Can the mil­len­nial say sorry?

Mint ST - - THE LOCAL -

lesser ex­tent along racial lines. Adeyemi is Nige­rian and Roberts is a white Amer­i­can. Roberts fans are in­clined to say, “The Great Nora pla­gia­rize? As if!” and roll their eyes.

Adeyemi’s brief men­tion of hav­ing apol­o­gized to Roberts off­line is the only in­di­ca­tion that she may be sorry. She has seem­ingly moved on, post­ing all kinds of other stuff since, in­clud­ing dance videos. Roberts has posted a note on her blog with­out nam­ing Adeyemi so as to not fur­ther the flame wars but in­di­cat­ing that she was quite fed up with the sit­u­a­tion and with Adeyemi. Last I checked, the war was still on.

Story #2 In Ker­ala, a com­pli­cated po­etry pla­gia­rism scan­dal broke out last week. Young writer Deepa Nis­hanth was ac­cused by poet S. Kalesh of steal­ing his poem and pub­lish­ing it in the AKPCTA (All Ker­ala Pri­vate Col­lege Teacher’s As­so­ci­a­tion) jour­nal with mi­nor changes. Nis­hanth de­nied it on­line for two days. Then came the ru­mours on­line that (also young) ac­tivist M.J. Sree­chi­tran had some­thing to do with it. New posts from Nis­hanth and Sree­chi­tran ap­peared, sort of apol­o­giz­ing to Kalesh and talk­ing about life and inkpots but not re­ally ad­mit­ting to pla­gia­rism. Some­where along the way Nis­hanth ad­mit­ted that she had pub­lished a poem that wasn’t hers but was given to her by an un­named friend, who is now as­sumed to be Sree­chi­tran. Sree­chi­tran mean­while de­nied ev­ery­thing. And a fresh story emerged from an­other writer Vaisakhan, who said that Sree­chi­tran had pla­gia­rized an­other poem from him in the past and ac­cused Vaisakhan of pla­gia­riz­ing the poem from him. Then even­tu­ally, many days later, ar­rived a video in­ter­view in which Nis­hanth ac­tu­ally apol­o­gizes to Kalesh, caus­ing (pre­sum­ably) re­lief to not just the poet but all those fol­low­ing the drama who, like the Roberts fans, just can’t un­der­stand why peo­ple don’t apol­o­gize or apol­o­gize prop­erly.

Do mil­len­ni­als have a prob­lem apol­o­giz­ing? When ac­tor Shia Labeouf apol­o­gized for hav­ing pla­gia­rized lots of things for his short film, he did it by pla­gia­riz­ing other peo­ple’s apolo­gies. Ac­tor-writer Lena Dun­ham, the global rep­re­sen­ta­tive/car­i­ca­ture of a cer­tain kind of mil­len­nial, is in­fa­mous for apol­o­giz­ing in a rec­og­niz­ably half-baked, too-easy way for her end­less goof-ups. So much so that there is a Dun­ham apol­ogy bot on Twit­ter (yes, Labeouf pla­gia­rized a Dun­ham apol­ogy too).

Mil­len­ni­als are con­cerned about eth­i­cal be­hav­iour and of­ten en­gaged with what is known as call-out cul­ture—pub­licly de­nounc­ing sex­ism, racism, ho­mo­pho­bia, trans­pho­bia, and other forms of so­cial in­jus­tice. But pro­po­nents of call­out cul­ture are of­ten dis­in­clined to litter the in­ter­net with their own sin­cere apolo­gies. One could hiss, “Hyp­ocrites!” and move on. But there seems to be more go­ing on than old-fash­ioned hypocrisy. Like Labeouf, once caught in the wrong, they dis­play a deep in­abil­ity to ac­cept that they have to now live with a blot­ted copy­book (a ridicu­lously dated phrase that I would like to re­place; help me, reader). The mil­len­nial de­sire to move on with­out apol­o­giz­ing is an em­bod­i­ment of the be­lief that the time­line and tide waits for no one and noth­ing, par­tic­u­larly un­com­fort­able, con­tra­dic­tory feel­ings.

A Delhi-based writer, who is not a mil­len­nial, when goaded likes to tell some epic tales of liv­ing with one. “The grand fi­nale was my mov­ing out and then hear­ing from oth­ers that a cou­ple months later my young roomie left the apart­ment trashed, rent lapsed, maid un­paid and so on. I felt partly re­spon­si­ble, so at some point I called our for­mer land­lady and apol­o­gized and got a solid ear­ful from her. Why did I feel com­pelled to say sorry!” And her young room­mate? “When­ever we bumped into each other after­wards, she seemed com­pletely un­both­ered and I felt em­bar­rassed. Ob­vi­ously there is some- thing wrong with me,” she says.

How can you atone if the thought of hav­ing made a mis­take is un­fath­omable? If the thought that you are wrong, not some­one else, not the whole non­woke uni­verse, is one you can­not live with? If you would rather leave town/ quit your job/ delete your Twit­ter ac­count than face up to the misery that you screwed up?

Ghost­ing is a par­tic­u­lar form of this, of avoid­ing the apol­ogy, avoid­ing that misery. Dis­ap­pear­ing with­out any ex­pla­na­tion can only hap­pen if your in­abil­ity to live with dis­com­fort trumps other peo­ple’s feel­ings.

My Mumbai-based artist friend, who is deeply in­ter­ested in the na­ture of the apol­ogy, thinks the mil­len­nial in­abil­ity to apol­o­gize is also a symp­tom of a gen­er­a­tion that is ter­ri­fied to grow up. “They don’t want to take re­spon­si­bil­ity but want their in­her­i­tance now.”

And if you are in per­pet­ual search of the tax-free in­her­i­tance, the risk-free risk, then what does that do for your ro­man­tic life and cre­ative life? Paral­y­sis, is my un­happy guess.

If you never want to be wit­nessed fall­ing, then it is hard to jump.

Cheap Thrills is a fort­nightly col­umn about mil­len­ni­als, ob­ses­sions and se­crets. Nisha Su­san is the ed­i­tor of the we­bzine The Ladies Finger.


Ghost­ing is a form of avoid­ing an apol­ogy, avoid­ing that misery.

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