Pedophilia, Janet Jackson and bad apologies

Readers respond to recent articles by Ian O'Doherty, Steve Burgess and Susan McCarthy.

Published August 24, 2001 7:00PM (EDT)

Read "What happens when you satirize hysteria" by Ian O'Doherty.

Irony has been dying slowly and painfully in the United States for a long time now, but it's shocking to see that it has completely expired in Britain, of all places. That island has long been a source of the world's driest humor, and that makes it deeply saddening to watch the "Brass Eye" spectacle.

A public service announcement for those who seriously believe that Chris Morris actually endorses pedophilia: For the love of God, for the greater good of the human race, please shoot yourself in the head right now. Cheering crowds await you at the Pearly Gates even as we speak, ready to hand you your richly deserved Darwin Award.

-- Jonathan Moriarity

As a British resident, I was fortunate enough to see the brilliant episode of Chris Morris' "Brass Eye" special spoofing pedophilia. Funny, shocking, strong and angry -- it was all of these things, and indeed, some of it was uncomfortable viewing. We must ask ourselves, however, what is the point of satire if not to render viewers uncomfortable?

Your article was wrong in describing Chris Morris as the "most hated man in Britain." Indeed, after the program he was certainly hated, but only among the irony-impaired, the morally shallow, the illiterate and indeed, many who did NOT see the program. Those of us who saw the point of the Swiftian program -- the fact that Morris was satirizing those who would lambaste pediatricians, for example -- know that there is a difference between the subject of a satire, and its object.

-- Michele Deniken

This could never happen in America, for two simple reasons:

1. Our stupidity has been so vigorously absorbed into our popular culture, we wouldn't know it's a satire, even after we're told it is.

2. How could it possibly be funnier than "Dateline"?

Right now we have a television show that's as clever and cutting as "Brass Eye," albeit one with a less literate, though goofier American twist. It's called "TV Funhouse," and it airs on Comedy Central once a week at the wee, wee hours of the morning. It is easily the funniest thing on TV, and I doubt it'll last another month. This is how we prevent malcontents like Morris from showing us how dumb we are. We don't go toe to toe with them like the Brits, we simply prevent them from having a voice.

-- Thom Frost

Read "Brilliant Careers: Janet Jackson," by Steve Burgess.

Although Steve Burgess' article rightly points out the professionalism setting a Janet Jackson production apart from the mind-numbing mediocrities that continue to plague Top 40 stations, he also unwittingly points toward an aspect of amateurism that pervades even Jackson's "tastiest sausages."

The line following the quoted passage from her latest hit bears this out, as its strictly syllabic rhythmic setting forces the language into an unnaturally accented pattern: "And fàll so dèep-ly ìn love" [accents indicating stress]. The result is clumsy and awkward when spoken, and hardly more convincing when sung.

I have long suspected the banalities of such pop luminaries as REM (also lauded here in the recent past) and Alanis Morissette to be at least partly to blame for immunizing our ears to such rhythmic failures. Both artists suffer from ceaseless dyslexic scansion, with REM losing their "re-li-giûn," and Morissette thanking, among other things, "si-lènce." Incompetence, through such repeated transgressions, is elevated to "style."

The ultimate pity of all this is that one need neither formal training in poetic scansion nor musical text-setting in order to get this right. This is one act of creation that can be done intuitively.

-- Eric Flesher

How can the writer make droll statements about how there are so few outstanding artists and so few outstanding songs? Of course there are only a few. That's why they are considered outstanding.

-- Anonymous

Saying that her singles are hit and miss has got me boggled. Janet is second only to Madonna with gold singles, she has more top tens than any other artist and three-quarters of her 30 to 40 singles are top five. What is your basis of hit and miss? Maybe it's a personal thing. Curious. Nevertheless, good article.

-- Bill Rogers

Read "How to say you're sorry: A refresher course" by Susan McCarthy.

I am in awe of Susan McCarthy's article. It was clever, informative and had a sharp, wry tang of an ice cold martini on a humid summer evening.

-- Jeff Estes

I'm sorry, but Susan McCarthy's article doesn't quite hit the bull's-eye. She is absolutely right that an "apology" containing "but" or "if" is no apology at all. She is also correct that an apology only works if you take responsibility for what you did. But she doesn't go far enough.

Acknowledging responsibility for your actions is not only for the benefit of the recipient of the apology, it is ever more so for the benefit of the giver. When I say, "I'm sorry I killed your frog," I can easily be translating it to myself as, "I'm sorry [you found out] I killed your frog." Even if my spoken words don't reflect that mental qualification, my attitude will and the apology will be wasted.

Unfortunately, I know of only one foolproof method for making a real apology. I have to admit, "I was wrong." Period. No "buts." No "ifs." No qualifications of any kind that would imply that the other person is somehow responsible for the situation.

"I was wrong to kill your frog. I'm sorry." It is as painfully simple as that.

-- Rod Hoffman

An excellent refresher.

However, there was one weasel apology I would have like to see condemned: "I'm sorry you feel that way."

Whoever is making that "apology" is completely abdicating responsibility for their actions, as well as placing the blame solely on the person being "apologized" to.

That statement should be eliminated from the world vocabulary, and so-called customer service representatives who use it should be strung up.

And I'm not sorry for saying it.

-- Jeyen Barham-Kaiel

By Salon Staff

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