Saturday, February 20, 2010

Role Models

More sports. Tiger Woods, yesterday, apologized in a staged, scripted thirteen minute video delivery in a broadcast which probably pulled as many viewers as the Fab Four in their first Ed Sullivan appearance. It was boring, and maybe Woods was sincerely contrite, but I found myself, during its replay, muttering, "why should anyone believe you?", to several points he addressed, since he's obviously been a practiced, successful, relentless liar to his wife and kids for years.

There are many intriguing angles to the Woods' soap opera, but I'm interested here in something Woods said, because most everyone seems to believe -- with Woods -- in the premise of the issue: that not only is it OK, even cool and right, that sports stars should be role models for children, but that the notion of role models is, itself, worthy, even necessary.

I don't get it. This seems one of those deeply personal beliefs based on what each has learned, felt, experienced in those wonderfully chancy days when our minds more resembled the simplistic developmental philosophy of Rousseau than that of conformist Oedipal Lacanians. For purposes of time and economical effort, one sports anecdote will suffice, though I could easily produce many more. I remember attending a hockey game at the old Vancouver Forum (PNE grounds) where the Canucks played in the now defunct Western Hockey League. I was around nine, with my older brother, and after viewing the testy contest (several fights), we ventured down to the first row where the Canucks were leaving the bench to the tunnel to the dressing room. Some middle-aged guy yelled to Canucks' journeyman Hank Cahan something like, "Hey, Cahan, ya chicken shit, why don't ya ever stick up for yer teammates?" Cahan, looking up: "come down to ice level and say that, you fuckin' yellow cunt!". Now, as a boy already in love with manipulating words on paper, I admired Cahan's vigour, cadence, ironical swiftness, and concision. Poetry, not didacticism.

Woods could have learned a valuable lesson, from Cahan or someone similar, in speaking from the heart and related viscera were he still in his formative years. Instead, Woods grinds out the cliches, references his fall from Buddhism (??), doesn't talk with his carefully selected audience, and basically reveals nothing. Behaviour to emulate?

In happier circumstances, my admiration was reserved for those absorbed in the moment who demonstrated rather than pontificated, who were joyful, unassuming, exploratory. I could rarely apply those latter adjectives to the big'uns. And frequently the ethical authority of adults, which supposedly made up for the dour demeanor, collapsed. Hypocrisy has been a particular pet peeve of mine since I was a child. Which generation should be filled with lively role models to which?

A long time ago I read an account of a man who recalled a conversation with a Judaic scholar who explained that Moses' "thou shalt nots" were mistranslated and misunderstood. "Thou would not .... if" is more accurate, meaning we don't abstain from murder, infidelity, thieving, etc., because of God's command, but because it is in our own nature not to do those things. We don't need to be protected from our dark side, the nonsense of "original sin", we just have to trust our own natural ethics. People are or do good, and an extrinsic code is credited. But the code is just a setting down after the fact of who we are in our day-to-day lives before any morals are agonizing over and wrestled with.

Kids, adolescents, even adults, don't need role models, they need heroes. Heroes are flawed, that is to say, human. But they have many qualities missing in the plodding, virtuous crew. Even an athletic machine crushing dimpled white balls could be one. Aside from his family, Woods doesn't owe anyone an apology. Except for being insufferable.

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