Celebrity culture made Tiger Woods. And now, celebrity culture has eaten Tiger Woods.
It’s a great opening line, isn’t it? Except that celebrity culture, that ravenous beast that has chewed up peons with even minuscule amounts of talent, had nothing to do with “making” Tiger Woods. Tiger Wood’s innate Olympian ability — his preternatural golfing skill — made him the absolute superstar he is now. And I mean Olympian in the ancient Greek sense — Tiger Woods is modernity’s answer to Heracles.
Heracles, better known by his Roman name Hercules, was the son of Zeus and a mortal woman. In myth, he’s an authentic hero and demigod who conquered snakes in the cradle and performed a dozen labors (one of them was cleaning stables — no joke) before achieving 100 percent god status and earning a place on Mount Olympus and a goddess wife.
We humans like these kinds of stories, especially when they become flesh in the form of multicultural golf prodigies. I don’t even have to cite Tiger Woods’ many golf accomplishments, which include 71 PGA tournament victories and being the youngest Masters champion ever at 21 years old and the first Asian or black winner of a major golf championship. Tiger Woods is also worth, and I believe this is the technical financial term, a bagazillion dollars.
It’s interesting that revelations of Tiger Woods’ marital indiscretions are making the public question the axiom that all publicity is good publicity. Of all the people in the world idolized by celebrity culture, I would argue that Tiger Woods is one of the very few who have made it on pure (and freakishly inhuman) talent. Tiger Woods would have been a superstar without a vapid and image-driven, publicity-obsessed public to satisfy.
And now, Tiger Woods (well, his reputation and image) are festering in the belly of the giant whale that is celebrity culture. He’s like Jonah now. There is no amount of money or genuine greatness to get him out of this one now that Tiger Woods has been revealed as a mere mortal whose impeccable public image was really one heck of a smokescreen and not a result of superior moral or ethical attributes. It’s a good thing Oprah is still on the air because if Jonah had to repent to God, I think we all know that Tiger Woods needs to repent to Oprah.
Intellectually, this Tiger Woods’ media debacle shouldn’t really affect anyone’s perception of his sporting accomplishments, which are the true source of his celebrity. Most of the people we call celebrities today are really just infamous — there is no merit to their "fame," just meaningless publicity which is translated by a media-anesthetized public as true distinction.
Tiger Woods is not that kind of celebrity.
By the standard of most great men, Tiger Woods is nothing special. Don’t they all seem to get caught stepping out on their marriages? Not that being extraordinary in some important realm excuses extramarital affairs or other moral failings, but it seems that everyone is so surprised that Tiger Woods is human. Despite the superhuman accomplishments, Heracles was part human, too.
Erin K. O'Neill is a former assistant director of photography and current page designer for the Missourian. She is also a master's degree candidate at the Missouri School of Journalism.