Ellie Kemper shouldn't have apologized for her participation in that pageant

(Photo by Greg Allen/Invision/AP, File)

“Breakable Kimmy Schmidt,” David Rutz calls her.

Kemper has learned the lesson everyone targeted for crimes against wokeness eventually learns: If you value your career more than the principle at stake, as virtually all people (especially well-paid famous people) do, the smart move is to quickly admit error and repent. The social media Inquisition has nothing better to do than to prosecute sinners. It relishes breaking someone who’s defiant. Only a target who’s highly committed on ideological grounds to their own defense will resist them, knowing that there can be professional repercussions if it drags out.

Whereas if you genuflect to their moral superiority, they’ll move on to their next target and you can get back to your life. It’s an easy choice. For most.

It was for Kemper. Make sure you click through all five panels of this Instagram statement as it gets more obsequious as it goes along.

There’s a strong “struggle session” vibe to the last two panels, in which she declares that the experience of having people smear her as a “KKK Princess” is one she’ll view in a positive light.

Maybe Kemper should have posted a John-Cena-style video grovel. In Mandarin.

If you’re new to this “controversy,” it stems from something that happened more than 20 years ago. When she was 19 years old, she participated in something called the “Veiled Prophet Ball,” a debutante soiree in St. Louis. That ball had been started by a former Confederate officer in the 19th century and excluded blacks and Jews for years but was integrated in 1979, a year before Kemper was born. She took part in 1999, making her guilty of nothing more than enjoying an institution that used to be racist but no longer was.

Which virtually every other American is also guilty of. How many institutions in this country that pre-date, say, the 1950s have a spotless record on race? If Kemper has to apologize, shouldn’t everyone who’s golfed at a country club built before the 1980s need to apologize too?

I guess that’s the idea. Today, Kemper, tomorrow, the golfers. Although that seems at odds with the woke belief that racism in America is so systemic that it can’t truly be expunged or repented of. Why single Kemper out with demands for an apology over a particular event when the sin of white supremacy is re-committed every day by everyone?

Even some progressives are a little fidgety this afternoon about having to shun any activity or organization that used to be racist even if it no longer is.

Kyle Smith wrote about the demagoging of Kemper a few days ago and made a trenchant point about how it began: “Twitter greatly magnified the problem by labeling Kemper a top trending topic, meaning its editors chose to make her their equivalent of front-page news.” Nothing instigates a social-media lynch mob like Twitter’s sidebar, where topics that are commented on frequently that day are listed and invariably end up attracting the attention of the site’s worst sanctimonious vampires. Kat Rosenfield also noticed how Twitter had enabled the Kemper pile-on:

Last month, the words ‘Fartlow’ or ‘Eve Fartlow’ appeared in the trending topics sidebar for a full 24 hours. The source was a bizarre, juvenile bullying campaign against journalist Eve Barlow, which had been percolating under the radar for several days but gained viral traction after actor Seth Rogen, who has 9.1 million followers on the platform, amplified it by tweeting a fart emoji at her. The trollng stemmed from an essay Barlow had written about the Israel-Palestine conflict that some people found offensive, but this wasn’t readily apparent if you clicked the ‘Fartlow’ link in the sidebar, which led to a bunch of mean-spirited tweets about Barlow but not to her profile or her work — because these things were, in fact, irrelevant. As with Ellie Kemper, the story wasn’t what Barlow did; the story was that someone was mad at her — and the site’s editorial team knew that amplifying those tweets would keep users clicking and scrolling.

Orwellian dystopian analogies come pretty cheap these days, but this one is too obvious not to point out — only instead of Two Minutes Hate, it’s a 24-hour buffet. Twitter’s sidebar points to people who have been declared fair game for punching and the mob gleefully piles on. It’s not just that these stories are born on the website; it’s that Twitter actively nurtures them, promotes them and throws their scapegoats to the wolves. For a platform that likes to style itself as a place that takes harassment and abuse seriously, it’s especially ironic: Twitter will protect certain high-profile users who complain about abuse, but it also foments drama on purpose and by design, like the high-school teacher who plays favorites with the cool kids and always happens to be looking the other way when some unpopular schlub is being tormented right under his nose.

The irony is, everyone understands why Kemper finally apologized, including the people tormenting her. It’s not because she’s actually sorry. It’s because she doesn’t want any more trouble.

Repentance in these situations is always framed in terms of greater understanding of one’s privilege but no one cares if Kemper’s actually seen the error of her ways. (What error?) The point is to secure the capitulation and reinforce the perception that when you stand accused of offending progressivism the only recourse is to admit it and seek forgiveness. She capitulated so now it’s over. On to the next sinner.

I’ll leave you with this. Maybe Kemper really does owe America an apology for supporting institutions with racist pasts.