Does no one remember the lesson hard-learned by fashion designer John Galliano, taken to task after wearing Jewish dress in a mocking fashion? Apparently not. Rapper Macklemore, aka Ben Haggerty, is on a steep learning curve after wearing a costume that many are calling anti-Semitic.
Last week, the Grammy winning duo of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis performed in their hometown of Seattle at the EMP Museum. Macklemore appeared on stage wearing a black wig, a fake beard, and a large, hooked prosthetic nose to perform a song called “Thrift Shop” about scoring fashions for a bargain.
His look, coupled with the song’s subject, “is deeply offensive and propagates Jewish stereotypes,” read a statement from B’nai B’rith, the Jewish human rights group. Social media was full of blowback too, prompting Macklemore to tweet, “A fake witches [sic] nose, wig, and beard = random costume. Not my idea of a stereotype of anybody.” Actor Seth Rogen, among those who’d called the rapper out, tweeted back, “really?? Because if I told someone to put together an anti Semitic Jew costume, they’d have that exact shopping list.”
Macklemore, who has been lauded along with Lewis for their pro-gay stance, has since apologized, though the statement’s start opposes his initial plea of innocence: “I acknowledge how the costume could, within a context of stereotyping, be ascribed to a Jewish caricature.” As Seth Rogen said, “really??”
THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for rapper Macklemore.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: When fashioning an apology, don’t change your client’s plea from “not guilty” to “guilty” unless you absolutely must. Apologies for wrongdoing should come quickly and without qualification, with the focus on the mea culpa. Starting the apology with an acknowledgement goes against Macklemore’s claims that any thought of caricature was mistaken. With a strong apology alone, the worst that can happen is people thinking your client is clueless. Any more than that, and the charges won’t be changed no matter what the plea.