Tuesday, February 23, 2010

DON'T HATE THE PLAYER, HATE THE GAME. Maggie Gallagher has seen the Tiger Woods show trial confession, and admits "we cannot help but wonder how much of it is sincere and how much of it is image management." Nonetheless she imagines an alternate scenario, in which Woods said something like:
"Yes, I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I misled you and the American public into imagining that I was some kind of role model. Elin and I will be divorcing and I wish her well and will support our children. But right now both my image and my marriage need to be brought in line with reality. I'm not a role model. I'm just a man who's really really good at hitting golf balls into holes. I look forward to returning to the golf course to win back the title of greatest golfer in the world. In the future, I won't comment on my private life. I will let my golfing do the talking from here on out."

And it would work. As Pig Woods, Tiger can be rich, famous, successful and lie with and to models and Perkins waitresses to his heart's content -- and nobody will care.
It's as if Woods didn't lose significant market value, or lose a boatload of endorsement deals over his peccadilloes. And it was only going to get worse: As a celebrity endorsement expert said, "When celebrities do things that negatively affect a corporate deal, the legal terms typically end up more in the corporation’s favor the next time."

Tiger Woods is not just a man -- he's an industry. And industries don't get to say, fuck it, who needs those extra millions, we're going to do as we please. A lot of salaries are riding on good image management.

But in the culture wars, it's always yesterday: The days of Charles Barkley and Dennis Rodman, when general weariness with moral uplift briefly opened a market niche for bad boy sports stars. The market has adjusted meanwhile, and only a very small amount of "edge" is permitted to major players. If you don't believe it, scan gossipy sports sites like With Leather, and see how few hell-yeah-I'm-a-horndog sportsmen they're able to find; most of the scandalicious bits have to do with sports stars who got caught despite themselves -- like Tiger Woods. You're more likely to find a baller profusely apologizing for his nude photos than one bragging on them.

And that's because of something culture warriors never worry about: money. The pros are making ridiculous money. If it enables their fantasy fulfillment, as Woods said in his press conference ("[I felt] that I deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me... thanks to money and fame, I didn't have to go far to find them"), dollars demand that they keep that well under wraps lest a whiff of scandal discourage some major advertiser.

If Woods thought he would get caught, or was trying to get caught, as his behavior suggests, his handlers would consider that a psychological rather than a moral issue. And judging from the Soviet nature of his self-denunciation, it appears the "therapy" recommended to him is taking hold.

"He really wants to be the Tiger we once thought we knew and loved," says Gallagher. "And you have to love a guy -- at least a little -- for that." If Gallagher thinks what animates Woods' fans' purchases of anything with his name on it is "love," she's got more problems than I ever imagined.

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