Stuck

Why we can't (or won't) move on from bad jobs, bad relationships, and bad habits, and how we can all move ahead.

Apology Porn

Mea culpa is a wildly public rite in Hugo Schwyzer's confessional tweet-storm.

Right this minute, we're watching someone with low self-esteem undergo a psychological meltdown, in real time, in the real world -- which is to say, online. 

By "we" I mean me and you and everyone we know, plus everyone we don't -- which is to say, whoever has a computer.

On July 31, one day after Pasadena City College history and gender-studies professor Hugo Schwyzer -- a self-described "bad boy male feminist" who appeared frequently on TV -- declared himself on "extended hiatus" from social media, public appearances and published writing, lurid sexts between married dad Schwyzer and a porn actress were leaked online. Last Friday, Schwyzer unleashed a long series of astoundingly personal tweets which manage, in a totally 2013 way, to be both brashly boasting and gut-cuttingly confessional, all at the same time. 

Announcing that he had tried to murder a woman, had sexually assaulted another, had attained his teaching post and subsequent fame fraudulently, had engaged in sex with his students, and wanted his students to watch him publicly having sex with porn star James Deen, Schwyzer rapid-fired tweet after tweet after tweet, including these (as reported here, here, and here):

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"I had no business teaching feminism."

"I was a shitty writer and I was a fraud and I did try to kill my ex."

"So with the clarity that comes from a shitload of anti-psychotics, I'm sorry I've been such a breathtakingly cocky fraud."

"Yes, no shit I'm having a manic break right now."

"I'll be fine, and I'll dump in some tranquilizers in a sec. But let the truth come out."

"I made my writing all about me. I centered my pain and my cock. and I sold it to you"

"Sometimes I f***ed my way into a gig."

"I have all my meds lined up: lithium, seroquil, klonopin, wellbutrin, lexapro"

"So yes, I sexted with a hooker."

 

This could go on record as the clearest evidence ever that social media is changing the way we think. 

But it also takes self-loathing, a formerly mostly private hell, hugely public -- the postmodern mea culpa magna

In my forthcoming book, The Big Book of Low Self-Esteem, due out next spring from Tarcher Penguin, I discuss the classic habits that make life so hard for those of us who hate ourselves -- and ways of breaking those habits. One such habit is apology. We who hate ourselves believe that we are always wrong. We believe that our every thought, word, want and deed is incorrect, insulting, barbarous. We so believe this that we beg forgiveness constantly, from everyone. We say sorry so reflexively that, for us, sorry is a placeholder, a salutation, a reflex, a tic. 

We who hate ourselves say sorry the same way lepers in medieval England announced their approach by ringing bells and intoning Unclean.

We do this because, long ago, we were punished, criticized or mocked and we believed those punishers, critics and mockers. We said sorry hoping to stave off the next jeer, scream or strike. We said sorry to subdue those who subsumed us. 

For us, sorry means: May I please exist? 

With each default apology, we don our own metaphorical dunce caps which we have made ourselves. We parade through indifferent crowds, practically begging them to bay.

So our apologies are ardent. Abject. Infinite. Degrading. Dunce-cap degradation is the point. For us, sorry does not mean Uh oh but Should I set myself on fire or just shoot myself?

Granted, most of us with low self-esteem apologize reflexively even when we've done nothing wrong. The fact that Hugo Schwyzer has apparently done things wrong might ostensibly justify the ritual of apology, but modern technology gives him the opportunity to do so in a surrealistically grandstanding way. Thus apology, and the self-loathing that often drives it, becomes an ever more public act. It's hara-kiri 2.0 times ten.

It's apology porn.

Schwyzer's tweet-storm raged on:

 

"I'm a monstrous hypocrite."

"I cheated on my wife and pretended to be reformed. I wrote an article in the Atlantic condemning age-disparate relationships the same week"

"...that I was sleeping with a 23 year-old. And sexting a 27 year-old. Not my students at least." 

"I got diagnosed bipolar with psychotic features but damn the Seroquel knocks me flat and I wanted to FEEL alive again"

"I wanted my students to learn. I cared about them. I even loved them."

"I loved the attention more and I was f***ing awesome at getting it." 

"I am so so sorry that I let myself be like this. But I wanted atttention so f-ing bad. This was all about attention."

 

But like most reflexive apologies that are driven by self-loathing, will Schwyzer's confessions heal anything?

Anneli Rufus is the author of many books, including Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto and Stuck: Why We Can't (or Won't) Move On.

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