Chris Brown's video apology is notable for several reasons, first and foremost that it's difficult to tell what he's actually apologizing for.
His eyebrows lifted in an expression of pathos and contrition, Brown says he's sorry about "those few moments," about "what I've done," about "the situation," about "what happened," and about "my mistake." Only once does he actually use the term "domestic violence," and this when he is mentioning the domestic violence that he witnessed growing up. Whether or not his apology is simply a calculated "ploy to encourage parents to let their children buy his records again," as entertainment.ie puts it, someone in Brown's camp clearly knows that if he said, "I'm sorry that I beat Rihanna," the apology would go down a lot less smoothly.
By going the vague route, Brown allows fans to forget the visceral reality of what he did — assaulting Rihanna until her face was swollen and bruised — and instead focus on all the nice things he says about his mother, his "spiritual advisors," and his commitment to change. By saying he's sorry he didn't "handle the situation better," he casts the beating as a response to a bad "situation" — and instance of poor conflict resolution, not of flying off the handle. And by implying there was something that needed to be "handled" in some way, this statement subtly implicates Rihanna too.
Brown (or whoever wrote this apology) comes off as very shrewd. He not only uses vagueness to his advantage, he makes vagueness sound like a virtue. Brown says,
I wish I had the chance to live those few moments again, but unfortunately I can't. I'm not gonna sit here and make any excuses!
He's not talking about the crime itself because it's impossible to go back and change things, and because to do so would be to excuse himself. It's a neat rhetorical trick, as it makes doing the right thing — coming clean about exactly what he did — sound wrong. So does all this shrewdness mean Brown is insincere? It's hard to tell. Brown does follow AskMen's four steps to making a sincere apology (apparently men now need a step-by-step guide to emotional authenticity), all except a key part of step one, "address what you did in concise terms." Sincerity aside, one thing is clear: Brown's apology is unsatisfying. And the bad thing about an unsatisfying apology is it sometimes compels the perpetrator to apologize again. In a 2006 essay on the evolutionary underpinnings of apologies, Richard Conniff writes,
The half-baked apology ("I'm sorry it happened" or "I'm sorry if I offended you" instead of "I'm sorry I did it") also fails to elicit the visceral reconciliation response. Resentment and retribution often follow, in the form of lawsuits, boycotts, ridicule and even physical retaliation. The individual often winds up becoming a serial apologizer, trying one approach after another in a vain search for the reconciliation for which victim and transgressor alike feel a deep biological hunger.
Let's hope that doesn't happen — and that instead Brown follows AskMen's step four — "Shut up and let it end."