We have much to learn from the left’s tactical arsenal in manipulating away a crisis into an attack on their opponents. Since much has been written about the Quantico fiasco, I will focus on an insufficiently appreciated facet of it.
As we are going to see, both ABC and Priyanka converted a crisis into an opportune, humiliating, counter-attack, by means of a craftily worded non-apology. Yet, a good chunk of unsuspecting Hindus were fooled into thinking that they apologized, thereby also giving their detractors an opportunity to label Hindus as bullies: after all, the humiliation is only complete if the stamp of aggressor-hood is forced on the victim’s forehead.
Other Hindus who perhaps saw through the game nevertheless scored self-goals, by claiming that an apology was not enough, or by claiming that the apology was insincere (tacitly conceding that some sort of apology was extracted).
Let us start with the ABC statement. The author is unable to find their entire statement on either https://abcnews.go.com or abc.go.com, and has to rely on the extracts quoted in other news outlets. Here are the extracts the author could find:
ABC Studios and the executive producers of Quantico would like to extend an apology to our audience who were offended by the most recent episode, ‘The Blood of Romeo’. The episode has stirred a lot of emotion, much of which is unfairly aimed at Priyanka Chopra, who didn’t create the show, nor does she write or direct it. She has no involvement in the casting of the show or the storylines depicted in the series.
Quantico is a work of fiction. The show has featured antagonists of many different ethnicities and backgrounds, but in this case we inadvertently and regrettably stepped into a complex political issue. It was certainly not our intention to offend anyone.
Now let us look at Priyanka’s statement:
I’m extremely saddened and sorry that some sentiments have been hurt by a recent episode of Quantico. That was not and would never be my intention. I sincerely apologise. I'm a proud Indian and that will never change.
— PRIYANKA (@priyankachopra) June 9, 2018
Now let us observe why these statements actually amount to a counter-offensive non-apology, and not to an apology.
1.) They refuse to even discuss the central charges, let alone own up to it. The issue was with the story development concerning the on-going Bharat-Pakistan issue that is partisan to one of the entities (in fact favoring the aggressor, the supporter of terrorism), and the use of the Hindu symbol Rudraaksh to an audience that has come to accept a “terror has no religion” diet. That too, although the US has no bone to pick except possibly for it too being a victim of Pakistani terrorism, and in a show that has a stated policy of never featuring a Muslim terrorist.
2.) Notice the use of “…would like to extend an apology”, instead of the more definitive “[We] apologize”. This is reminiscent of a controversy wherein Aroon Purie of India Today plagiarized from an article by American Journalist Grady Hendrix: In this dissection of his non-apology, here is what Grady had to say about Purie’s “I would like to apologize”:
Finally, there is the beauty of, “I would also like to apologize to you as well.” OK, go for it. Feel free. I’m waiting. Are you going to—oh, I get it. The expression of the desire to apologize was the actual apology. Psych!
Some seem to consider “I would like to apologize” as an appropriate usage in British English, but ABC is American! And as one webpage puts it:
A similar trap you might fall into is the formulation ‘We would like to apologise,’ which prompts the question ‘Why don’t you just go ahead and do it, then?’ Don’t stifle your apology under wodges of explanation.
3.) The statement by ABC actually targets Hindus for their democratic criticism of Priyanka’s decision to allow her country to be demonized in exchange for money, saying: “The episode has stirred a lot of emotion, much of which is unfairly aimed at Priyanka Chopra, who didn’t create the show, nor does she write or direct it…” It was not for creating the show or writing or directing it, etc., that she was attacked. Nice strawman right there, and nice way to spin the victim into an aggressor.
4.) Art is a political medium, and bringing in a current contentious topic like this has never ever been apolitical, never been just for the sake of art. “Work of fiction”, when art is not just for art’s sake, is then a mere cover for (profiting from) hatred. Hence, by saying “Quantico is a work of fiction”, they are taking this cover and actually insisting that they were justified. That is as far as it gets from an apology. By talking about the different ethnicities and backgrounds, they are doubling down, hoping that the political context and motives can be ignored by instead restricting focus to a superficial metric of diversity. It is important to keep in mind that they did not choose their characters from fictitious surroundings or issues that do not have current relevance.
5.) Now come to Priyanka’s statement “I’m extremely saddened and sorry that some sentiments have been hurt…I sincerely apologize”. She is spectacularly clear that she is apologizing not for her own mistake, but for “hurt sentiments”. This is tantamount to saying “While I did not do anything wrong, you all are such cry babies, and out of my magnanimous liberalism I am willing to spell out a-p-o-l-o-g-y for you cry-babies.”. A clever tactic at subtle insinuation, a powerful one at exacting rhetorical submission.
6.) We always need to keep in mind what economists talk of as “stated vs revealed preferences”, or “cheap talk vs revealed preferences”. Priyanka simply avers “I’m a proud Indian and that will never change.”, and feels entitled to be just taken at face-value, without having it backed up by her actions. If anything, her actions have proved just the opposite!
There is an angle of status-differential here: being able to get away by stating preferences that are at odds with your actions is indicative of high-status, and Priyanka’s or ABC’s attempt to do so without any actual effort to make amends (which would be `revealed preferences’) is indicative of the low status of Hindus in their minds.
7.) Another deceptive distraction, a clever strawman, is Priyanka’s claim that it “was not and would never be her intention” to hurt sentiments. She is being attacked not for intending to hurt sentiments, but for prioritizing making money over not letting someone use her to demonize Hindus. In other words, she has changed the statement of the problem to an easier one, answered the easier one, and is hoping that most people won’t notice. She may be right.
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