I slept with Tiger Woods. Unfortunately for my lawyer and my bank account, it was Tiger’s picture on my laptop that I fell asleep with, as I read about his sixth paramour. Now, two days later, it’s up to 10 women. I should have quit reading, called a lawyer and said I slept with Tiger; my student loans could be paid off by now.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I am Tiger’s type, even in an Ambien-induced haze! In the revelation of Tiger Woods’ multiple extramarital affairs, sin and marriage have been on my mind.
In Tiger’s statement to his fans, he began with: “I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart. I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves.” Transgressions, last time I checked, is a fancy Oxford English Dictionary word for sin. To see the golf demi-god fall prey to the lust of the flesh and the pride of his perfect life, is like watching Icarus implode. His ten (and counting) transgressions have erupted into a media fest of schadenfreude. Like a demi-god however, Tiger’s feet, and his other unprotected organ of clay are exposed for world-wide public display. His parade of cocktail waitresses, hostesses, and models, with a porn star thrown in for good measure, are the pinnacle of a year filled with remorseful men walking the Appalachian adultery trail—from John Edwards the baby daddy to Mark Sanford and John Ensign. There is even a new television show about how to cope with your famous cheating husband, called “The Good Wife.”
So what does this have to do with religion? A good deal. Because the same “transgression” Tiger refers to happened within the institution of marriage, the media feeding frenzy is at fever pitch. Americans worship marriage through their beliefs, (religious or not) television shows, and most importantly, their laws. Marriage is either civic engagement, or a religious ideal. Sometimes it is one or the other, sometimes neither, depending on whom you ask. Whatever it may be, it has occupied the American psyche, from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter to the Tiger-Elin Woods gawkfest.
From the President and First Lady on down the chain of citizenship, we are preoccupied with an idealized vision of marriage, and the danger and excitement of infidelity. Signs and statistics however, point to an erosion of the institution of marriage and its meaning. Conservatives refer to marriage as a sacred institution, for heterosexuals only, and liberals refer to it as a right for all, straight or gay, which should be easily dissolvable if the couple so chooses. The struggles over same sex marriage are embedded in a version of this heterosexual marriage bond that demands fidelity and fealty to the marriage contract. Never mind that the notion of romantic love in marriage is about 150 yrs old. The elevation of marriage as both symbol and sign of being “complete” transcends race, gender and culture, and as such, it is a specter that we can not get away from, whether we believe in it or not.
So when the media pounces on a famous couple’s failing marriage, the media confessional goes into action. Confession used to be a thriving religious business: St Peter’s basilica was built with funds that were used to purchase indulgences for forgiveness of sins! The desire to confess fueled Augustine’s Confessions, one of the classics of Western literature and religion. Nowadays, the confessional is Oprah’s couch, Larry King, or Barbara Walters, if you are famous. For those of us who are not: reality shows, Maury Povitch or Jerry Springer will suffice.
If, as in Tiger’s case, you reject the media confessional, the media will go to your accomplices to get the story, true, or not. In Tiger’s case, instead of seeing a pained Elin Woods play her role as aggrieved wife still standing by his side, we are wading through slide shows of his mistresses, listening to their recorded messages and their stories of trysts in the church parking lot. Not to mention the myriad of homemade jokes, reenactments, and viral videos their revelations have spawned. By the time Tiger decides to talk, if ever, we will have heard his story from everyone else except him. Perhaps more galling to his image, he’s turned from a mixed race Cablinasian to a black guy lying on the pavement, as he was described in the policeman’s report. It would take another article to go into detail about why all of a sudden he is just an oversexed black athlete, but if you are interested, you can go back to the archives for Tiger’s role in the process.
What really irks me about all of this frenzy is that the preoccupation in America with marriage as a religious, social and romantic ideal, rather than a legal and social relationship/partnership available to EVERYONE who is committed to another person, of legal age, and willing to enter into the contract no matter what their sex or sexual orientation. (Love might be a bonus, seriously.) Marriage is held up as the panacea for every social ill, as long as it is between one man and one woman. This idealized marriage relationship becomes the reason why homosexuality is frowned upon, same-sex marriage is banned, and singleness is looked upon as a curse to be cured with Match.com or Eharmony. It is striking that many of the news commentaries lament that Tiger had everything: a beautiful wife, kids and a great career. Clearly, given his serial philandering, he had some issues, none of which were solved by marriage. In fact, marriage probably brought them to the forefront.
Clearly, Tiger’s inner frat boy pimp was still operational.
In my estimation, Tiger’s transgressions are not simply about breaking his marriage vow, (both to Elin and the corporation) but his treatment of women overall. By not being forthcoming about his intentions only to have “sexual” relationships, his refusal to wear a condom, and flying women along for “sex tourism”, Tiger treated the many women in his life as receptacles for his pent-up sexuality, exposing them indiscriminately to STDs.
Helping oneself to the “help” shows his narcissism, and a nasty sexist and classist streak. Yes, they all were willing partners, but interestingly enough, all of them thought they were “the one”—which speaks to the level of deception he was engaged in. Therein lies the problem with the media confessional: it cannot confer absolution, nor a moral core that understands that all of these women are human beings—especially his wife, who gave up her life to play 10th fiddle in his sex sideshow.
Marriage was about doing the thing that was “politically and socially” correct, played for the cameras, the gullible public, and the Tiger Woods golf corporate complex. He probably did not think his coterie of women were smart enough to obtain lawyers, PR reps and payouts. He may be one of a few men who not only has a costly divorce, but also a number of costly payouts to the many women who thought they at least had a long shot at being Mrs. Woods II.
With all of the cash flow going out instead of in, my prediction is that Tiger will look for a moral bailout soon. The rumor mill suggests that his handlers want him to sit down at the feet of the ultimate confessor, Mother Oprah. Or perhaps he can dictate a ghostwritten tome of repentance and rebirth, like Augustine of Hippo. Somehow, unlike Augustine, I don’t think Tiger will write, nor become a Bishop, unless he has hands laid on him by Bishop Magic Don Juan.