers a viable form of social justice or just an exaggerated performance that prompts a lorra lorra laughs? Puppets enabled me to communicate my perspective of public apologies and the relationship between apology authenticity and apology entertainment.
Do you feel political apologies have lost their meaning?
I think it's always important to apologise, so I wouldn’t go as far as to say they have lost their meaning entirely. However, when apologies are made within the realms of politics I think it is worth questioning their validity. A politician's credibility plays a huge part when evaluating whether their apology is genuine or not. Apologies can also be viewed as a form of currency; the more one apologises the less valuable they become thus a mea culpa from a regular apologiser or societal offender may lack any meaning at all.
How much does a political apology matter without material atonement for what is being apologised for?
Material atonement tends to solidify an apology as genuine, particularly in politics where the sincerity of politicians is regularly scrutinised. However, what does material atonement for politicians look like in a thoroughly secularised society that rejects the pre-modern rituals of sacrifice and penance? It would be irrational to suggest that every political apology requires a form of material atonement, therefore we must consider the context of the apology as well as the role of the apologiser. A prime minister apologising for breaking the law would seem like a scenario requiring atonement beyond an apology's words. In this instance, one may see resignation as a proportional act of penance, however, it is also important to reflect upon the social and power structures that allow this misuse of power to happen in the first place. A political apology alone can provoke discussions around reconceptualising these structures however action beyond the apology is necessary for ensuring there are progressive and lasting changes to a system that is clearly flawed.
Do you think “cancel culture” pressures public figures to make apologies they don’t mean?
Of course! I do believe that the fear of being ‘cancelled’ prompts insincere apologies all the time, particularly when there is a delay between the action that they are apologising for and the apology or when there is an initial apology refusal. Conforming to the demands of an angry public by performing the face-destroying act of an apology is a price most public figures are willing to pay in order to avoid further outrage and aggressive boycotting of themselves. A statement filled with apology buzz phrases alongside a carefully choreographed video of them looking sad and regretful usually is sufficient in satisfying the thirst for accountability, or at least until attention shifts to the next public figure is placed in the cancel culture pillories.
Populist figures are valorised for being “unapologetically themselves”. Do you think refusing to apologise conveys strength?
Apologising in my opinion typically displays far more strength than refusing to apologise, however once again the context of an apology is hugely important in deciding whether this is true. I also believe you can still remain unapologetically yourself whilst admitting your mistakes.
A great example of this is a few of weeks ago when musician Lizzo apologised after being called out for using an ableist slur in her song ‘GRRRLS’. As well as apologising, she re-released a new version of the song a couple of days later. Being respectful of others and showing humility does not compromise expressions of individuality. Even after apologising Lizzo is still unquestionably an iconic unapologetic figure.
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