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death and life of education

Larry David's definitive statement about apologies: All that matters if if you're ACTING sincere

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Says Nathan Flomm: "Apologies don't have to be sincere. It's just the act of the apology itself. It's only -- all that matters is if you're acting sincere."

by Ken

In Saturday's "TV Watch preview" I was caught up by a segment of the trailer HBO put out for its film Clear History, premiering that night, starring Larry David as a marketing genius who walks away from what turns out to be "literally a billion-dollar idea" and becomes an object of national scorn.

The trailer for HBO's Clear History

JON HAMM CHARACTER: It doesn't matter if you apologize if it's not sincere.
WIDLY ENHAIRIFIED LARRY DAVID CHARACTER [exasperated]: Apologies don't have to be sincere.
JON HAMM CHARACTER: That is literally the only thing an apology has to be. I'm sorry it had to be like this.
WILDLY ENHAIRIFIED LARRY DAVID CHARACTER: You see? You apologized, but you didn't mean it!
I just loved this. As I wrote Saturday:
We're living, after all, in the Age of Apologies, where putatively sentient humans devote an ever larger portion of their waking hours to demanding an apology from so-and-so, without any clear indication that so-and-so is the least bit sorry, even if his/her handlers decided that he/she really should issue the demanded apology, which in any case is likely to take some form of the weaselly "I'm sorry if anyone is offended," which of course makes it pretty clear that the alleged apologizer isn't sorry about what he/she did, but only about the possibility that some beclouded soul might have been somehow offended by the words or deed.

In this clip the Wildly Enhairified Larry David Character merely takes the reality one step further, to the entirely reasonable destination where sincerity doesn't even come into the matter of an apology. If this sounds like pure Larry David, bear in mind that all three writers and the director were ranking collaborators of his on Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. (It still sounds like Larry to me. Do you suppose the NSA has surveillance video of the Clear History writers' room?)

After watching some of the movie, I added this update:
The movie turns out to be harmless enough, and as I feared, the "apology" exchange is the best thing in it. In fact, the trailer version is seriously truncated. Since I wasn't recording the 9pm airing, I can't transcribe the full version, but I'm recording the 12:45am rebroadcast, and by tomorrow I should have the complete version to post.


I identified the writers of Clear History as David Mandel, Alec Berg, and Jeff Schaffer, thinking I was dutifully transcribing the information given on the HBO website. Or perhaps I should say "the always-dreadful HBO website," which loads like a tortoise and, as it demonstrated once again, yields up information with the greatest reluctance. And since the credits don't appear until the end of the film, even when I watched most of it I didn't see that Larry David is indeed listed first among the four writers, with his longtime collaborators Mandel, Berg, and Schaffer.


Nathan Flomm (Larry David), known for the marketing genius he displayed at Edible Arrangements, was hired by Will Haney (Jon Hamm) as marketing director for the revolutionary new electric car he has invented. But Nathan, who is also a 10-percent investor, "drew the line" when Will announced that the car was to be named the Howard -- after his precious son, who's named after The Fountainhead's Howard Roark. "Nobody's gonna buy a car named Howard," Nathan insisted. "It's like naming a restaurant Hepatitis." When Nathan suggested to the mortally aggrieved Will (remember, he named is son Howard) that he buy out his share, Will happily did.

Only to leave Nathan derided by his wife and friends, who insisted he had to go back to Will and get his job back. With this result.

NATHAN: I actually love the name Howard. Yeah, I was thinking about that name last night. It's a solid name. Howard's a good guy. There's a lot of good Howards. They're average. They're an average guy, doing average things, and this is the campaign: solid, dependable, trustworthy -- that's our Howard.
WILL: The name that yesterday you had nothing but disparaging comments about.
NATHAN: I'm really sorry. I am. I'm sorry.
WILL: It sounds to me like you're sorry you fucked up, but not, you know, not for what's underneath it.
NATHAN: I apologized. That's what's important.
WILL: It doesn't matter if you apologize if it's not sincere.
NATHAN: Apologies don't have to be sincere. It's just the act of the apology itself. It's only -- all that matters is if you're acting sincere.
WILL: That is literally the only thing an apology has to be, is sincere.
NATHAN: Oh God, Will, I completely disag- . . .
WILL: Otherwise it's just words.
NATHAN: I'm acting sincere. Of course I don't believe it.
WILL: Here, at this company, we believe in sincerity. You had the opportunity to meet my son yesterday, the one thing in the world that I happen to care about more than this company. What did you do? Do you remember? You talked about his nanny's hair, and how much it might stink.
NATHAN: Nope, nope, never said the nanny's hair stunk. I never said that. I never said it stunk.
WILL: You know what you didn't say?
WILL: "Cute kid."
NATHAN: I was gonna get to that.
WILL: "What a nice son." "What a great job you did raising your son as a single parent. What a nice job. Seems like a good kid." You know what? You don't "get to that," you lead with it.
NATHAN: How could you lead with it if somebody's shampooing once a week?
WILL: Janine has your severance package at the front desk. Your things have been packed up. You can tell the delivery company to take them wherever you need them to be. I'm sorry it had to be like this.
NATHAN: Are you sorry? Are you really sorry?
WILL [after a pause]: No.
NATHAN: You see? You did the exact same thing I did. You apologized but you didn't mean it.
WILL: Janine has your things. The delivery guys need an address.
NATHAN [gets up, walks toward the office door, then turns around]: You know, I was an early investor in this company. I believe in this car. I thought we were good friends. Will, this isn't fair. It's not fair.
In the next sequence a CNN talking head is declaring, "The Howard is the Model T of its time. It's literally a billion-dollar idea. . . ." And Nathan is a national laughingstock for walking away from billions.

Okay, you could watch the movie -- it wouldn't kill you. But the genius part is still the part about apologies. Really, is there anything more preposterous than the demanded apology? It would be one thing if the offending individual actually showed, not just remorse, but genuine understanding of what in his/her statement or action is objectionable.


Let's imagine -- and I realize it's quite a leap -- that Congressman Steve had an impulse to damage control that included a lick of sense or decency. (I warned you that this would be a really big leap.) He could, of course, apologize if anyone was offended by his remarks. He could even attempt an apology in which he does his best to act sincere. But if he wanted to make it right, what he would need to offer is not an apology but an education to anyone who might have taken those remarks the least bit seriously -- an education as to why what he said was wrong and why it's dangerous for people to spout such evil gibberish.


imageFor a "Sunday Classics" fix anytime, visit the stand-alone "Sunday Classics with Ken."

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Original author: KenInNY


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