Friday, 9 April 2010

Tiger Woods and the New Morality


I turned on the BBC world news this morning - the only English news we can get here - and there was a sombre man in a grey suit, Billy Payne, the chairman of Augusta National golf club, making a speech about the ‘egregious’ moral harm that Tiger Woods has done to the world - to us and to our children and to our children’s children.
So, is TW a paedophile? A serial killer? A disseminator of racial hatred? Guilty of genocide? A member of Al Qaeda? No, apparently none of these things. He has simply been playing away from home - but not with his golf clubs.
From my experience of sportsmen (spectator, not personal!) all that testosterone and adrenaline does seem to get them into trouble now and again. Footballers, rugby players (the famous Princess Di affair) tennis players, snooker professionals - too numerous to count, they have all been discovered making love to women other than their wives or girlfriends. It may be sad, bad and dangerous for their relationships, but it does seem to be normal human behaviour.

So what is so ‘egregious’ about Tiger woods’ adultery? According to Billy Payne, he has ‘disappointed us . . . . Our hero did not live up to the role model we sought for our children’. From now on, apparently, Tiger should not be ‘measured by his success’ on the golf course, but on the amount of penance and self-flagellation he is willing to do to atone for his crimes against humanity.
All this was delivered in such a grim self-righteous tone, I felt a blazing rage and had to turn off the TV. Has this whiter than white Mr Payne never transgressed? Not once?
And why are our sports stars from now on to be measured, not by how good they are at what they do, but by their morality? This is dangerous ground and I have instant visions of living in an Orwellian world where you have to get a licence in order to do anything, and you can’t get the licence unless you can prove you are ‘pure’ measured against some code of rules drawn up by those in authority.
And supposing this new moral standard were to be applied to writers? What we write has always been seen to pose a risk to the minds of the human beings who read us, their children and their children’s children. How much more then, should the morality of our lives have a bearing on whether we deserve to be read? Not just censorship of what we write, but of our lives? Supposing the only writers who were allowed to publish were those whose private lives were deemed to be completely clean. That would rule out most of the great writers of the past. And what on earth would all those prim, morally correct, contemporary writers find to write about?
This sounds suspiciously like the kind of totalitarian society I wouldn’t want to belong to.
I’m sorry, but I will accept my sports’ heroes human fallibility as long as they excel on the field - that way I’ll feel a lot safer putting pen to paper, being a fallible human myself. And in a free society my children and their children are at least free to decide who they want to emulate. I want their role models to be as diverse as possible, and not selected by the chairman of a committee.
My apologies for the rant - I can feel the soapbox creaking under my feet, so I’d better get off. There’s something about the word ‘morality’ when used by public figures, that always has me reaching for the fire extinguisher! Am I just cynical? Or am I right to worry?

3 comments:

  1. I'm with you, Kathleen, on the sanctimonious claptrap. Perhaps the sheer number had something to do with it, and the clean branding before.

    I suspect we have had claptrap before and will certainly get it again. On the other hand, it reaches a critical point, when the figure in question enters through the door opposite as a kind of folk-hero, the rogue with the roving eye. Think George Best. If Woods wins at Augusta, just watch them all rolling back into adulation mode. Little by little at first, but sure as gravity eventually.

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  2. Kathleen - I am so relieved at your rant - I could not believe this when I heard it on the radio and my sense of outrage reflects yours in all its elements.
    One further thought I had was perhaps underneath all this rage were strands of racism. Perhaps some of these pofaced moral soldiers are relieved that this black hero was flawed so they can rant about his moral shortcomings.
    After all not so very long ago a black player could not play on this course. The only black people allowed were those acting as caddies.
    I hope he wins.
    Just a thought...
    w

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  3. George - I think 'sanctimonious claptrap' sums it up. But I think Wendy has a point here about racism. I, too, hope he wins!

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