Friday, December 04, 2009

Huffington Post Column 6 – Why Do We Care About Tiger Woods?

Henry Kissinger said "power is the greatest aphrodisiac." Given ol' Hank's track record with such ladies as Jill Ireland, I have to assume he was speaking from experience, particularly since he was never exactly in the Brad Pitt or George Clooney class of male eye candy.

The Kissinger quote came to mind as I pondered the Tiger Woods debacle. In the normal course of events, Woods' peccadilloes are so common as to be a non-event. Various sources put the percentage of men who cheat on their wives in the 60 to 70% range. Furthermore, the point has been made that unlike, say, Sen. John Ensign or Gov. Mark Sanford, Woods never held himself out as a proponent or exemplar of any values in this area. He is a great golfer with an amazing work and development ethic, and has never claimed to be anything else. So why the public kerfuffle?

I think the answer lies in a conflation of celebrity and power that is uniquely American Although we're probably in the process of exporting it as we do so much of our culture, the phenomenon of being "famous for being famous" remains largely American in its provenance. So we have the Gosselins, Paris Hilton, the balloon boy hoax family, and most recently the White House gate crashers who have done nothing to merit fame, yet are famous.

Also we have celebrities across the political spectrum who are listened to and whose endorsements are sought by politicians, even when there is no evidence at all that they have any basis for their views beyond their own opinion – just like most of us. I'm not talking here about, say, Bono or other celebrities who have made a real study of the issues they speak on and would qualify for some level of expertise – I mean those who have nothing to stand on but their celebrity.

So here we have the young Tiger Woods who has worked since he was five on being a great golfer. He goes from Stanford to the pro tour, and now, at age 34 has played and won every major and is worth about a billion dollars. This guy isn't famous for being famous, he's earned his fame. Everywhere he goes this fame translates into power way beyond the power to hit a 300 yard drive or hole an 18 foot putt. He's also very handsome in a boyish kind of way, so it's not hard to imagine that, per Kissinger's tenet, women are putting themselves in his path.

I'm not justifying or apologizing for Tiger's infidelity – frankly I think that's between him and his wife, or it should be. I am attempting to explain the public fascination with it. Because once we've conflated celebrity with power, it's inevitable that we will see a celebrity's errors as a betrayal. We made him famous, we imputed all this power to him, and he took advantage of it, putting him in the same category as people like JFK, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, John Ensign, and Mark Sanford – people whom we actually did invest with real power, who then acted duplicitously not just with their wives, but with we who empowered them.

But Tiger Woods has no power, really. On the power spectrum he's at the same level as most of us – sure, he has a public platform if he chooses to use it for good or ill (see Magic Johnson, Dennis Rodman, etc.), but in this day of blogs and the Internet, everyone can have a public platform if they want one (see yours truly). In terms of real power he's not even up to a state legislator or a city mayor. So what has he betrayed?

I say let's leave Tiger and his family to sort this out the way you and I would – in private, and as best they can. It has nothing to do with you and me, really.

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