We live in the age of the public apology. Turn on your TV or open a magazine and, chances are, you’ll find somebody begging for your forgiveness, promising to be a better person.
What was once a sign of weakness has become a badge of moral strength. Corporations release official apologies when their factories in Bangladesh collapse. Celebrities embark on carefully organized, Oprah-approved contrition tours—shedding a tear, getting a stern talking to from someone on the Today Show, then huddling with their publicists to monitor their Q scores. Politicians offer a heartfelt mea culpa whenever a new dick pic pops up on an intern’s cell phone and are more than willing to liberally spread around the official apologies for past atrocities committed by their forefathers (Japanese-Canadians thrown into internment camps, residential school victims, Chinese immigrants who paid the head tax: we offer to you a belated but entirely heartfelt “I’m sorry”).
Over the last few weeks, Canadians who pay even the vaguest attention to politics have been forced into an extended meditation on the concept of shame. How does it feel, really? Can we catalogue its infinite shades and varieties? And, most urgently, what happens in its total absence?
It seems impossible, but does Stephen Harper really not feel a twinge of embarrassment standing in front of parliament, furiously avoiding questions from MPs while trotting out hapless mopes like Paul Calandra? How does someone like Mike Duffy, who seems to have tried to charge taxpayers for meals he ate at home, manage to summon so much righteous indignation? And then, of course, there’s Rob Ford, who, during the council meeting that stripped him of some of his mayoral powers, mimed drinking and driving, bowled over a female colleague, and ventured over to the gallery to mock the taxpayers he claims to love so dearly. “Shame! Shame!” the gallery shouted. Ford didn’t respond, as if the word were a foreign concept in a language he couldn’t possibly understand.
For Canadians, Ted Cruz’s performance in the US Senate this week was perplexing. When we see our countrymen making a splash across the border, we generally feel an uncontrollable urge to claim them as our own. “Ontario-born Malcolm Gladwell,” we pointedly add, in mixed American-Canadian company. “Did you know Anna Paquin is, in fact, Manitoban?” we say, annoyingly interrupting an episode of True Blood. “People think of her as from New Zealand, but she was actually born in Winnipeg. Isn’t that gap between her teeth endearing? Winnipeg is also the home of Winnie the Pooh, FYI. Not the writer, no. Just the bear himself.”
The new Ugly Americans are, of course, the Chinese.
This shouldn’t be surprising. The new Industrious Americans are also Chinese, as are the new Materialistic Americans. Still, the rapidity with which Chinese tourists have taken the mantel as both the most valuable and the most resented of foreign guests has been staggering.
This week the New York Times considered the incredible explosion of Chinese tourism. In 2012, 83 million mainland Chinese spent $102 billion abroad. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, they’re now the world’s biggest tourism spenders.