Crisis Management by Apology

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One such image of how this occurs, according to Burke (1984), is that of “the satisfying of a debtor by the paying of a ransom” (p. 292). In noting how this purification functions, the punishment of the offenders is sacramental in nature, producing a purification by which a congregation of people is cleansed (Duncan, 1968). Such an act “has a salutary effect” in that it reaffirms institutional principles as well as serves to preserve social order (Gronbeck, 1978, p. 171). The form of these rituals, and the fundamental presumption of this book, is that the purging of guilt happens through a ritualistic communication vehicle known as an apologia.

THE TURBULENT CONTEMPORARY LEGAL ENVIRONMENT The contemporary legal environment is a difficult one indeed. Consider the following example. In 2002, a suit filed in federal court in Manhattan by attorney Samuel Hirsch, on behalf of two children, alleged that the ubiquitous fast-food restaurant McDonald’s had committed consumer fraud. The charge was that the super-sized portions of McDonald’s menus as well as the company’s marketing efforts are designed to mislead consumers into thinking that Big Macs, French fries, and shakes are healthy.

When considered in terms of the success of the discourse, apologiae tend to be relatively ineffective (Hearit, 1992). Socrates was still forced to drink the hemlock; political outcasts were still hung and martyrs were still burned at the stake (Kruse, 1977). Rather, the emphasis on apologetic address, particularly a ritualistic conception of it, is on the speech act performed by the communication and the social meaning that is subsequently created. In this way, apologetic discourse offers a ritual that purges guilt and restores the guilty back into the congregation.

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