Tiger, the Media, and Writers
We should be concerned that Tiger Woods and his serial infidelities strikes us as more important—certainly more enthralling—than healthcare, the environment, the U.S.’s tandem wars, joblessness, AIDS, Mexico’s drug cartels, terrorism, and perhaps many other topics of note.
NEWSWEEK magazine published a thoughtful article this week (inspired by Tiger) on the phenomenon of celebrity. The author, Neal Gabler, does a good job of plumbing our many psyches in terms of our fascination with such train wrecks as Tiger’s. He posits that the celebrity phenomenon—a three-way interaction between a “personality”, the media, and those of us who partake of the media—is at its basis a narrative. Meaning that each Tiger, Michael Jackson, Brad-Jen-Angelina, or Paris Hilton episode tells us something about ourselves. That such three-way phenomena in society more or less define society itself in ways that in turn help us to understand who and what we are in terms of the world we live in.
Gabler has given us a good deal to chew on here. For the writers among us, taking note of his so-called narratives can be something of a godsend, I suppose—allowing us to plop our characters and plots into the most contemporary of settings. But at the risk of being the fellow who cried wolf, I see peril in embracing such celebrity-based narratives as reflections of both our lives and our art.
Gabler admits that while such narratives occur ad infinitum, they constantly change, morph, re-invent. This makes of these narratives something of a societal fashion show—what’s relevant narrative-wise today is passé tomorrow. We as writers can of course choose to work within such style-driven moments, but this risks our writing being irrelevant a year or so down the road. Most of us, I imagine, wish to dig deeper, portray the moment’s fashion in a grander context, something as relevant to Fielding’s time as to Hemingway’s or Roth’s.
The most visible of our so-called post-modern writers, such as Pynchon and Wallace, create stories that are parodies of our need to apply such narratives to our lives in meaningful ways. Others, such as DeLillo and Auster, try to deconstruct the superficial sheen of our societies and to tie those shards together into something enduring.
If you’re with Wallace and Pynchon, fine. If you’re with DeLillo and Auster, perhaps what follows here may be relevant to your writing projects—and to you as a writer.
In my view, Tiger—and here I don’t wish to criticize the poor guy; he has enough on his plate right now in figuring out how the mundane nature of family and marriage fits with being the most preeminent athlete of our time—can serve as an example of such a deconstructive opening.
By most accounts, Tiger, in order to embellish his athletic abilities, was asked to step into a narrative invented ages ago to encapsulate the athletic ideal: a fiercely competitive, take-no-prisoners person who could compartmentalize such drive, along with consequent wealth and fame, and with “ordinary” life as husband, father, and son. But as the literature of modernity tells us, each of us—not just Tiger—is too complex as a personality to fit comfortably into such an archetypal groove.
What lies beneath such a narrative veneer as Tiger’s? One option would be a person who eventually becomes afraid of social “daylight.” That is, those aspects of his personality that don’t fit his or her merchandising image become to such an athlete darkside material.
Or the person embraces the image and begins to live it in all its superficiality.
Of the two, I think Tiger chose the former. (Of course, his being befriended by image-flouting types such as Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley didn’t help during the formative years of Tiger’s emergence as an image.)
Much could be made —in terms of modernistic or post-modernistic literature—of how such a person as Tiger might cope with image versus that individual’s reality, and I’ll leave that to you writers to portray. But a warning, dear writers:
Should you be fortunate enough to land an agent, enthrall an editor, amass a reader following, you’ll be asked somewhere in the process to step into an image. By now you know such images are static during their fleeting lives of relevance.
How many of you have had it drummed into you that in marketing your writing, you must sell “you”?
This is the MARKET’s urge to create—and ask you to live within—a predetermined image. To THE MARKET, your writing is only a contrivance, a means to place you into such an advertising image, to turn you into a product.
You’ve surely been told that personality drives the marketplace, that personality is the central element of success in writing, of fame, of literary wealth. Certainly that’s the preoccupation of humanity in our virtual, media-and-advertising world.
But if you choose to develop stories of an enduring nature, I can only ask you to consider living what you write and who you are—a complicated person occupying a complex life in an overwhelming world. You may be portrayed as something of a flake, but that’s only because you’re REAL, not image. And that’s something this world needs desperately to see and hear about.
Causes Bob Mustin Supports
Native American culture. Education. Creative writing.