Sunday, 13 December 2009

Tiger, Tiger, on the back-burner

Further to my earlier post about how celebrity gossip is more about us than it is about them, it is becoming clear that there is a gap opening up between different groups of people in the reasoning for their interest.

So sure, on an instinctive level we are all have a prurient fascination with the sex lives of the rich and famous (apparently one Tigers ten mistresses, Mindy Lawton, says he is "a selfish, heartless man" - which is manifested in his preference for rough sex, but then you have to question what this makes the 34-yr-old floridean waitress who was happy to service the billionaire during his wife's pregnancy).

On a more practical level the episode is actual bread and butter for many in the PR and advertising industries. According to Brian Goff the knock-on of the saga could create a $1/2bn in the US economy alone as personal endorsements (like Gillette) dry up, so it's no wonder everyone is scrabbling for their cut of the pie now.

But beyond all that is a more spiritual level which provides an insight into the effects of power in society. Of course he is personally touched by his wife taking his children away and his happiness is more important to him than continuing his remarkable career, so it is obvious he would step back as he reassessed his priorities.

Nevertheless as a modern-day icon he does provide an example for the more mortal among us, and in order for him to maintain this position in the public consciousness he must be very self-conscious about the choices he makes - clearly his sexual dalliances express a psychological desire to lose that self-control and allow himself to be natural.

Psychological pressure can come from anywhere and it becomes most visible when the most highly-valued rewards are at stake. The cracks in Tiger's game have been evident for sometime, so any well-atuned observer should have been able to pick up that something was wrong.

The more ruthless competitor may have wished to exploit the flaws and we'll never know just what went on in the background - there are always all sorts of creatures who put up hurdles or create distractions to lure you away from the righteous path, so it's possible that a cynical plan was hatched to plot his downfall by placing available women in his path with the intention that they'd sell their stories to help pay the rent or otherwise climb the greasy pole by seducing him literally and metaphorically.

But still, playing the sucker and succumbing to temptation is not part of the narrative we envisage for our sporting gods, so I think there is a lot of mileage left in this story.

At only 33 Tiger Woods can legitimately take several complete years away from golf and public life and still break all the records going. The financial investment made by his business supporters has been more then matched by the emotional investment made by followers of the Tiger cult, and given that golf is a game where age is far less of a factor a comeback will be greeted with wails of anticipation as the dividend is repaid (I can already hear the stage managements being prepared). Unless a comparable talent emerges to suddenly announce themself on the world stage (which is unlikely given his excessive dominance) I almost fear that the second wave of Tiger-mania will be bigger than the first.

Frankly Tiger Woods could probably take up residence with some real rock stars and develop a major life-threatening hard drug habit and still return to gain redemption - certainly the careers of other professional golfers have survived severe alcoholism, although without necessarily hitting the same heights. His achievements are already legend and his impact has already been felt across society, so he doesn't have anything left to prove except to himself. Therefore any time he needs to liberate himself from the pressure he puts himself under will sharpen his competitive edge if and when he does return.

If my predictive tentacles are anything to go by I'll bet he spends a bit more personal effort on his charitable foundation as a self-imposed penance, which will lead to an increasing political sensibility to his role. While golf is supported by inherently conservative institutions, his role in actively breaking down discriminatory barriers (such as being the first winner at the Augusta National Club in 1997 - where Lee Elder was the first black man to play in 1975, no black members were admitted until 1990 and women are still barred to this day) has him marked down as revolutionary, so I can easily see him being won over to take the stump in support of Barack Obama's re-election campaign ahead of November 2013.

Maybe Tiger has just woken up to the responsibilities he unwittingly assumed. We shall have to wait and watch.

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