Olivarius: Fame and infidelity

Culture Quotient

On Friday, Tiger Woods gave a 14-minute-long press conference, apologizing to his friends, family, associates and America, for his sexual transgressions. The apology was heartfelt, as well as scripted, long and awkward. He sounded robotic and he didn’t take questions.

America loves scandal, more so when sex is involved. Tiger Woods is the latest installment in a series of sexual misadventures that are blogged, Tweeted, Buzzed and fawned over by the media. We couldn’t love it more — the sudden fall of someone who rose so high.

But Tiger is not an elected politician, he is a golfer. So why do we care so much? He was a role model and was handsomely compensated for it.

Tiger’s brand was his perfection: an indomitable competitor and upstanding family man. Nike, Accenture and Gillette, among many, invested many millions of dollars in equating their products with this perfect image. According to researchers at the University of California-Davis, Tiger’s philandering lost those investors $12 billion.

If things continue this way, Timothy Geithner will definitely be forced to bail them out.

The media certainly won’t: hypocrisy is, apparently, the one thing it can’t stomach. Luckily, Tiger isn’t facing reelection, just sex rehab and then a warm welcome back to the greens, at a date to be determined. Sure, the companies that have lost billions on Tiger might not be eager to renew their contracts (though some have stuck by him), but his career isn’t in jeopardy.

His brand is, and I hear that Axe is suddenly very interested.

Tiger’s scandal follows dozens of others from those of the Kennedys to the ones of your neighbors. But we still seem shocked. Perhaps, we shouldn’t be; sociologists at the University of Chicago reported that one in four men and one in six women have had extramarital sex based on their National Health and Social Life Survey.

Yet, Americans continue to view personal morality and values as important characteristics for politicians, movie stars and athletes. They can’t just act, hit a golf ball or make policy. Instead, their life and your personal choices are a matter of scrutinized public record. When they fail to live up our standards, whether or not they can bounce back depends both on their charisma and the type of reputation on which their career was made.

Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina on his extramarital affair with an Argentinean woman: “I’ve spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina.” John Edwards, once a presidential hopeful, cheated on his sick wife with campaign videographer Rielle Hunter and made a sex tape and had a baby with her. Eliot Spitzer paid young women thousands of dollars for sex.

All three men have apologized — Edwards even told reporters they could beat him up because they “cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up myself.” All three have kissed their aspiring political futures goodbye. But above all, they have been labeled huge hypocrites. And rightfully so. Spitzer’s ascent came, in part, from his hard stance on prostitution and his assertion that it is a crime against women. Sanford played himself as an upright, religious man and then used government money to pay for trips to his mistress.

But while the media and the public condemned these men to lives in the private sector, both have been quite forgiving under similar circumstances. Congress impeached Bill Clinton for lying under oath about his infidelities with an intern. He left office in 2001 with an approval rating of 66 percent, higher than any president since World War II. David Letterman, host of CBS’s “Late Show,” slept with women on his staff. He apologized, and has since escaped, not only his own affairs, but potential charges of sexual harassment. And unlike Conan and Leno, no one is trying to push him out any time soon.

What’s the catch? Why can Clinton womanize and come away more popular than before his scandal, while Edwards is fed to the dogs? I like to think of it as the Hugh Grant factor — with enough charisma, eloquence and cheekiness, anyone can get away with a few indiscretions.

It is hard to dislike Letterman and Clinton (especially as a liberal, but even as a conservative). They made themselves — and then saved themselves — by talking. Letterman openly discussed his affairs in a funny apology to begin his show before the story broke. Clinton lied about the Lewinsky scandal and tried to cover it up, but Hillary wasn’t dying and the country had just posted its first budget surplus in nearly 30 years; he, like Letterman could charm his way out of it.

Most importantly, neither Letterman nor Clinton pretended to be saints. There were rumors of Clinton’s affairs dating back to his days as governor. Letterman has a famously foul mouth and makes a living roasting people. Neither made themselves by pretending to be straight shooters, so their overarching message wasn’t contradicted by their penises.

Where Tiger is in all of this is unclear. He will go back to golf, and he will remain rich. But the real question is whether his brand — his perfect “political” image— can recover. To be sure, he had all the makings of a saint. But maybe if he doesn’t try to play the perfect victim, if he stops being an apology automaton, the media will let him off — the charm that got him in trouble to begin with might help get him out.

Kathryn Olivarius is a junior in Branford College.


  • Chase Olivarius-McAllister

    Whomever is the author of this conspicuously brave, and uncommonly arresting column – that manages, somehow, both to hail the courage of American soldiers in Iraq, yet still seem soaked with the blood of literary genius – deserves full-throated commendation.

    Is not the column a symbol of our national decline? Are there, or are there not, so many tragedies of opinion in the opinion pages of every once-glorious newspaper?

    And yet, there is this column: here and now. Contrary to our collective powers of reason and to the totality of human experience, despite the cruelty of law and the imperatives of nature, this column has, by someone, somewhere, been achieved.

    I am moved, and wish, with my soul, to confess it now. But who can but be moved? Who of us would dare to say the feelings that this column inspires are our own, rather than those of us, the people?

    It is the singlehanded triumph of belief over cynicism; of the American family over the post-modern orphan.

    I know I cannot say I am moved; I know this, as I have argued it. Yet, I cannot prevent myself from making an altogether more harrowing confession: I am honored.

    Again, the author of this column must, for all our sakes, be commended.

  • More like this one

    This is a great article, like all of the recent ones written by Olivarius. Baumgartner’s pieces have been excellent too. Please continue to find excellent opinion writers like these and stop publishing the garbage. You’re getting better at picking pieces.

  • Yale 08

    Why is it so hard to grasp the connection b/w personal morality and public responsibility?

    If my senator cheats on his wife, and on his taxes, why would I not expect him to be corrupt in his legislative duties?

  • good stuff

    Ha — axe. And the private sector. This is funny. Well done.

  • YWC ’11

    Morality is a societal device constructed by a patriarchal theocracy to keep womyn “in their place”. We need to transcend the shackles of this oppressive mentality and seek a greater understanding of what it really means to be human.

  • Chase Olivarius-McAllister

    In light of the tremendous vitriol, insult, and disingenuous uproar that political machines, on both the left and the right, and throughout America, have poured on this invaluable column, I must, again, say that it is urgent that the author of this column be commended.

  • To Chase O


  • Chase Olivarius-McAllister

    To the groups, or persons, who continue to barrage this glowing column with vindictive, spurious, and politically motivated critiques: call off your dogs. The extent to which you are willing to go – and to which you have already gone – to make the author of this truly laudable column the victim of your agenda is intolerable, simply intolerable. Have not one of you any shame?

    To the author of this column: their defamation is your triumph; let it not silence you.

  • duh

    All men are, of course, evil

  • saybrook997

    According to the op-ed piece, all that older men have to do to degrade some young women is talk liberal and be charming or funny to the rest of them. Hence, Clinton’s world’s most embarrassing sex scandal–using a 21-year-old to wet his cigar. Would liberal women also say to any Republican who did that: “I’m charmed”?

    Why the hypocrisy? Are you telling Yale men, just say that you support women’s rights, abortion, women on federal courts and in federal executive positions, and what some of you do doesn’t really matter to YWC and the new liberal women, if you are “charming” and “cheeky” about it.

    This article answers a Yale woman’s question on another board about impersonal hookups: “Why are [Yale] women willingly sleeping with men who treat women as sex objects?

    The men must be talking liberal to the women, and for the new liberals and new feminists that makes it “hard to dislike.”

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