Gossip culture driving Tiger Woods scandal to fore



Jake Hartwell

Heroes have been around since the recorded beginnings of history. From Gilgamesh to Tiger Woods, they exemplified the values of their societies and the most desired qualities of the citizens.

The problem is Gilgamesh never had droves of paparazzi, publications and Web sites watching and reporting his every move. Gilgamesh built walls and slew demons generally free from inquiries into his private life, but those days are over. The development of modern society has rendered the hero impossible.

Now we have Woods’ scandal. Almost everyone knows that Woods has had more women than major championship wins.

The National Enquirer broke the story; it traveled around the globe in less than a day and was generally accepted as fact by Thanksgiving morning.

Endorsement deals are the remnants of a long history of hero-worship. Woods made his fortune by exemplifying everything companies want to project in their image. Precision, agility, consistency—these qualities could be immediately associated with a product in the minds of the consumers by slapping Woods’ face on it.

Those companies don’t want to project moral failure, which was inevitably ascribed to Woods’ recent activity. As soon as Woods became a symbol of immorality and faithlessness, he lost the endorsements.

Of course disappointed consumers around the world would later discover, to their dismay, that Nike golf clubs aren’t enough to make you a “player”—in more respects than one.The hero-based endorsement concept was plausible until the 21st century. Most of us remember the circumstances of Mark McGwire’s retirement, by which he narrowly escaped the oncoming public relations scourge regarding his steroid use.

McGwire’s steroid use was almost unquestionable, but during his career the Internet was still in its fledgling stages. It wasn’t yet commonplace for people to track every minute of celebrities’ lives. The birth of the gossip Web site and the establishment of our generation as one that derives its meaning by being a contemptible peeping-tom did not crown rampant celebrity-stalking as convention until this century.

If you fast-forward to Barry Bonds’ retirement in 2007, the changes become obvious. Bonds committed the same offense as McGwire, but when he retired, everyone knew he was a fraud. His record is forever stained because people had the technological means and societal reinforcement to investigate every aspect of his life.

The speed and ease with which the Woods story broke clearly shows that we have the technology and demand to spy on stars every minute of the day. Where there is no mystery, and nothing but truth, the hero cannot exist. Traditionally, it was the duty of the poet to describe the hero, and the hero was revered because the poet reported the better half, excluding the seamy details of the character’s shortcomings.

Now the poet has been usurped by the paparazzi. Devoid of spirit and ethics, he or she reports every detail and is happy to indulge in society’s new fascination with discovering the failures of its prominent figures. We have truth, but at what cost? Our heroes are dead, slain not by the sword but by the pen.