Beyond Buddhism, Tiger Woods has converted to another religion
Tiger Woods’s confession on Friday was a forced conversion to the Oprahite religion of emotional openness and making public one’s miseries and failings.
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When Woods published a rare statement on his website in December – saying, “I am dealing with my behavior and personal failings behind closed doors with my family” – the humiliation-hungry media was outraged. One journalist said, “Woods’s right to privacy has been fatally undermined … by his hypocrisy.” Another said, sternly, that Woods has “no right to privacy,” on the basis that he is a public sportsman and has made advertisements and has therefore made himself public property.Skip to next paragraph
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This is a bizarre idea. 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.
Woods is famous for his iron will in golf tournaments. When scandal first broke, he summoned that stubbornness. “Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn’t have to mean public confessions,” Woods wrote on his website.
But the media got their way. 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.