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Jennifer Lawrence’s itchy butt story offended a lot of people in 2016 — but not in 2013

Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

When Jennifer Lawrence was on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Monday night, she started vague-pologizing all over the place.

“I’ve been public-apologizing a lot,” she said.

“Everyone’s ready to pounce at all times,” said Kimmel sagely.

But neither one of them was willing to say exactly what people were pouncing on Lawrence for, or why she felt the need to vaguely suggest that maybe she might apologize sometime. Here’s what happened.

Jennifer Lawrence thought it would be cute to talk about casually defiling sacred rocks

At the beginning of the month, Lawrence appeared on the UK’s Graham Norton Show with Chris Pratt and Jamie Oliver. Traditionally on The Graham Norton Show, the celebrity guests all drink cocktails as they talk to make them especially chatty, and Lawrence was no exception.

Clutching a glass of wine, she launched into a story about filming The Hunger Games: Catching Fire in Hawaii, one that she clearly considered to be cute and self-deprecating. Other people disagreed.

“There were sacred rocks,” Lawrence explained. “They were, I don’t know, ancestors or something, who knows. They were sacred, and you’re not supposed to sit on them, because you’re not supposed to expose your genitalia to them. I, however, was in a wetsuit for this whole shoot.”

“So it doesn’t count, right?” said Jamie Oliver.

“Oh my god, they were so good for butt itching,” said Lawrence, and mimed enthusiastically scratching herself against a rock.

So enthusiastic was her scratching, in fact, that she dislodged a rock.

“It was this giant boulder, it rolled down a mountain, and it almost killed our sound guy,” Lawrence gasped between peals of laughter. “And all the Hawaiians were like, ‘Oh my god, it’s the curse.’ And I’m in the corner like, ‘I’m your curse. I wedged it lose with my ass.’”

It’s not clear which stones Lawrence was using to scratch herself, or under what tradition they’re considered to be sacred — although the curse she was referring to may have been Pele’s Curse — but it’s not exactly a good look for anyone to talk about casually defiling another culture’s sacred objects. It’s gross and entitled and disrespectful, and not the kind of thing that can get brushed off with the same affectionate “LOL at her publicist’s life” that JLaw antics usually get.

The clip got passed angrily around the internet, accompanied by captions like “it doesn't get more white and evil than Jennifer Lawrence.”

This story has a 2013 prequel

Lawrence has told this story before, in 2013, but it didn’t get anywhere near this level of backlash then. In part that’s because in the version of the story she told back then, she didn’t know that the rocks were sacred until after she’d scratched herself.

“There was a meeting in the morning before I got there that I didn’t know about,” Lawrence said on Kelly and Michael, “but apparently there were certain ways you were supposed to sit on the rocks, because they were sacred. But we had these horrible wetsuits on and my butt started itching…”

“You scrubbed your butt on a sacred rock?” said Michael Dodd, laughing.

This version of the story is a little cutesier and less tone-deaf than the one she told in 2016. Here, Lawrence is still the keep-it-real movie star who’ll straight up tell you when her butt itches, but she’s not being willfully disrespectful, just ignorant. And the joke isn’t directed at the islanders and their sacred stones so much as it is at Lawrence, her ignorance, and her inconveniently itchy butt.

But her delivery in 2013 was too tentative for the joke to really land — it got a few laughs, but nothing major. That might be why she ramped up the setup in 2016, establishing herself as a callous and insensitive itch-monster, complete with graphic miming. And on the set of The Graham Norton Show, the joke killed. Just not so much on the internet.

So Lawrence apologized, sort of. She made a Facebook post that says that she thought she was being self-deprecating, and drops the classic non-apology “I’m sorry that you were offended.”

From Jen, to the internet: I meant absolutely no disrespect to the Hawaiian people. I really thought that I was being...

Posted by Jennifer Lawrence on Friday, December 9, 2016

On Jimmy Kimmel Live, she looked both bewildered and apologetic. “I’m just, like, blah, and then I don’t realize — I would never want to offend anyone on purpose, or be, like, mean,” she said.

“You’re just having fun,” said Kimmel.

“Yeah,” she said doubtfully, “or just, you know, blah.”

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