Tiger Woods: A Saccharine Lab Rat of Monogamy | Bleader

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tiger Woods: A Saccharine Lab Rat of Monogamy

Posted By on 12.11.09 at 12:04 PM

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Sorry, some weeks I can't help myself. When it gets cold, I get cabin fever, and I can't sleep, and I start thinkin'.

[Let me say from the outset I'm not defending the tabloid media's prying into people's private lives, since, well, I can't. But I want to separate process from results for a second. Or more like 10 minutes, depending on how fast you read.]

No one, as far as I can tell, has stepped up to defend Tiger Woods 24/7 coverage, save for pointing out that it's a free country and whatever. Maybe because there's no defense. And that's pretty much what I was thinking, until I read a couple things and had some other thoughts.

First, I read Savage Love this week:

And second, daily papers and cable-news outfits reacted to Tiger's "transgressions" by changing the names in the same "Why do powerful men cheat?" stories they've been pimping since Bill Clinton blew a load on a White House intern. For the millionth time: Men cheat for the same reasons women cheat: because they're bored or horny or unfulfilled or desperate to see someone else naked for a change. People cheat because monogamy isn't natural and we are wired to cheat. That doesn't make cheating right, of course; people should honor their commitments, and blah-de-nine-iron-blah. But we shouldn't encourage people to make commitments we all know they're unlikely to keep. The end.

I also read this post on how Grace Kelly was a horndog:

But rather instead I’m suggesting that we step a little further from our romantic notions of old Hollywood and see that era for what it really was. Just because couples didn’t sleep in the same bed in film or television in those times doesn’t mean that they weren’t screwing like mad.

Celebrities are the saccharine lab rats of American culture: we expose them to unlimited amounts of the best artificial sweetness modern science is capable of producing, stuff them in glass boxes, and then sit back and watch them get diseases and claw each others' eyes out. It's cruel a science, but sometimes we learn things.

And sometimes we learn really important things. Take, for instance, Rock Hudson. He and his entourage covered up the fact that he was dying of AIDS until near the end ("inoperable liver cancer"), but then, much to his credit, he issued a press release stating the truth. This was mid-1985, and much to America's surprise, we learned that AIDS could happen to wealthy paragons of straight masculinity - and then it turns out that Rock Hudson wasn't straight at all, and we learned something there, too.

I also read Rod Dreher, which was all Roy Edroso's fault. There's no real reason to read Rod Dreher, who is professionally employed mostly to judge other people on behalf of his conception of God, but read him I did, and that's when it sort of clicked:

I never could have imagined writing words like this about Tiger Woods (Tiger Woods!), but he is a contemptible human being.

I guess I should stop being surprised when performance-judgment Christians are surprised when people behave contemptibly, but this is just a gimmie:

1) People are inclined to do bad things, given the opportunity. There's a lot of sacred literature, including the Bible, about this. God actually had to take a mulligan on the world because of this, if you believe the story of the Flood.

2) Rich, young, famous people are surrounded by opportunities to act contemptibly.

3) The richer, younger, and more famous people are, the odds they will act contemptibly approach 100%.

Look: people shouldn't cheat on their spouses. It's bad for abstract reasons and it's bad for practical reasons. But as Savage regularly points out, some people do not want to or cannot be monogamous, and there are three solutions to that: just be monogamous anyway; openly, with your spouse, work out a mutually agreeable non-monogamous relationship; don't be married. The first of those doesn't work for a lot of people, and no matter your feelings on the other two, it's undeniable the first causes a lot of pain and suffering when it doesn't work. People shouldn't cheat, because they shouldn't lie, but they shouldn't lie to themselves either, and there's a lot of that going around in the wake of this scandal.

For instance: imagine half the people on the Dan Ryan got in horrible accidents, and imagine furthermore that a subset of those drivers - truckers, say - got in horrible accidents 75% of the time. You could say that people should just drive better, and you wouldn't necessarily be wrong, but any civil engineer worth his salt wouldn't wait around for that to happen.

Another thing I'm reading that got me thinking is Midnight Assassin, an outstanding work of history about a turn-of-the-century Iowa farm wife who may or may not have killed her abusive husband with an ax (I'm not done, so I don't know if she did). When she took the stand in her own defense, she wouldn't admit, under oath, that her husband was regularly physically and mentally abusive, despite the fact that it was well known by some of her neighbors, whom she'd come to when she feared for herself. And despite the fact that at that point, obviously, the guy was dead.

(This is the case that, in part, inspired the young Des Moines reporter Susan Glaspell in her path towards becoming an early feminist writer (and Chicago Renaissance figure) of renown; you may have come across Trifles or A Jury of Her Peers at some point, which were inspired by the Hassock case.)

Times have changed somewhat and mostly for the better, but as more (though conflicting) details about revisions to the Woods/Nordegren prenup leak, I can't help but be reminded of the efforts that people go to towards fixing extremely broken things, even if just the perception of those things. This is an unusually weird and dramatic case, but a lot of the time that's what we learn from.

I might be over-thinking this; for most people, it might just be salacious and even viciously amusing entertainment. But entertainment tends to be how American culture talks to itself about its values, and I couldn't help but wonder what we're saying.

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