by Eileen | 11:37 am, January 15, 2013 | Comments Off
When I heard that Lance Armstrong was prepared to admit what we’ve all known for years, my immediate thought was that the looming Mea Culpa was a bid for attention and praise. Armstrong’s favorite drug is praise. If he can’t be adored as a winner, he’ll scramble onto a new podium as America’s favorite personality of all – the reformed sinner.
As the AP phrased it, “The confession was a stunning reversal for a proud athlete and celebrity who sought lavish praise in the court of public opinion and used courtrooms to punish his critics.” I agree with all of it save describing the hero’s about-face as ‘stunning’. Was it ever really that unpredictable that Armstrong would take this step to remain in the limelight?
Since being stripped of his Tour de France titles and banned from cycling for life, what have we heard about him? The media decided he was boring but, this morning, here we are, talking about him again. He’d prefer to be famous as a man of nearly supernatural accomplishment and discipline. Baring that, he’d like to play the wrongly accused gentle giant – condemned by jealous, petty men who can’t stand to be in his shadow, nobly holding his head high in spite of accusations on all sides, serene in knowledge of his purity – the once and future king calmly awaiting vindication. But he can hardly play that corny role if no one is hovering about and chronicling his stoicism.
What defines, and has always defined, Lance Armstrong is a willingness to do anything for the praise and admiration of the crowd. That’s why he’s in this spot in the first place. Now, unable to maintain the fiction that suits him any longer, he’s trying to create a new myth – one in which he’s still the protagonist.
Naturally, he at long last confirmed his doping to Oprah, that lumpy mistress of a bizarre alternate reality where profoundly ordinary people seek deification for their failure, a charlatan dispensing forgiveness for sins committed against other people, she-who simultaneously denies such a things as ‘Judgment’ exists wile arrogating to herself the right to judge all comers.
Obviously, there are mundane motivations at play, as well. Having lost all his endorsements, forbidden by legal fiat from ever pedaling for cash again, Armstrong needs money. Several people who previously paid him large sums to settle libel suits are seeking the return of their money, the prodigal son himself having confirmed they were right, all along. A case in progress concerning fraud against the U.S. Postal Team could see Armstrong opening his checkbook again. Oprah’s network, a ode to ego on a par with the great architectural boondoggles of antiquity, isn’t doing so well, either. At this point, she doesn’t know where her next custom yacht with extra-wide hallways is coming from. Too, she’s every bit the attention whore he is. He’ll pretend to be sorry and she’ll pretend to sympathize and everyone else will just melt.
But the big story here is that Armstrong hasn’t changed. He made his first career on milking peoples’ emotions while engaging in grotesque fraudulence. And that’s precisely how he intends to build a new life. To our discredit, we Americans have a perverse delight in this sort of melodrama. We like the idea of giving a sinner a second chance so much that some people get second, and third, chances before others have properly had a shot at all.
At our worst, we behave as if the intelligent and savvy man finally admitting his dishonesty only when it won’t cost him anything, finally doing the right thing after freely choosing to do the wrong thing for years, deserves our adulation. Armstrong risks nothing by coming clean at this late date. He’s got no skin in this game.
For Lance Armstrong, this move could only help him, and that makes it difficult, to say the least, to believe so much as a word of his heartrending confession has real regret behind it. There are already rumors that his lifetime ban could be reduced if he identifies other involved in doping in cycling. He’ll certainly get an ego boost on the back of the same ilk of people who bought his idiotic rubber bracelets, which came neatly packaged with the highly suspect storyline, at the height of Armstrong’s cycling career.
That people who first worshiped him for achieving the impossible will now return to the alter because he’s admitted it was all theater is testimony to a pair of deeply human needs. We need to believe that miracles happen to other people, for how else could they happen to us? And we need to believe that other people can do the unthinkable and still be embraced. If Armstrong can pull off this comeback, the rest of us can get away with anything.
What we ought to be doing is ignoring yet another stunt from an aging showman. The evidence – of his doping and his character – was already overwhelming. Hardly a revelation, this. No, before us stands a terrible man keening for our attention and approval. The interview has yet to broadcast. Still, I’ll bet good money it will high on self-pity. Armstrong will trot out the standard tropes – pressure to win, everyone was doing it, no real choice, too young to know better, you don’t understand the culture – blah, blah, blah. Oprah will nod and purr and murmur. There will likely be something about how the culture is at fault – shame on us for feting excellence and winners, for we pushed a poor buy down a dangerous path.
Oprah’s brand has always relied heavily on wildly contradictory praise for the will and vilification of external pressures as it suits the narrative, already proofed, printed, and circulated; usually, people get to claim free will to the exact extent that it makes them look good. Which is the same as pattering on about the courage of their convictions only when it took no courage to act as they did and ascribing everything else to that damn external pressure. Largely absent from the Oprah-verse are people who did the right thing when it took rare courage and who paid for it. For one thing, they don’t make good television.
We’re terrified of what those people might tell us and what they might ask us to consider about ourselves and what our future actions will be. We say we seek meaning, but we usually won’t go further than looking for it in easy places. We like – really, really like – certain ‘pressure’, for it allows us to do as we wish and disown responsibility. Oprah and her ilk pressure us to buy new shoes because we’re worth it, as if putting a pair of Manolo Blahniks on the credit card is some noble statement. That sort of ‘be the best you that you’ve ever been’ pablum almost never asks us to consider forgoing goodies in the short term and is even less likely to ask us to think about how our actions affect others, about what our responsibilities to our fellow men might be. The pressure of a genuinely moral man challenging us to try the hard road? Frankly, that terrifies most of us.
The man Armstrong should have been? That guy probably does exist. A kid with some cycling talent but not enough to go pro unless he doped. That kid was given an ultimatum and chose not to take drugs. After that moment, his calls went unreturned and he now has a simple life in the vast American suburbs. He probably rides his bike for fun and worries about paying the bills. He knows he did the right thing, but he lacks money, fame, and cache. Maybe, given the choice again, he’d fill his veins with drugs and his mouth with lies. But maybe he’d make the same choice again.
Few people – certainly not Oprah – want to tell the story of a person who made a free will choice to do the right thing and paid for it. For one thing, showing the rest of us the true cost of acting morally can be disheartening. For another, too many stories like that could trigger real examination of why we reward bad behavior. Perhaps on the level of isolated, individual cases, more people might start to meditate deeply on where we really ought to search for our value – popularity among strangers or a certain level of inwardness.
Praise for PPC From Our Lefty "Fan"
- "Zany-ass bombast-entertainment...Hackneyed weirdo communist pseudo-nostalgia" --Alan Franklin, ProgressNow
- PPC Training for Activists
UPDATE: Something apparently got messed up with the PayPal buttons during this past weekend’s database glitch – fixed now. Yes, it’s that time again — PPC will be conducting training classes for center-right activists on Saturday, April 20 and Saturday, April 27, at Independence Institute in Denver. The tentative class schedule is as follows: Saturday, [...]
- Holder’s First Letter to Paul Precipitates the Best Filibuster Ever
- The Lamest Twitter Argument Ever Offered?
- Return of the PPC Re-Education Camps – You Know You Want to Be There
- Supreme Courts Blesses Warrantless Surveillance of Citizens in a Kafkaesque Farce
- GOP Elite and the Ruling Class
- Do We Now Get to Call Joe Salazar a “Rapist”?