Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tiger Woods in Puritan America?

The Europeans often criticize the Americans for their Puritanism. They find it hard to understand why for instance American politicians have to repent of their sins in public whenever they are caught cheating or lying.
That’s partly because the line between private and public is generally much more blurry in the U.S. than in Europe. That’s also because politics in America is as much about values as it is about ideas. Politicians are expected to live according to the values they claim to support and to show respect for their office.

A good case in point is that of Mark Sanford the staunch conservative governor of South Carolina who not only cheated on his wife after declaring Clinton's behavior to be "reprehensible" and voting for his impeachment, but also used public money for expenses with his mistress.
As for Bill Clinton, most Europeans did not get that it was the lying in a deposition as much as his cheating in the White House that shocked the Americans. As the nation's highest elected official the president in America is not just a politician, he embodies the nation. The French tend to think that the president is a man like any other and the separation between public and private is enforced by one of the toughest libel laws in Europe. (and Sarkozy’s public display of his private life has damaged his popularity in France).
Still, there is no doubt that in America, morals play a more crucial role in politics than it does in Europe.

What is much harder to understand is why someone who is neither a public official nor a high-minded preacher should be expected to make his private life public? After all, Tiger Woods did not win his fame for being a moral champion but a golf champion. He has broken no law, has done no physical harm and has never said anything scandalous in public. Yet, he was forced into making a public confession. His statement is extremely well worded:

I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart. ... Although I am a well-known person and have made my career as a professional athlete, I have been dismayed to realize the full extent of what tabloid scrutiny really means. For the last week my family and I have been hounded to expose intimate details of our personal lives. ... Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn't have to mean public confessions. (Tiger Woods' Website)

Public repentance of one’s sins is most certainly a feature of American life that is unique and set the US apart from the rest of the Western world. This of course is often blamed on the Puritans. But puritan New England was a different society. The family was the basic unit of society and in a world without police; everyone was expected to supervise each other. The word ‘puritan’ in Europe only has negative connotations, but the puritans were not only self-righteous, they were also hard-working and egalitarian.
Unlike today’s America, they would have never turned a mere mortal into a god. Tiger Woods has been made a secular god and he is now a fallen idol. And what lies behind such worship is not the desire for morals but greed and the love of money thanks to a multi-million dollar system of contracts and commercial deals with “morality clauses”, the 24-hour news-and-entertainment media , the tabloids that have an appetite for sex scandal and finally the people who buy and watch them.
Tiger Woods is probably the greatest golfers of all time and we can revere him for that (as well for breaking another racial barrier) but as for the rest, it is his own business and he should not be expected perfection. As far as I can see, he has behaved in a dignified manner and simply refused to play the role expected of him.

It is about time that people should stop making moral judgment on people they have never met, and Americans should stop enjoying the sick pleasure of the public humiliation and torment of others.

1 Comments:

At 10:36, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As you refer to politicians there is effectively a border line in France between private life and professional life included for politicians. However being a politician leader whatever the country is similar as being a model just like the parents are. I mean, how being believable when facts and gesture are opposite to talks or guidelines ?

Though I agree it's hard for French people to get what happens when it comes to Tiger Wood's. Should have been the consequences the same if his was a recognized amateur sportsman respecting the amateur-sport-rules ? I mean : effort, brotherhood, respect so the best one the winner ! Of course it sounds incongruous when money comes into the picture because envy and jealousy make a prodigious difference. However, if I got it about “morality clauses” included into contracts and commercial, wasn't T.W a little bit stupid acting the way he did ? In any case I disagree with such a furious energy as loyalty definitely affects couple.
Michele.

 

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