WASHINGTON - The feeding frenzy over Tiger Woods' tiny run-in with a fire hydrant has taken voyeurism to new depths.
Where was he going at 2:25 in the morning? Why wasn't he wearing shoes? Why was his wife smashing his Cadillac Escalade's window with a nine-iron?
Prying minds apparently want to know all this and more. And the insatiable, ubiquitous media - from the bloviating blogosphere to the cackling cable commentariat - are all too happy to oblige.
Might we interrupt this terribly unimportant episode in the private life of a professional golfer to point out that it's nobody's business? This isn't breaking news. This is breaking gossip.
The news ended with the report that Woods had run into a fire hydrant outside his Windermere, Fla., home and has decided not to play in his own tournament because of minor injuries suffered. That should be a wrap.
Instead, enter the experts, thousands of whom must reside in an underground bunker near the television studios -either awaiting the next calamity or, perhaps, zipping out releases to newsrooms suggesting fresh story angles.
I get a dozen a day: If you're thinking of writing about Such-and-Such, you might be interested in talking to So-and-So.
Thus, crisis management experts are filling airtime, yakking about what Woods should do to salvage his public image. The rumors, after all, could be true!
Pssst: He might have been having an affair. Psssst: His wife might have smashed the window in anger rather than trying to get him out of the car.
You see, Woods, the richest athlete on Planet Earth, has had an idyllic image and now it's been tarnished by - what? Innuendo and whispers by that scurrilous wormtongue, Anonymous.
The notion that Woods owes America an explanation is based only on the fact that he is a celebrity. Meaning, some percentage of Americans worship him, or at least his amazing talent, and thus feel entitled to scrutinize his private life. His enormous success - 71 PGA Tour victories, including 14 major championships and a billion in earnings from winnings and product endorsements - makes him a sort of public endowment from which gawkers expect dividends. They've tithed at the altar of Tiger Woods and they expect confessions in return.
Celebrity-obsession is cut from the same cloth as identity politics. Tiger is not one of us, clearly, but he is of us - one of those unique characters in American history who make us feel good about ourselves. A human melting pot, he's the American Dream personified, who grew up in our living rooms, breaking records and hearts along the way.
We boosted him to Mount Olympus. How dare he descend and bleed?
Celebrity in America no longer means that one is admired for accomplishment. It means ownership by the masses. The stars may twinkle, but their reflection depends on the upturned gaze of those with dustier feet. As all gladiators know, the people are fickle. Like Caesar, they give a thumbs up or thumbs down in response to their own narcissistic injury. By denying the rumorists entry to his inner sanctum, Woods has invited a gathering of crows.
It gives solace to believe that most Americans don't really think someone's personal problems are any of their concern. Tiger isn't running for public office, after all. He isn't leading a congregation to the moral high ground. He's not trading trust for public funds, except to the extent that people willingly pay to watch him do what no other human can.
Might we think less of him should details emerge that confirm the rumors? To each his own. But someone, somewhere along this dark path to lost privacy needs to shout, No more.
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