LOS ANGELES — At times my loyalty to my chosen profession of journalism cannot be taken as a given. This is one of those times.
To put the matter in a quite unrefined way, the Tiger Woods psychodrama makes me sick, and besides turning my stomach, it is turning me into something close to a double agent. I am in danger of becoming a career journalist with such cavernous doubts about the values and virtues of journalism as all too frequently practiced in America that I am almost ready to spy for the enemy.
Yes, this is because of Tiger Woods. The transcendently great golfer let it all — or at least a lot of it — hang out in his public confession of serial sinning at an appearance more than a week ago before the so-called news media in Florida.
Please note that in America these days, a personalized, self-humiliating outing of any and all aspects of one’s private life has become par for the celebrity course. Nothing whatsoever is deemed to be out of bounds from the prying public eye. Tiger, a married man, had already admitted that, yes, he has been quite the swinger — and not just on the links.
That should have been more than enough to satisfy anyone, but the news media in attendance was not fully sated by the public self-hanging. They complained that the apology was too scripted and the sinner not pulling out his hair and fingernails. They were also deeply disappointed over Tiger’s unwillingness to take press questions. I don’t blame Woods for that at all!
My own view is that the more honorable course for Woods would have been not to agree to the press appearance in the first place. Having humiliated his wife, especially, and his larger family, secondarily, the need to humiliate them all yet again — on a staged media platform, no less — is simply incomprehensible.
The more ethical turn of face might be termed the honorable Asia way. In certain Asian ethical cultures, there is only one thing more dishonorable than dishonoring your wife: It’s admitting — in a public confession, no less — that you dishonored your wife.
Never admit, always deny: Protecting the honor of one’s family is the only right thing to do. Trying to rehabilitate one’s image — if perhaps to resume the lucrative commercial endorsement trail — is nothing less than narcissistic, selfish and dishonorable.
Somewhere in the genetic double-helix deeply embedded inside Woods, who after all is half Thai, is a “stoic-gene.” Let the news media report what it does, say what it does, conclude what it does; but for yourself: Don’t lie but don’t confirm.
A relevant Asian exemplar for this morality play comes in the stoic visage of the bored Japanese salesman Shohei Sugiyama in the luminous Japanese movie “Shall We Dansu?” (1996). It explains the nature of true passion for living without descending into melodramatic exploitation. The male protagonist Shohei (to tell the film’s charmingly romantic story as brief as possible here) becomes infatuated with ballroom dancing — a no-no in his culture) — and with his lithe dance instructor. He is sickened by these feelings for her and for his hobby, and terrified of anyone finding out for fear of shaming his wife.
(If you rent out this multiple- award-winning film, notice that in the end Shohei avoids doing a Tiger and not only saves his marriage but deepens it.)
How hard it must have been for the Thai half of Woods’ psyche to walk out there in the public eye and confess his sins to a media half of which would not have been there at all had he been a model husband.
The exploitative tendency of the American media improves nothing and decays everything. Instead of honoring thy father and the best features of our American culture, it honors only commercial standards and rampant degrading voyeurism.
Perhaps the biggest skirt in the history of American hypocrisy is the one called the First Amendment, behind which is hidden a media constantly drooling like a professional pack of hyenas.
As a journalist and an American, I had no interest in seeing Woods subject himself to a public whipping. Let me go further: My own view of the mess involving former President Bill Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky was that it was wholly overblown once it was established that the comforting young woman was not gainfully employed by any foreign security service — in contrast to the details that came out in the case of the 1963 Profumo scandal in England.
Certain matters should remain the monopoly of husband and wife. But the American media, as a whole, is incapable of behaving with a proper measure of restraint and class. I do wish we American journalists were better than this.
Former UCLA professor Tom Plate’s syndicated column in Asia is in its 16th year of publication. He has worked for the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and New York Magazine. © 2010 Pacific Perspectives Media Center
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