One of the quirks of the social media age is the sheer number of annoying people who feel they’re entitled to an apology from the latest person who says something they didn’t like. On Oscars night, Patricia Arquette was that “latest person” for a whole two hours or so until Sean Penn presented the Oscar for Best Picture. That award went to Birdman, directed by his friend and Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Iñárritu. In announcing the winner, Penn joked, “Who gave this son-of-a-bitch his green card?”
Ten years ago, Penn’s joke would’ve been confined to the morning and gossip shows, with maybe a host here or there chiding Penn for his “insensitivity.” But this is the era of twitter and the golden age of outrage-blogging, which means an uproar ensued. Despite the fact that Iñárritu thought the joke was “hilarious,” that didn’t stop squadrons of PC police from expressing their indignation and demanding an apology. Well, Sean Penn has finally responded. Here’s what the 54-year-old actor told the Associated Press:
“I’m always surprised by flagrant stupidity. I keep having more hope,” said Penn of the widespread outrage that followed the moment….
“I have absolutely no apologies,” Penn said with calm resolve.
“In fact, I have a big ‘fuck you’ for every… anybody who is so stupid not to have gotten the irony when you’ve got a country that is so xenophobic,” he said. “If they had their way, you wouldn’t have great filmmakers like Alejandro working in this country. Thank god we do.”
While there are way too many clickbaity headlines that go something like, So-and-So Has the Perfect Response To Such-and-Such, rarely if ever has that formula been more applicable than here. We live in a time where literally anyone with an internet connection can make their outrage go viral simply by appending a cheeky hashtag to an expression of exaggerated fury, no matter how misplaced or downright stupid their outrage actually is. (Hello, #CancelColbert.)
This isn’t to say that when people screw up by saying something truly insensitive or gross in public, that they shouldn’t apologize. But the thing is, the bar for outraging the internet is so low that if you speak and write publicly for a living, it’s never been easier to limbo yourself right into the ground lest you knock it over. As Chez Pazienza wrote a couple of weeks ago,
“If you say… ‘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.”
The best way to handle the incessant demands for apologies from the internet’s legion of professional umbrage-takers isn’t to apologize, recant, and promise to never say anything like that again. Instead, it’s to do exactly what Sean Penn did: Don’t apologize and politely explain that no apology will be forthcoming.
And if that doesn’t work, there’s always the middle finger.