Adding Tiger Woods' tearful apology to all the other tearful apologies we've heard of late may be cathartic, but I don't feel it contributes much useful knowledge to the human sum total. Yes, Tiger, it's wrong to cheat on your wife, it's hurtful to all the people who look(ed) up to you and it's good you're getting treatment for whatever addiction you may be battling. It's also wrong, Mr. Spitzer, to patronize members of the world's oldest profession after going after it hammer and tongs while a member of the world's second oldest profession. It's also not nice, Mr. Sanford, to high-tail it to South America for forbidden pleasures while standing up for the American dream. Yes, Mr. Edwards, your treatment of your cancer-stricken wife was rather despicable, but we loved your haircut when you wanted to be president. It's all true.
It's all completely beside the point,
If a politician screws up, figuratively or literally, the people can (and often do) kick him out. If a sports figure lets down his adoring fans, sponsors can (and do) yank his endorsements. But seldom do we question the mindset that permits and often encourages both the sports "hero" and the political "leader."
Tiger put his finger right on the problem when he said he felt that he could get away with anything. We heard the same kind of thing from Mike McGuire and even Pete Rose. We got echoes of this from Sanford, Spitzer, Bill Bennett and Rush Limbaugh. The papers are full of fallen statues with feet of clay and every time it happens, some of us look at each other and wonder "How could anybody be that dumb?" It's easy.
We've built a society on size. Big is good. Bigger is better. Finally, we build things that are so big, we can't stand to have them fall. Banks get "too big to fail." We have shows like American Idol to set people up on immense pedestals until someone bigger comes along to replace them. We equate human worth with net worth - if you're Donald Trump, someone will always be there to open doors for you, hold your coat and tell you you're fantastic. If someone tells you you're not, there's always enough money to hire someone who'll set the record straight.
Sooner or later, a lot of people can't resist this any more and start to believe they're as good as their publicists tell them. This is the "oooops" moment. In the celebrity culture, it's necessary to carve out a special niche in which you can be THE celebrity. Maybe you want to be the pure, high-minded type or maybe you prefer to be the ruthless, anything-for-a-buck capitalist. This is not easy - it takes hard work, but finally you get there and you have arrived. Every move you make is news. Every product you use, whether you really use it or not, brings in endorsement cash. After tirelessly working to get to the top, you become public property. Your life becomes our business. The last thing we expect you to do is screw up, but some of us secretly hope there'll be a dirty little secret in the next issue of The Enquirer. That's why people buy it.
Then, when you finally do screw up, the tabloids that praised you to the skies turn on you. The media that specializes in turning outrage into bucks strive to outdo each in printing inflammatory headlines. How long will this go on? Until no more money can be made out of it. And it's all because of us, the public.
So hold on, Tiger. Pretty soon, somebody else will mess up big time and you'll be off the hook. People will forget your slippage if you start winning again. America loves a winner - think Roman Polanski. In your case, there's no argument about your skill, just your judgment. Keep the first and change the second and you'll be back before you know it.
And we can set the altars up again.