Sunday, February 21, 2010

Why Tiger Woods's Life Sucks (and why you should feel sorry for him)


If you have been following the Tiger Woods Affair closely like a good Media Consumer, you will have watched the “press conference” His Woodness held last Friday at 11 am Eastern Standard Time. If you somehow missed it, a transcript can be found here, and if you wish to recreate the experience of watching it live, stand in front of a mirror and read the text in a slow, grating monotone. If you are too busy to watch a 15-minute video of a celebrity athlete standing listlessly behind a podium, here's an 11 word summary: he's sorry for fucking all those women and lying about it. Woods did not take questions after he read his statement, which made the media's presence completely unnecessary--“vlog” would have been a more appropriate term than “press conference.”

Sports columnists who were professionally obligated to write something about the “event”—if that isn't too strong a word for Tiger's speech—reminded those readers who still cared that there were many questions about Tiger Woods's life and shady dealings that have yet to be answered. But to many of us the most pressing question of all is this: why should we care who Tiger Woods fucks?

There is the usual reason to care about a celebrity scandal, other than the natural appeal of an interesting true story—we use these scandals to keep track of our public values. Woods had sex with a bunch of women who were not his wife and lied extravagantly about it, so he is to be condemned, reminding us all that men like him and John Edwards are bad men, and since we aren't like them, we are good men. Sometimes we can excuse our prurient interest in these stories by saying that when politicians are immoral in their private sex lives, they are probably also immoral in their public political lives. When it's an athlete or an actor, we need a different excuse to care about what who put in who where. So we say that these people are role models. Kids look up to Tiger Woods, and there he is, banging every woman with fake tits and a cocktail dress who looks at him sideways. Our young people were told to grow up to be like Tiger, and now “being like Tiger” includes cheating on your wife.

Woods himself seems to buy into this role model theory, saying “I have let down my fans” and “Parents used to point to me as a role model for their kids. I owe all those families a special apology. I want to say to them that I am truly sorry.” You can debate whether or not he was really all that important to children around the world—I doubt that after the last scandal-filled decade anyone looks to athletes for moral guidance—but if Woods believes what he said in those two quotes, imagine how horrible his life has been.

There is the usual reason to care about a celebrity scandal, other than the natural appeal of an interesting true story—we use these scandals to keep track of our public values. Woods had sex with a bunch of women who were not his wife and lied extravagantly about it, so he is to be condemned, reminding us all that men like him and John Edwards are bad men, and since we aren't like them, we are good men. Sometimes we can excuse our prurient interest in these stories by saying that when politicians are immoral in their private sex lives, they are probably also immoral in their public political lives. When it's an athlete or an actor, we need a different excuse to care about what who put in who where. So we say that these people are role models. Kids look up to Tiger Woods, and there he is, banging every woman with fake tits and a cocktail dress who looks at him sideways. Our young people were told to grow up to be like Tiger, and now “being like Tiger” includes cheating on your wife.

Woods himself seems to buy into this role model theory, saying “I have let down my fans” and “Parents used to point to me as a role model for their kids. I owe all those families a special apology. I want to say to them that I am truly sorry.” You can debate whether or not he was really all that important to children around the world—I doubt that after the last scandal-filled decade anyone looks to athletes for moral guidance—but if Woods believes what he said in those two quotes, imagine how horrible his life has been.

Woods has been practically destined and designed from birth to be the greatest golfer in history. By nearly every possible metric, he's succeeded in that mission. He has achieved the kind of wealth and fame that very few people can even imagine, let alone comprehend. Scott Fitzgerald once said that “The rich aren't like you or me,” and Woods most certainly isn't like you or me. He earns millions just by wearing a shirt with a particular logo on it. He's been nationally famous since before he could drive. If he doesn't play on the PGA Tour this year, the Tour could lose millions, or billions, in ad revenue. How many people can influence the finances of an entire professional sport by playing or not playing?

That kind of celebrity comes with some unique problems. Not that we should feel sorry for the ultra-famous, but Woods couldn't live as a normal person. He had to worry about his “public persona,” his “image,” his “brand.” Maybe kids want to golf like Tiger when they grow up, but no one ever dreams of becoming a product.

Because Woods is like everyone else, of course. He has a wife, a family, and a penis--a combination that has proved dangerous for a great many men both famous and obscure. In his press conference, he talked seriously of “work to do” and keeping his “spiritual life” in balance with his “professional life,” but his problem isn't unique or all that interesting. He just needs to stop having sex with every woman who bats her eyelashes at him.

The only unique thing about the sins of Tiger Woods is he has a lot more to feel guilty about. Normal people who cheat have only a relationship or at most a family to lose (acknowledging that a family is quite a lot to lose). Woods could lose those things too, but he could also lose his sponsors, his image, the admiration of children and people everywhere—his public identity, which is far vaster and more important than that of a normal person, could be completely destroyed. If we assume that Woods wasn't just full of empty words when he said he “let down [his] fans,” it means that he is carrying the disappointment and anger of literally millions of people on his shoulders, or he thinks he is, which amounts to the same thing for him.

Most people want to be famous, or at least important. Most people want to think that other people care about their actions, that they matter to someone else. Usually, we keep those thoughts to ourselves because we know that in the large scheme of things, we really don't matter all. But if we were Tiger Woods and could literally drink a beverage with our name on it and we could call a press conference whenever we wanted and have it become headline news, we would have pretty much no choice but to conclude that we were one of the most important people on the planet. And that's a pretty tough thing to deal with, even if you aren't cheating on your wife.

3 comments:

  1. I don't even think Golf is a worthy sport.

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  2. Neither do I:

    http://bit.ly/9QmO2S

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  3. who names their kid tiger and doesn't expect him to be a "sex addict" i mean seriously, come on.

    ReplyDelete