Lauren Mayer: How to Make Controversy Worse

As any parent has reassured her kids time and time again, none of us are perfect, we all make mistakes, and a simple apology can work wonders.  But apparently most public figures with misdeeds for which they want to be forgiven have gotten a bit side-tracked, issuing “I’m sorry if anyone took offense” non-apologies that make the initial mistake even worse.  Sometimes it works – Mark Sanford never really apologized for his “hiking the Appalachian Trail” nonsense, other than explaining that his mistress was his soulmate, and South Carolina voters forgave him enough to elect him to Congress in a recent special election.  Sometimes it’s just entertaining, like waiting to see what will happen with Anthony Weiner’s mayoral ambitions (as well as with the unfortunate juxtaposition between his last name and his texting).

But sometimes the non-apology just makes matters worse, as in the case of Abercrombie & Fitch’s CEO.  A several-years-old interview resurfaced recently, in which Jeffries explained the store didn’t sell large sizes because they only wanted ‘cool, popular, thin kids’ wearing their clothes (the store had already generated some controversy because of their policy to burn irregular clothes, rather than run the risk of them being worn by unacceptable ‘poor people’).  Unfortunately, Jeffries’ response was to apologize ‘if anyone took offense,’ which just fanned the fires, on top of opening himself up to critiques of his own fairly odd appearance.  (And while I do agree with those who say that it’s hypocritical to criticize Jeffries’ looks while we complain about his looks-ism, I understand why people couldn’t help noticing Jeffries’ amazing resemblence to Biff from Back To The Future as well as to Jocelyn Wildenstein, the wealthy socialite who has spent over $4 million on plastic surgery to make her face look more like a cat.   (Who needs to write fiction when reality is this weird?)

Several journalists and celebrities weighed in (pun intended) in fairly creative ways, like a journalist who bought up thrift shop A&F clothes and donated them to homeless people, a plus-sized model who created her own spoof ‘Attractive & Fat’ ad campaign, and comic Ellen Degeneres, who explained that ‘coolness isn’t a size’ while holding up an ‘extra small’ A&F logo shirt that would have been small on Barbie.  (I also loved her take on ‘size double zero,’ wondering if people who wore that size would ask, “Do these jeans make my butt look invisible?”)  And hundreds of teens have responded to Jeffries’ Facebook non-apology, writing in that they are thin enough to wear A&F clothes, but not that shallow or snobby.

Karma seems to be doing a fairly good job in this case, as A&F’s sales have plummeted (although it was great fun to watch Jeffries attribute the slump to an ‘inventory problem,’ which is probably a shortage of superficial trend-obsessed teens who are stupid enough to pay for the privilege of doing A&F’s advertising for them, wearing logo-encrusted poorly made shirts).  But I still couldn’t resist weighing in musically, with an actual apology to Sir Elton John . . . .



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