The Evil Imp

The Anatomy of a Non Apology

Apologising for something or just admitting that you were wrong is a fundamental, human thing. It doesn’t always fix the problem you created by being wrong in the first place but it can go a long way to building bridges, starting afresh, making new friends. Step forward Akram Khan, dance maker and potential future Prime Minister, trying very hard to do the right thing but face planting so hard the impact was felt in Japan.

In an attempt to fix the comments he made concerning female dance makers that prompted 400 dance folk to sign an open letter that, essentially, called him a buffoon, Mr Khan sent, to The Stage (stop laughing at the back), a statement full of carefully crafted PR bullshit, and we don’t use that word lightly here in TheLab™.

The non-apology started out with the usual claim that the comments he made to The Stage “have been taken very much out of context”. Every person who has ever said something stupid to the press has claimed context, or the lack thereof, as some sort of defence. The context was, however, that he was asked if there should be “more female choreographers” and at some point he said, to paraphrase, “not for the sake of it”. At no point does Mr Khan say he didn’t say those words.

He does mention that he also said “We don’t need more female choreographers simply because they are female, we need them because they are brilliant at what they do.” Mr Khan offers no metric for measuring this brilliance however and you do need some form of measurement because almost all opportunities for dance makers are given to them by other people in the form of commissions, tour bookings, jobs, etc. It is this reliance on others for opportunities that is the root cause of the current sexist problems in the wide world of dance.

It’s at this point that things start to get a little bit weird;

“For the first five years of my career, I had a suspicion I was getting work because I ticked a box. There was a sense of tokenism – that my racial background was getting me jobs. As this was happening, I had the words of my fiercely feminist mum ringing in my ears: “Akram, success should come for you on merit and because of your skills, not because of your race, colour, gender or age.” So I have tried to live my life with that advice at its core. I am a believer in talent getting its just reward.”

Mr Khan apparently went five long years thinking that he wasn’t getting hired because he was good at his job but because of his ethnic origin. There is, of course, no evidence to support this claim and the dance maker also just threw everybody who hired him during that five-year period under a bus. Let us for a moment play along though. What if it’s true, how did this box ticking work out for Mr Khan? Well, it worked out really well as it happens. His company is very well funded by ACE, he gets lots of spendy commissions for things, the national arts media fawn all over him like he’s a god, the BBC make TV shows about him, etc, etc.

It turns out that being an affirmative action hire (Mr Khan’s claim, not ours) worked out pretty well for him so maybe some female dance makers getting hired just for the hell of it will work out pretty well for them too?

Finally, we have this little gem;

“If the comments that I made, that have been taken in isolation and out of their proper context, have caused offence, I sincerely apologise.”

Mr Khan is not sorry about what he said, he’s sorry that you didn’t understand what he said and a plague on the house of the reckless press hacks who misquoted him, or whatever. We should point out that despite The Stage publishing his original comments, the open letter and Mr Khan’s latest response they have taken no steps to defend their journalism with regard to this story. With comments like that Akram Khan should seriously consider standing for election in 2020.

As we, here in TheLab™, have said previously on this subject there is no doubt that dance in its current state is sexist towards women, the numbers don’t lie. Mr Khan made no attempt to explain his position that dance was prejudiced against men at a couple of points in history because both Martha Graham and Pina Bausch had successful careers while all the men suffered. That is a position so inexplicably ridiculous and demonstrably false it led us to the only conclusion possible; Akram Khan is not very bright.

That a grown man cannot effectively answer a simple question put him about gender discrimination in dance without tying himself up in knots should raise serious questions about whether or not Mr Khan should be put in charge of anything important. Let us also consider the very big elephant in the room. Mr Khan and other male dance makers have very little to gain from more female dance makers being hired. There are only so many opportunities to be had in the wide world of dance so barring a massive influx of funding, if somebody gains then somebody loses and why would anyone talk themselves out of a job?

There is hope though, if Mr Khan isn’t really that bright, they maybe he will do just that.