Saturday, 20 February 2010

Tiger Woods and the pantomime of celebrity

On Friday, Tiger Woods issued an apology for his "selfish and foolish" behaviour, and insisted that he "owe[s] all those families" who "used to point to me as a role model for their kids" a "special apology." This has prompted much heated analysis in the media over whether he will win over the public, whether the apology was heartfelt, when he will return to golf. And other such inanities.

It took the New York Times to offer some perspective;
The nation is fighting wars overseas.

Politicians continue to wrestle over health care reform and attempt to pull the country out of a harsh recession.

Yet for 13 ½ minutes Friday, much of the nation stopped to listen to a 34-year-old golfer discuss the marital missteps that led to one of the greatest falls from grace in American sports history.

What a precious waste of time. The obsession with Tiger Woods’s personal life and infidelity says more about our misguided priorities as a nation than it does about Woods. It also speaks volumes about the current state of the news media that unashamedly feeds this obsession. We create these inventions only to tear them down.
The only thing missing from this analysis is the fact that the whole charade - Woods's dependence on the media, his "fall from grace," this humbled apology - is not just about "satisfying the public’s thirst for spectacles." Indeed, such a thirst is part of a culture artificially generated by the media, a culture specifically designed to distract from reality with spectacle. As long as people care deeply about sport and celebs, but couldn't give two shits about the political situation that determines everything in our life from pay and comfort levels to basic liberties, they are controllable.

The propaganda model is there for those who actually read the news and follow world affairs. For the vast majority, spectacle and gossip offer a complete distraction from that. As Noam Chomsky has pointed out in Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media;
This is an oversimplification, but for the eighty percent or whatever they are, the main thing is to divert them. To get them to watch National Football League. And to worry about "Mother With Child With Six Heads," or whatever you pick up on the supermarket stands and so on. Or look at astrology. Or get involved in fundamentalist stuff or something or other. Just get them away. Get them away from things that matter. And for that it's important to reduce their capacity to think.
Of course, life isn't all about activism and politics. People have ordinary lives to lead - raising families, working, socialising with friends, etc - and sports and other hobbies can play an important part in that. However, when it reaches the point where half of the world's media is focusing on a man who putts for a living apologising about something about which only he, his wife, and his immediate family have any legitimate reason to be concerned or curious about, something is clearly wrong.

Whilst we build ourselves idols out of sports players and other "personalities," the destruction of jobs, livelihoods, and industry continues without relent. There is a class war on, and its time we turned off the TV and fought it.