Over the course of the last ten years, I have on several occasions – most recently, in the Future of Knowledge and Culture (Viking Penguin, 2005) — written about an epidemic of apologies in many of the democracies of the West. The modern trend may have commenced in the 1980s when the United States apologized to Japanese-Americans for their wrongful incarceration during World War II, and then followed it up in 1993, which marked the centennial of the annexation of Hawaii, with an apology to the people of Hawaii for the overthrow of their kingdom. Some apologies that followed received more attention than others, but there was a spate of them: the Germans (who had a lot of apologizing to do, and not only to Jewish people) expressed contrition for their invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1938, and the Czechs in turn rendered an apology for having expelled Germans from Czechoslovakia at the conclusion of World War II. Canada has begged forgiveness of its First Peoples, France has sought forgiveness from Jews for collaborating with the Nazis, and Australia has apologized for its abominable treatment of the Aboriginals – though, in places such as Tasmania, no Aboriginals were left alive, and thus there are no descendants of Tasmanian Aboriginals left to accept (or reject) that apology. There are, let it be said, many (to use a mild world) curious aspects to such apologies, and two may be mentioned in passing. Many of the countries issuing these apologies have joined the United States in wars of aggression against Iraq and Afghanistan, and so we should ask what is the meaning of such apologies. Secondly, such apologies, we are told by some educated commentators, are a sign of the fact that the modern democracies of the West, whatever their other failings, are unique in that they have displayed the ability to be contrite. ‘Moving on’ is, for individuals and nations alike, considered to be necessary for healthy growth and development.
Now that the great nations of the world, headed by the United States, have somewhat finished with the business of apologies, the second round of apologies is in full swing. From nations, we have come down to individuals; punting our way around the golf course, past John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, John Ensign, David Letterman, and others too numerous to count, we have finally arrived at the doorstep (where the last episode of punting literally started) of Tiger Woods. This stellar list of individuals includes a wannabe President of the United States; a man who, while declaring he would clean-up New York of moral vice, was consorting with calls girls; and another Governor of a state where there must have not been much business to conduct, since his mistress was keeping the flame of their passion burning in Argentina. The travails and misdemeanors of Tigers Woods have received rather more attention, largely because in business-minded America more is at stake when a billionaire athlete, whose fortunes are intertwined with those of the many corporations who had held him us an example and invested in him, commits one too many sexual indiscretions. The sport of golf, we are being told, will suffer incalculably in Tiger’s absence, a surmise based on the reality of the PGA tour of 2007, when TV ratings for golf plummeted by 50% as Tiger sat out most of the year on account of a knee injury. Why golf should be hurt by Tiger’s sexual escapades is a mystery, except, of course, in a country where “family” and “morality” are sacred words, meant to be honored (and ignored).
Many theories about the lavish attention being bestowed on Tiger’s extra-marital affairs with models, prostitutes, and waitresses among other women, now said to number somewhere in the low double digits, are circulating on the internet. Is Tiger, some are asking, being brought down because the idea of a picture-perfect man was always a bit too much to swallow? Is this a conspiracy on the part of white America to put the precociously successful ‘black’ – and this in quotations, since Tiger has more than one identity: indeed, he is said to represent rainbow America – man in his place? Leaving these largely idle speculations to the gossipmongers, Tiger’s apology seems to me to be the one concrete statement that allows a point of entry into the present discussion. I would, apropos of apologies and infidelities, however like to begin with a modest proposal. American newspapers have business, sports, arts, automobile, fashion and obituary pages among others, and many newspapers also carry ‘social’ pages, with announcements of engagements, marriages, deaths – and sometimes even the arrival of babies. Isn’t it time to think of pages that could be designated as ‘infidelities’? Since we are nearly guaranteed a constant supply of news to fill such pages, would this not be a way of assuring the attention of avid consumers of such news? Wouldn’t this be a big boon to all those whose waking hours are devoted to tracking the infidelities of America’s many celebrities? Instead of ads from Babies ‘R’ Us, Bed & Bath, or the department stories with their wedding registries, there would be exciting ads from condom makers, manufacturers of sex toys, and peddlers of surveillance gadgets. In these “difficult times”, all this should give a huge boost to a drooping economy. Imagine the fun if all the sexual indiscretions – escapades, peccadilloes, orgies – were enunciated neatly in a few pages. Some feminists might object that such pages would be overwhelmingly gendered, since, at present, such sexual indiscretions as have nakedly been put before the public eye appear to have been committed largely by men. But, in the interest of some equality, famous women might be invited to submit news of their sexual flings, if so inclined.
“I am deeply aware of the disappointment and hurt that my infidelity”, Tiger wrote in a statement released on December 11 announcing his hiatus from golf for an indefinite period of time, “has caused to so many people, most of all my wife and children” [italics added]. Tiger asks for “understanding” from the public, his huge number of fans, fellow golfers, and his “business partners”, and respect for his privacy during “this difficult period.” But why would anyone other than his wife – and very young children, who in later years will come to know of their father’s indiscretions — be hurt by his infidelity? Had Tiger, for instance, pronounced the public as fools, he would doubtless have had to seek their forgiveness. But he has committed no such indiscretion. If he has cheated on his wife, how does that hurt the wider public? It may well be argued that the onus on public figures to be morally upright is perhaps greater than it is on anyone else, but surely no one expects that a golfer should be held to higher moral standards than anyone else? Or did Tiger assume that his millions or billions had made him a model to everyone – and if he had, that would surely be a display of vanity on his part. That there is a touch of vanity, or more, in him should be amply clear from his statement of December 2nd, where he says: “I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves. I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect.” Just what are the “values” that Tiger thought he upheld, even before his calamitous descent in public estimation? These “values” are unspecified, not surprisingly: if at all he championed any values, those can only be described as, in the first instance, ambition, drive, dedication, and the pursuit of (to deploy that over-used and nearly unintelligible word) “excellence”; and, if one permitted oneself a more expansive reading, greed, overweening pride, and an obviously aggressive business sense. Tiger built himself a business empire, not simply a name as perhaps the greatest golfer of the modern era. One cannot but notice moreover how, when celebrities fall, they are eager to aver the fact – which was not much of a fact in their own eyes before their fall – that they are human, all too human: “I am far short of perfect.” Who but an unthinking fan would ever have thought of Tiger as “perfect”?
Apologies are all very nice for a feel-good society and everyone will be urged to remember that Tiger is going through “difficult times” and that every person is entitled to his or her “privacy” and that “family” matters more than anything else. Everything is now in place: we have gone through this dozens of times before, the scenario is familiar in its intimate details, and there are ‘sexual indiscretion management’ teams standing by. In the midst of this, it can never be forgotten that the business of America, as was observed a long time ago, is business. AT & T reports that it is re-evaluating its “ongoing relationship” with Tiger. One has relationships these days with companies as one does with sexual partners or spouses, but I suspect that this relationship will not be “ongoing” much longer. One hopes that AT & T, Gillette, Procter & Gamble, Pepsi (or is it Coke?), Nike, Accenture, and Tiger’s many other corporate sponsors will suffer some loss of revenues and that their CEOs and senior executives will take the hit, but this is far too much to hope. Only one tiger has lost his stripes, but the hunt for the next clean-shaven idol will commence soon.