My 2008 book The Art of the Public Grovel has been making a bit of a reappearance in the last couple of days. Check out “America’s Confessor is Back in the Spotlight” (Oprah, not me, in case you’re wondering); “Coming Clean: Lance Armstrong and Forgiveness“; and “Lance Armstrong’s doping confession: An American ritual,” in the Washington Post. (Which you can also read in Russian, should you be so inclined.)
Public confession is rooted in American evangelicalism, and Americans have been willing to forgive famous wrong-doers as long as their admission follows a few rules, Susan Wise Bauer argued in her book “The Art of the Public Grovel.”
That it’s very public is one of them. Everyone wants to be able to witness it.
Another is that it can’t only express regret. The confession must be a clear statement of guilt, an admitted sin for which the person is sorry. Fall short of that, according to Bauer, and forgiveness is much less likely.
That’s the Kansas City Star, speculating on whether Lance Armstrong can pull off a successful comeback. Judging from his incoherent, dimwitted performance last night, I’m guessing not. But I plan to watch the second part of the interview tonight to see whether he manages–somehow–to change my mind.