Sorry/not sorry: Why Blanc and Redfoo’s apologies are misguided and insincere

You may have heard about the misogynist antics of self-proclaimed “pick-up artist” and Real Social Dynamics (RSD) coach, Julien Blanc, whose recommendations for picking up women include grabbing women’s throats and pushing their faces into your crotch. Or you may have heard the sexist lyrics promoted by American entertainer, Redfoo, in his new single “Literally, I Can’t,” wherein women are encouraged to perform “girl on girl” for men at parties and, when they refuse, are instructed to “shut the fuck up.” If, like me, you walked away feeling offended by the actions of these men — I’m pleased to report that you were not alone.

Julien Blanc
Julien Blanc

Over the last month, both Blanc and Redfoo have been widely criticized by feminist activists and bloggers throughout Australia and North America. Recently, Blanc’s Visa was cancelled in Australia when a group of protesters picketed outside the venue where he was set to give one of his controversial RSD seminars — a protest that was spurred on by the hashtag, #takedownjulienblanc. Redfoo’s latest video sparked the hashtag #shutthefooup and prompted a petition demanding his dismissal as a judge from X Factor Australia.

In response, both Blanc and Redfoo issued “apologies.” Redfoo, who initially posted a series of tweets that defensively outlined what he perceived to be the “facts” behind his music (to summarize: feminists just don’t understand jokes!), later issued an apology on Facebook addressing his fans, friends, and family, rather than those he offended:

“I get excited to create things that will unite all of us through laughter, dance & celebration. If during the process I offend anyone, I apologize from the bottom of my heart. In the future I will be more mindful of the way I present my art.”

Following Redfoo’s vague apology for his “excited” behaviour and contentious “art,” Blanc also issued an apology during an interview on CNN. In one excerpt of the five minute conversation, Blanc nervously says:

“Like, I feel horrible. I’m not going to be happy to be the most hated man in the world. I’m overwhelmed by the way people are responding. With those pictures there that you’re referring to, of again, like, choking women, um, I just want to make that clear, that is not what I teach. Like, … those pictures right there, those were a horrible, horrible attempt at humour. Um, you know, it’s… you know, they were also, like, taken out of context…”

On the surface, both Blanc and Redfoo appear to address the public’s concerns, but a closer inspection of their “apologies” reveals that the main reason they are sorry is because they feel they are either being misinterpreted or condemned. Indeed, while both Blanc and Redfoo use the words “sorry” and “apology” in their statements, what’s actually missing from their apologies is the apology itself.

In his memoir, The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch explains that there are three parts to giving a sincere apology: Identifying what you did wrong, assuring the offended party that you will not repeat your misbehaviour, and finally (and perhaps most importantly), asking what you can do to make it better. Both Blanc and Redfoo’s apologies fall short of providing what I consider to be a sincere apology, as they fail to critique (or understand the critique of) their misogynist behaviour and, as a consequence, cannot actually commit to changing their actions and making amends.

The lack of critical reflection in both Blanc and Redfoo’s attempts to clarify their position shows how little they understand or care about the response to (or the impact of) their behaviour. Rather than discussing the systemic problem of men’s violence against women, which is where the vast majority of feminist activists are citing concern, both men hide behind the argument that their messages were taken “out of context” and claim they have been “misrepresented” — taken seriously when really it was all in good fun.

On Twitter, Redfoo accuses his critics of having an “agenda” and of failing to understand the supposedly “satirical” nature of his music, gaining the support of one Australian shock-jock who, during an interview with Redfoo, calls critics of his new song, “dickheads,” “do-gooder idiots,” and “Tupperware-collecting party-poopers.”*

Blanc also issues an apology that references “humour” as a way of, at least partially, justifying his actions, explaining that the offensive pictures of him on social media, some of which allude to sexually violent acts, were simply “taken out of context” and were intended to be funny.

Hiding behind a thin veil of humour to justify one’s misogyny is not new. Indeed, this notion has and been discussed at length by feminist writers such as Abigail Bray. In Misogyny Re-Loaded, Bray argues that, “if misogyny has a soundtrack it is canned laughter… Laughter instructs the audience that it is not only permissible to laugh at the oppression of women but that it is expected.”

Rather than apologizing and reflecting on the criticisms defining their actions as sexist and deplorable, Blanc and Redfoo minimize concern. Indeed, both men react with a sense of shock that their messages have caused outrage to begin with, with Blanc claiming he was “overwhelmed” by the attention his antics were receiving and Redfoo saying, “I don’t know how rape culture and Redfoo got into the same headline.” In an age where rape culture has become a topic for the lulz, perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised.

Because Blanc and Redfoo fail to identify, acknowledge, and discuss the factors that sparked outrage to begin with, they are incapable of sincerely promising to change. While both men do make references to modifying their future actions, they do so in a vague and superficial way. Redfoo ensures his fans that, he will be “more mindful” when presenting his “art” in future, while Blanc explains that he is walking away from this experience hoping to “re-evaluat[e] everything” he posts online.

But what exactly do their “mindful re-evaluations” entail? How can someone truly make amends when they have not even identified why their actions sparked outrage to begin with? As readers, feminists, bloggers, and survivors of men’s violence, we are left with a series of apologies that fail to address our concerns at all — and we deserve better. An insincere apology is worse than receiving no apology at all.

*Note: I have only ever attended one Tupperware party when I was seven. I was offered a zucchini quiche and at no point was I told to “shut the fuck up.” TUPPERWARE PARTIES ROCK.

Natalie Jovanovski is a PhD Candidate and Feminist Researcher from Melbourne, Australia. Her research interests include the harms of sexual objectification, the cultural reinforcement of eating disorders, and the discursive portrayal of food in contemporary Western media.
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