Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Few Words on Privacy

There is going to come a day where the idea of privacy is going to be a quaint reminder of an era gone by.

During the last decade, the American public has embraced the media as a tool for the public, not just the lucky few who can make news. It began with the rise of reality television and pretty soon the average American was sharing prime time with Hollywood A-listers. Their every foible and whim was captured on tape and was beamed to a growing audience. However, there was still a filter (called editors) that colored perception.

In the mid part of this century, that lens went out the window and even more people wanted to take a piece of the stage. With social interaction sites like Twittter or Facebook, video sites like YouTube and Blogs, everyone in America has a chance to creep back into the consciousness of long-forgotten acquaintances or become minor celebrities.*

* Remember the “Star Wars” kid that was popular a few years back? He was a chubby teen with glasses who posted a video of himself having a lightsaber duel with no one. The dude was everywhere, even “Arrested Development” did a cut-away joke about it. And the latest internet celebrity is a three-year-old boy who memorized the speech that Herb Brooks gave to the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team.

The point as my two-year-old daughter grows up, the idea of privacy is going to be change so much that within 20 years, people of my generation aren't going to recognize it. I'm 35-years-old and most of my peers have adapted to the idea of posting pictures of themselves on Facebook or writing their thoughts in a public Blog, but there is always some level of trepidation; what if the wrong person sees/reads this? Do I really want scores of people knowing that I enjoy Steelheart's awesome power ballad,“Never Let You Go”?

The second-thoughts come from a still burgeoning technology. We're still on the forefront of social interaction and the fear of the unknown is going to dissipate by the time my daughter gets into Junior High School and my warnings will probably fall on deaf ears; “Yeah, ok Dad. Like someone is really going to care that I posted that my teacher a stupid whore ... it's the Internet!”

The point I'm trying to make is that with the very idea of privacy quickly dying, Americans are becoming increasingly interested in what goes on behind closed doors. Does the public persona of an athlete or a movie star match their every day actions? Case in point, Tiger Woods.

A day after Thanksgiving Tiger Woods was involved in a one-car automobile accident outside his home in Florida. While police were called to the scene, there were no injuries and the matter should have been dropped. However, the Internet media (gossip sites like TMZ) were on the case. As details were being leaked—Tiger and his wife were fighting, turns out he has a harem of women, his wife tried to slug him with a nine iron—the American people's appetites only grew and the mainstream media jumped into the frenzy.

Not only did we know that Tiger Woods had a bevy of beauties; but we knew the names of some of them, occupations of others, and we heard voice messages of a confused, befuddled Tiger telling one of them to change her phone number because his wife, Elin, had gotten wise to the whole deal. As the reports slowed to a trickle, the public's uproar grew louder and louder. Why would Tiger Woods cheat on his wife, he's a family man? Tiger Woods is a sex addict, he doesn't look like one? Who is Tiger Woods?

And this is the problem, who is Tiger Woods. A few years ago, Nike tried a marketing campaign that centered around the phrase, “I Am Tiger Woods”. In one of the memorable TV comericials, there was a minute of people repeating “I am Tiger Woods” over and over as if it was a mantra, finally ending with Woods himself saying, “I am Tiger Woods”. The point was, Woods is an every man and that if anyone works hard enough they can be as good as Tiger Woods.

And that's what his entire public persona is: he's everything, but he's nothing. The Tiger Woods brand stands for excellence, but that stance means nothing. Woods has always been the ultimate cypher, you couldn't even pin him down on something as simple as his ethnicity; he created his own that was some combination of Asian-Caucasian-Afro-American. Even on his web site FAQ, he listed his favorite music as “Soundtracks from the 80s and 90s”.*

* I picked this tidbit up from Joe Posnanski's excellent blog post and share the same befuddlement. The soundtrack to “Amadeus” was released in this time frame as well as the soundtrack to “Judgement Night”. The former soundtrack is filled with concertos and movements from Mozart, while the latter is nothing but rock/rap colaborations from people like Biohazzard and Onyx. I'm not saying that a person can like one style of music, but not the other, but this is a bit extreme. And again, is an example of Tiger trying his best to appeal to everyone.

So for people to get pious and upset over Woods' actions left me a bit confused. We never knew Tiger Woods, even at the apex of his popularity—his privacy was so guarded that anyone who showed even a brief glimpse into Woods' “real life” personality was fired from Team Tiger. This got me thinking about what was the American public so upset about.

I think that many people feel that his carefully sculpted image was his true personality. He was the man who had at all: a great job, a gorgeous wife, two kids, a dump truck full of money but in reality his image was just a mirage*.

* It's kind of cool how the word mirage is just image with an extra “r”. Am I right, or am I overthinking this?

Privately, Tiger Woods was just as fucked up as everyone else. He cheated on his wife, she got angry with him, smashed up his car, took her kids and went back to Sweden. He is everyman, but he's not the everyman that everyone wants to be. And this is where the subject of privacy comes in, when the curtain was peeled back and Woods was revealed to be as flawed as anyone else, the nation went bezerk. Companies dropped him as a sponsor, he became the butt of every hacky email you received in December, outraged writers called for him to be dropped from the PGA.

And for what? He cheated on his wife. While that doesn't put him on the short list for husband of the year, who did it really hurt (aside from his wife and children)? I didn't give a damn about Tiger's personal life before Thanksgiving 2009 and I don't care about it now. The only reason why I like Tiger Woods is because he can consistently drive a golf ball 300+ yards and that he can make a putt with the pressure of the Master's on his back. I never looked at Tiger Woods, or any celebrity, as a template for my behavior. And the reason is this: we never know what's really going on.

Sure, we have hints: Charlie Sheen seems like an asshole, Gilbert Areanas is probably a moron and George Clooney seems like a cool guy, but do we really know? The answer to this can be summed up in two letters and a last name: OJ Simpson.

If you are old enough to remember what happened in 1994, a celebrity doing something stupid should never be a “shocker”. On June 12, 1994, the entire notion of a public persona was hacked to death by a charismatic and “family-friendly” former All-Pro running back. Simpson was considered such a nice guy that James Cameron turned him down to star in “Terminator” because he felt that no one would believe that OJ Simpson could kill anyone.

So while our own personal privacy is going out the window by one of our own hands, the other is trying to rip down the privacy of others. At the very least, America has always been a land of interesting dichotomies.

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