Saturday, 20 February 2010

Who's sorry now?

It's interesting that, on the eve of p0pvulture's first birthday, a story has dominated the front pages of every major newspaper - one that throws up important questions about the very nature of celebrity, and the relationship we have with those who spend their lives in the unforgiving glow of its spotlight.

Tiger Woods gave an extraordinary press conference yesterday, in which he talked about values, integrity and entitlement. The purpose of this internationally broadcast mea culpa was to demonstrate the depth of Tiger's regret for his self-destructive behaviour.

It's easy to scoff at someone who claims to be in rehab for sex-addiction. In a culture that thrives on victimhood, it seems like a clever way of claiming 'diminished responsibility' for simply being unable to keep it in one's pants.

But Tiger's act of atonement seemed much more sincere and carefully crafted than the majority of half-hearted, mealy-mouthed apologies that usually pop up whenever a sportsman is found to be playing in the 'away' kit. Then again, perhaps the scale of Tiger's misadventures warranted a more considered response.

When the story first broke about Tiger's Herculean libido, everyone was aghast that someone so driven and focused could have imploded on such a massive scale. This was like the Hadron Large Collider of celebrity sex scandals.

As more and more cocktail waitresses and porn stars came out of the woodwork to claim their 15 minutes of limelight, the story took on its own snowball-like momentum. Albeit one that managed to smash its way through an Alpine lap-dancing bar on its irrevocable descent.

Our delirious press couldn't believe its luck. Here, at last, was a story that allowed them to indulge both their iconoclastic tendencies, and their propensity for misogynistic character assassination. In their eyes, no-one could escape this story unscathed. Tiger was portrayed as an arrogant, deceitful letch, his wife Elin Nordegren a golf-club wielding spouse batterer, and all the other women as homewrecking alley cats.

Since then, Tiger's been keeping a low profile, attempting to repair the damage done to his reputation, his marriage and his Escalade. Clearly needing some time to himself to get his life in order, Tiger found his corporate sponsors more than willing to facilitate his solitude.

So it was interesting to see him standing in front of all those cameras yesterday, apologising to the world. Despite the fact that his contrition was palpable and genuine, it was clearly insufficient for some. A column in the Boston Herald ran with the headline "Hey, Tiger Woods: Apology not accepted" - as though it's up to the rank and file to confer forgiveness for the transgressions of our public figures.

Did Tiger Woods owe the world an apology? Has he let us all down by having about as much self-control as a morbidly obese diner attacking the all-you-can-eat buffet?

There are certainly people to whom he needs to apologise, not least the sponsors he misled and the family he betrayed. But as for the rest of us, is our emotional state really tied up in the morality of our sporting legends, or any other celebrity for that matter?

Perhaps we owe him an apology. After all, our insatiable hunger for gory details and tawdry exposes can't have helped matters. But more importantly, we have all helped to create a cult of celebrity that convinces those who achieve it that they answer to different standards than the rest of us.

As Tiger said yesterday: "I knew my actions were wrong. But I convinced myself that normal rules didn't apply... I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn't have far -- didn't have to go far to find them."

Writing in The Independent today, James Lawton commented that Tiger's apology made it clear that he "had done wrong and wanted to do better". Here's hoping we can say the same.

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