Begging your pardon

Tears have always sold newspapers, but in a post-reality-TV world the desire for visible feeling on the faces of public figures is stronger than ever, says visual artist Cathy Busby.

Tears have always sold newspapers, but in a post-reality-TV world the desire for visible feeling on the faces of public figures is stronger than ever, says visual artist Cathy Busby.

It is the “market for real emotion,” said the creator of Sorry, an installation at the Yukon Arts Centre public gallery.

Lie, make a mistake or say something offensive and the process is always the same: get in front of a camera, say you’re sorry and, for God’s sake, try to show some feeling.

“We demand an emotional response that diverts us from the hard truth or the hard work,” said Busby, surrounded by images of giant pixillated mouths.

Each mouth is pulled from media images of public apologies and blown up to near-abstract proportions.

After Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s June 2008, residential school apology,

some criticized how Harper “didn’t look sorry” when he made the speech.

“He’s the head of the nation state making an apology on behalf of the country, to read his presentation in terms of authenticity is the wrong question, in my opinion,” said Busby, who holds a PhD in communication from Concordia University.

The apology should have been judged in the context of whether Canada is truly committed to the residential school apology—not just whether the prime minister looked sad, said Busby.

It’s an “oversimplification that an emotional reading gives us an ‘out,’ gives us a ‘release,’” said Busby.

“We try and find authenticity in media images and we don’t get much going that way,” she said.

Busby’s accompanying book, also called Sorry, lays out an expanded parade of guilty mouths.

Disgraced former New York governor Eliot Spitzer kicks off the book, his lip-biting half-moon frown the stereotypical depiction of apology.

From there, the mouths gradually stray away from Spitzer’s ideal, morphing into sneers, smiles and ending with the unsettling open-mouth of former US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld as he apologizes for the abuse of Abu Ghraib detainees.

Whether making a trivial or significant apology, the mouths are frighteningly indistinguishable.

Janet Jackson’s lips are pursed as she apologizes for a “wardrobe malfunction” that revealed her right breast to a Super Bowl audience.

Above Jackson, Ontario Premier Mike Harris’ lips are similarly pursed as he apologizes for the Walkerton tainted-water tragedy.

Under the media lens, all apologies—be they an exposed nipple or a Quixotic war that caused the death of thousands—are given the same weight, said Busby.

A drawn demeanour, a solitary tear. These compelling images of emotion are diversions from the real underlying story, says Busby.

Every time a Canadian soldier is killed in Afghanistan, focus immediately shifts to images of the soldier’s grief-stricken family.

“This is not the point; we’re in there killing people and getting killed ourselves, and the coverage is all about what a big upset this death is,” said Busby.

“Emotion is what we get, but it’s not what we should take for the truth,” she said.

The centrepiece of Sorry are blown-up text fragments of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s residential school apology and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology for Australia’s “stolen generation.”

Rudd’s apology has the beat and pace of a prayer, incorporating a rousing “call and response” theme, observes Busby.

“For the pain, suffering and hurt … we say sorry. To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters … we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people, we say sorry,” said Rudd.

The Canadian apology hits harder with a more “judicial” quality.

Harper nakedly lays out the wrongs of the residential school system before roundly condemning them.

“Indeed, some sought, as it was infamously said, ‘to kill the Indian in the child.’ Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong,” said Harper.

In the mid-70s, Busby attended the Carcross Community Education Centre, itself a former residential school.

The danger of public apologies, especially in the case of the Rudd/Harper apologies, is that their message, however profound, can be fleeting.

The trick is holding leaders to account for the “transformative” change they promise.

Sorry has already made the rounds of exhibition spaces in both Canada and Australia, but soon, Busby will take her credo of apologetic accountability to a higher stature.

The Harper/Rudd apology juxtaposition is slated to be printed on massive multi-storey banners and displayed on the side of public buildings in both Nova Scotia and Australia.

Contact Tristin Hopper at

tristinh@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports of youth being extorted online. (Black Press file)
Yukon youth being extorted online

Yukon youth being extorted online Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports… Continue reading

Fines for contravening the fire ban start at $1,150 and could go as high as $100,000. File photo
Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. (Black Press file)
Yukon campgrounds to open early

Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. The early opening… Continue reading

A Housing First building on Fifth Avenue and Wood Street will be taken over by the Council of Yukon First Nations and John Howard Society later this month. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
CYFN, John Howard Society take over downtown Housing First residence

The organizations have pledged culturally appropriate service for its many Indigenous residents

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. Politicians return for the spring sitting of the assembly March 4. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Analysis: What to expect in spring sitting of the legislature

They’re back on March 4, but election speculation is looming large

d
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for March 3, 2021.

A rendering of the Normandy Manor seniors housing facility. (Photo courtesy KBC Developments)
Work on seniors housing project moves forward

Funding announced for Normandy Manor

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Most Read