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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The most sensible thing I've read about the Tiger Woods fiasco

This piece by Brendan O'Neill pretty much nails it. Sample:

Are we saying that anyone who is a prominent public figure – from politicians to actors, “it girls” to athletes – should have no unrevealed life? Such an erosion of the line between public and private, between what we do for a living and who we are with our friends and family, shows just how far the new requirement for revealing everything has gone. You can see the Oprahite dogma at work in dozens of recent scandals, from politicians like Mark Sanford and Eliot Spitzer, to athletes like A-Rod and Mark McGwire.

The criticism of Woods for zealously guarding his private life, and for at first refusing to do the formulaic public mea culpa that is now expected of every fallen public figure, showed what really lurked behind the Tiger-baiting of the past three months: fury over a famous man’s refusal to play by the new rules, to adhere to the new ethos of public emotionalism, to bow before the altar of publicly advertising one’s pain. Woods was clinging, for dear life, to the old-fashioned idea that a clear line should be drawn between a man’s public life and his private life, and the media could not tolerate that.

And the conclusion:

Last Friday, his capitulation was complete. After months of being ridiculed and attacked, Woods finally partook in perhaps the most widely disseminated expression of public sorrow of all time. The privacy zealot was successfully remade as an acolyte of Oprah, his mind expunged of the silly idea that he, or anyone else, should have the right to sort out his problems “behind closed doors.” There were elements of the authoritarian show trial in his mea culpa: the denunciation of the self, the promise to become a new man.

The forced conversion of Tiger Woods represents another blow to the idea of privacy. A civilized society should recognize the dividing line between a public man and his private life, because all of us need a private space in which we can develop relationships and work out who we are. The slaying of private Tiger and his rebirth as a public spectacle makes defending privacy that much harder.

Yes. Last Friday, Tiger Woods let us all down - admittedly, under pressure that was evidently too much for him. I care more about that than about what he does in private with the consensual sexual partners of his choice. If some of the latter was unethical (involving lies or broken promises), that's for him to sort out with the people concerned. It's not our problem. His failure to hold the line on privacy has a much greater public impact.

Read the whole article, and spread the meme.


NewEnglandBob said...

Very well said, Mr. O'Neill.

Jambe said...

Well said; this whole phenomenon is quite damning.

I do wonder, however, whether the "mainstream" media frenzy is at all indicative of "popular" opinion.

It may be that folk in my area are too reserved to express a harsh opinion, too concerned with privacy to say anything definite, or simply too easygoing, but my friends & co-workers, if pressed into answering a, "What do you think of it all?" type question regarding Tiger, will more often than not reply with a:

It's none of our business.

He was wrong, but it's none of our business.

All this probing and prodding must be hell on earth for the whole family; the tabloid cavalcade is disgusting.

et cetera... Now, I live in east-central Indiana, a heavily Christian area, so I have encountered some "sin and repentance" types, but they're a noted minority. This was surprising to me; I'm impressed.

Greg Egan said...

I agree, O'Neill is entirely correct.

In addition to the privacy issues, I think the whole notion of "role models" is one of the most pathological ideas in our culture. I'm not just boggled by the fact that sportspeople in particular are treated as exemplars of every conceivable virtue; the very idea that any individual should be viewed in that way is repugnant and silly.

What we should be teaching young people is that everyone they encounter in life, the media, history, etc. is likely to have a mixture of personal qualities, some admirable, some less so. Nobody -- however famous, or talented, or rightly revered for some particular achievement -- is a walking package deal for an entire set of life choices that can only be subscribed to or rejected as a whole.

Russell Blackford said...

Yes, this whole "role model" thing is, to put it mildly, sooo annoying.

mace said...

Who cares,the man's famous for performing well in a totally meaningless activity,his antics are not news.Would people care these days what shenanigans their neighbors are up to?Why take an interest in Mr Woods' private life, his main talent appears to be hitting a ball around a landscaped area? What a waste of cyber space.

Shaunc said...

Whilst I agree with some of the article, it does miss a point re Woods and his private life.

Woods cultivated an image that was based on being a family man. And this was used to broaden his appeal and make money. Woods has already blurred his private life and public life by doing concocting this image. If his private shenanigans are in contrast to the public image he uses to make money then I don't see why it isn't fair game.

Maybe he should have gone the John Daley route and became the Wild Tiger. Grrrrrrr,

Unknown said...

@Shaun: The House of Lords in the Naomi Campbell privacy case held that there could be a legitimate public interest in exposing mendacity or hypocrisy from a public figure. So, given that NC had chosen to make an issue of her putative abstinence from illegal drugs - and had implicitly given the impression that this elevated her above most supermodels - she couldn't hide behind a privacy wall with regard to that aspect of her life.

The publication of details of her treatment for her addiction, however, were a step too far.

On that basis, I would consider that the journalists and editor of the News of The World - who exposed Max Mosley's unorthodox sexual proclivities - would have no refuge were they shown to enjoy similar pursuits. But MM's own privacy should never have been breached.

The inherent tension between privacy rights and freedom of the press (Articles 8 and 10 respectively of the European Convention on Human Rights) is unavoidable, but on the whole, I think the UK courts are doing a pretty adroit job of navigating their way between them.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SaintStephen said...

Great post, Russell. And I completely agree. I couldn't even watch his "Oprah" session for fear of of nausea.

I hope Tiger comes back soon, wins the Grand Slam (again), and gets caught nude-scuba-diving off his yacht with two fire-breathin' call girls the very next day. (Props to Billy Connolly.)

But then again, I'm a little strange that way.

Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

Neil said...

Sure it's none of our business when he screws up, but who's there complaining it's none of our business when he does well? Because that's equally true, and that the media desperately follow Woods into degradation, is because they desperately followed him through his success.

There's a whole conglomerate of people making money off the reputation and admirablity of Woods, based on the premise that who Tiger Woods is, and what he does matters to people, and they want to share in his story. When the story turns bad, they can't simply forget about Woods, to do so would be an acknowledgement that Woods never really mattered in the first place, and maybe... the celebrity industry is really selling us nothing. Which it does, of course, but there's too much money riding on it now.