(Photo: Jason Merritt/Getty Images; Steve Granitz/WireImage)
When at any moment you look like you might detach your lower jaw and swallow a small animal whole, you really don't get to make fun of other people's appearances. And yet for some reason Giuliana Rancic is allowed to do it and no one at E! finds this the least bit questionable. Rancic is the living embodiment of the tragedy that is C-list Hollywood and the show she co-hosts, Fashion Police, is so preposterously toxic that in order to cancel it you'd have to stab it through the heart with the Seven Daggers of Megiddo.
Right now Rancic is in a metric ton of trouble because of a comment she made on Monday about 18-year-old Zendaya Coleman, specifically about the hairstyle the Disney Channel star wore to the Oscars. Coleman chose to wear her normally Pantene commercial-ready hair in dreadlocks, which led Rancic to comment over an image of her on the red carpet, "I feel like she smells like patchouli oil. Or weed." The patchouli oil part of the comment was the giveaway that Rancic was saying that the dreads make Zendaya look like a hippie, despite the fact that dreadlocks had a lengthy and important history within Rastafarian society and beyond before they were co-opted by the American counter-culture.
Regardless of what Rancic was getting at, Zendaya was less-than-enthused about it and immediately fired off a statement on Twitter calling the line "outrageously offensive" and an "ignorant slur." She then proceeded to list off some of the many black celebrities and scholars who also wear their hair in dreadlocks and scolded Rancic by telling her that she should "contemplate a little more" before opening her mouth. Granted, if the hosts of Fashion Police were to do that, there'd be no show, but it's tough to say that would be a bad thing. As for Zendaya, she's being hailed by people like Kerry Washington and Selma director Ava DuVernay -- who has dreadlocks of her own -- for her eloquence in smacking down the ignorant and insensitive. Even Fashion Police co-host Kelly Osbourne distanced herself from Rancic, saying that she doesn't "condone racism" and is seriously thinking about leaving the show because of what happened.
In response to Zendaya's statement and the giant pile of shit raining down on top of her, Giuliana Rancic on Tuesday night offered up an almost painfully contrite apology on video, addressed directly to Zendaya and throwing in anyone else she may have upset for good measure. She said that while Fashion Police is a show meant to poke fun at celebrities, she had "cross(ed) the line" (even though, as she said earlier on Twitter, she was referring to Zendaya appearing "bohemian.") And then she said something that was kind of striking and more than a little unsettling when you unpack it. She said, "I didn’t intend to hurt anybody. But I’ve learned it’s not my intent that matters, it’s the result, and the result is that people are offended."
She's "learned" -- by way of an avalanche of online outrage and an 18-year-old who's apparently so strong and fierce that she's incapable of shrugging off a rude comment that likely wasn't in fact racist from a show that traffics in rude comments -- that what she was actually saying didn't matter. The only thing that mattered is how it was perceived -- that people were offended. Rancic, again, almost certainly wasn't being racist -- not even in some "microaggressive" sense -- but if anyone took it that way then she has to say she's sorry.
Understand: People will always find things to be offended by. Jesus, these days being outraged and voicing that outrage online seems to be our national pastime. If you were so inclined, you could add the Rancic/Zendaya affair to the ongoing list of gripes that social media's identity politics crusaders are tying to Sunday's Oscars. This is exactly why intent actually does matter so much. The late, great comic Patrice O'Neal used to say that when it came to humor especially, you had to consider a joke's intent versus its impact. You simply couldn't control how a comment that was meant to be funny was going to actually be taken, since humor is subjective and depends a lot on nuance, therefore all you had to go on was what the person saying it was trying to communicate and whether that intention was hurtful or benign. You can argue that, as a show, Fashion Police is one giant hurtful comment, but if nothing else the beauty of that formula is that it's egalitarian in how it dispenses its snark. Hardly anyone is immune, nor should they be.
If you say, as Giuliana Rancic implied, "No matter my intent, if you're offended you're owed an apology," you're never going to stop apologizing. And if you adopt this as your personal philosophy you're going to make yourself crazy trying to carefully craft every single statement that comes out of your mouth, seeing as how you've ceded control to people who are more than willing to decide for you what is and isn't appropriate to say. It's chilling to imagine a world where the easily offended -- or those whose agendas make it expedient to willfully misinterpret even the most innocuous of jokes or comments -- are able to strong-arm contrition out of those who step over their imaginary lines in the sand. Rancic may just be trying to save her ass, but that's what her apology seems to be advocating.
One more thing, by the way. The elephant in the room in all of this? If Joan Rivers were still alive today and co-hosting Fashion Police we wouldn't even be having this conversation. Not because she wouldn't have said something like what Rancic said about Zendaya, since she regularly spat far more acidic venom across a wide swath of Hollywood. She just wouldn't have apologized for it. In fact, she would've told anyone who gave her crap about it to go fuck themselves.