December 17, 2009

The Great American Hypocrisy (And Why You Should Care)

“Good morning, Mr. Woods, this is Maxine from OnStar.  We’ve received a signal that your vehicle was involved in a collision.  Are you OK?”

These were probably the first words that Tiger Woods heard in the early morning hours of November 27, moments after plowing his Cadillac Escalade into a tree.  And thus began the worst week in the life of this young golfing phenom.

We met him at the age of two as he showed off his skills on the set of the Mike Douglas Show.  Even the great Bob Hope was impressed.  In the three decades since, he has risen to the highest ranks of his sport, winning game after game and the admiration of competitors twice his age.

He was the clean-cut kid, the humble man-child with an easy smile who blushed at the slightest hint of public praise.  He was the everyman, the one who formed a charitable foundation to give away his substantial earnings.  He married a supermodel, bought his dream house and became the personification of the American Dream.

…And now this.

Since that fateful day, the daily headlines have been filled with new stories of his secret life.  They say he had a girl in every port; what other dark secrets might he be hiding?  They say that he committed a fraud on the American public, cultivating a false image of himself in order to keep the money rolling in.

Am I disappointed?  Sure I am.  But at the same time, I feel personally ashamed that I care about it so much.  Because in case you’ve forgotten, we’ve been here before. And we continue to be fascinated by it all.

Just a couple of years ago, we witnessed the fall of evangelist Ted Haggard. He took a small home Bible study group and built it into a megachurch of 14,000 members. The praise and the fame went to his head, he thought himself invincible, and he made poor choices. His fall from grace was quick, public, and personally devastating.

Before him, it was Michael Jackson. He had millions of fans around the world, who in their own self-deception considered him a special friend. The praise and the fame went to his head, he thought himself invincible, and he made poor choices. His fall from grace was quick, public, and personally devastating.

Pick a celebrity, any celebrity. Bill Clinton and Monica. Kobe Bryant and the teenage fan. Ted Kennedy and Mary Jo. Pee Wee Herman in the theater. The names change, but the story remains the same. And we should know better, because this obsession says more about us (and about our national character) than about them.

Let’s be honest: The reason why these people live on such high pedestals, is because we put them there. We love the vicarious thrills, and we egg them on during their ascendancy. If they feel superhuman and untouchable, it’s because we treated them that way. If they live in shameful luxury, it’s because we freely opened our wallets to them. If they have so many lovers, it’s because they had no shortage of volunteers. Far from owning up to their own poor judgment, these attractive young women seek out the nearest television camera and boast about things that should force them to hide their faces in shame.

We love to build them up, and we love to tear them down. We revel in self-righteous indignation as we trade gossip at the water cooler.  The tabloids print thousands of extra copies at times like these, because they know that we will want to read all about it.

Is Tiger guilty?  I don’t know.  But one thing I know for sure: I am.  And so are you.

Calling Phil Mickelson.  Calling Joel Osteen.  This is your big opportunity.  You could be next.  Next for what, is up to you.

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