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O Brave New World that has such scandals in it

Not that I care about Tiger Woods or his sex life, but I was reading Joe Posnanski’s blog (because I care about Mr. Posnanski, even if I don’t care about Tiger Woods) and he was discussing the idea that in a pre-TMZ world, Mr. Woods might still be winning golf tournaments—he compares Prince Hal and Tiger, Prince Hal not being the fifth Henry to be King of England but Hal Sutton, who evidently was a brilliant young golfer who succumbed to the Wild Life. Mr. Posnanski’s point was that Ms. Sutton’s Wild Life in the mid-eighties was not reported, or reported only in the vaguest terms, while Tiger Woods had a ton of quite specific reports starting with the National Enquirer story back around Thanksgiving.

My first reaction—I have two, so far, and for all I know will have a third before I finish writing my second, but this was my first—is that if, as certainly seems to be the case, the affairs of Mr. Woods are, at this early-twenty-first century moment, the subject of newspaper and web reporting and public speculation, whereas Babe Ruth, John Kennedy and Mickey Mantle were just sort of vaguely known to be cocksmen, without having newspapers print interviews with anyone they slept with, then surely Mr. Woods knows that. I mean, he is part of that cultural shift as much as I am, right? So if the norms have changed, then he knows it as much as I do—more, presumably, as he is younger than I am.

The point here is that, in some way, I tend to give a bit of a break to Bill Clinton and Baby Boomer men who grew up in a world where rich and powerful men got to sleep with their secretaries as one of the perks. Not a total break, because, after all, a secretary is not a toy, but a tiny bit of one. They are fully responsible for their actions, yes, and also they have had to deal with shifting norms about fidelity, privacy and consent. But for the last ten years or more, since before Mr. Woods won his first professional tournament, it has been clear that (a) not only tabloids but broadsheet newspapers will report on prominent and powerful people having affairs, and infidelity can cause career-shaking scandal. I would probably put it back to 1992, which is before Mr. Woods graduated high school, but even if the shift of norms happened after Mr. Woods lost his virginity, by the time he was rich and powerful and promiscuous, it was clear that even rich and powerful men could be exposed and punished for promiscuity (women, of course, operated under different norms back in the fifties, and although I don’t know that a newspaper would have printed a story about a female public figure who slept with a dozen different men, such a woman would certainly not have felt safe from exposure) (and, equally of course, the norms about same-sex screwing were also different, whether with many partners or just one; imagine if a dozen men, including prostitutes and porn stars, were claiming to have had sex with Mr. Woods).

Anyway, that was my first reaction, that if in one sense Mr. Woods gets a different and harsher treatment than Mr. Sutton or Mr. Mantle or H.G. Wells, it’s not like this should be a surprise to him, as if he had been sleeping around in the 1930s and got suddenly time-shifted. Note to any Gentle Readers on the verge of riches and fame: your sexual life may well be public news; conduct yourself accordingly. Mr. Woods did not.

My second reaction, though, is that—damn, Tiger Woods had clearly been fucking around for ten years without anybody publishing it, why wouldn’t he think he could keep getting away with it. Maybe the story is not that in the TMZ era the Tiger Woods story gets plastered over the news and results in a divorce and quite possibly a wrecked career, but that even in the TMZ era, Tiger Woods could have sex with prostitutes and porn stars without anybody knowing about it for years and years and years. Mr. Posnanski has written about this before, as has Charlie Pierce—how it was pretty obvious to a bunch of sportswriters that Mr. Woods was a skirt-chaser, and that it was also pretty obvious to them that anybody who wrote that in a story would never get an interview with Mr. Woods again, which would not be good for the old career.

Which is exactly the norm that existed for Mickey Mantle. Well, that was part of it, and there were strings that could be pulled at the editorial level, which probably still exist, and more strings at the publisher/corporate level, which probably still exist, too. The difference in the TMZ era is that TMZ and Deadspin and a bunch of other sites don’t need to ever interview anyone again, and also don’t have editors and publishers, really, which limits the power of the powerful. Except that the reason they don’t need to interview anyone again is that they never have interviewed anyone. They don’t know the stuff that the sportswriters know. They didn’t know that Tiger Woods was living the Wild Life, so they didn’t put it on the web. Which makes a difference in thinking about the TMZ era.

I guess that’s the second reaction, and I haven’t had a third one yet. Except that I think there is still, probably, a substantially influential social norm that rich and powerful men get to sleep with a lot of different women, and that this variety of sexual partners is part of what it means to be rich and powerful, and that it is also a social norm that such men are to be vilified for doing so, if we find out about it.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Honestly, I don't know that you've nailed the exact social norm that has changed. I think what specifically happened in Mr. Woods' case is that his wife tried to beat his ass in a way that caused a tremendous ruckus. That got into the news, and then once his sex life was newsworthy for reasons of spectacle, then a standard was applied. But the lesson here is not so much, "as a public figure, your sexual life may well be public news; conduct yourself accordingly," (imao) but rather something along the lines of, "as a public figure, making a spectacle of yourself may open any or every element of your life to public scrutiny; conduct yourself accordingly."

The thing here being spectacle. Nobody much gives a crap about John Edwards or Al Gore or that other guy, the southern governor whatsit with the mistress from South America or whatever. We know about them, sure. We wince, sure. But we don't give a crap, except to the extent that it became a spectacle. Sure, a governor going AWOL to be with his mistress - wow. But an actual physical, public fight between a beautiful Swede and a fleeing husband in an SUV? Spectacle.


You could be right, although the Incident that caused the fuss happened after the first bimbo eruption, so there's that. And they have sold an awful lot of People Magazine issues with crap about Senator Edwards on the cover, too. But it's true that the bizarreness of the Incident had a lot to do with it, and I suppose there wouldn't have been any point in warning public figures not to have the SUV window smashed by their supermodel wives with their golf clubs. Or, perhaps more important, not have have that as the story reported, whatever actually happened.


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