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Transgressing with Tiger: The Fall of Mr. Perfect

Transgressing with Tiger: The Fall of Mr. Perfect

It has been called the spoiling of a good walk and similar to watching flies fornicate, but golf has decided to provide a touch of entertainment for the rest of us. And it should come as little surprise that it has nothing to do with golf itself. But it has everything to do with a golfer, a certain tarnished, crestfallen Tiger Woods, seen, at least till now, as an immortal on the circuit.

Off the field, sporting personalities have a habit of spectacular implosion. They throw stray punches; they take to the bottle or the cocaine; they get irritated by the lawful deadlock of marriage. Woods, till now, has been above that, a figure of composition, almost mechanical, and deeply private. He has been termed a ‘golfing geek’, the supreme technician almost glacial in his application.

Then came the chinks in his seemingly impregnable armour. A car crash, followed by his confession to ‘transgressions’ and ‘personal failings’ that affected his family. In time, the errant celebrity was tried before some fictitious tribunal of public opinion, to be judged and crucified. This remains the core problem with celebrity in the modern world, one tackled in part in Leo Braudy’s Frenzy of Renown: A History of Fame. How are the personalities and morals of a very public figure to be gauged, if at all? The origins of this lie in what Braudy calls the ‘Judaeo-Christian attack against Roman standards of public glory.’ As Jacqueline Rose argued in a piece for the London Review of Books (20 Aug, 1998), the conferral of fame becomes ‘either an appropriate manifestation of public valour and dignity, or a self-violation and affront to our true inner worth’.

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The craving of the public figure to privacy, the claims to a hidden world that Woods has attempted and failed to realize, demonstrate another aspect of the celebrity problem. The assertion to that serene domain patched up by children and spouse, the concealed, safe creation, is itself intrinsic to celebrity, the acme of its make-up.

Fans want to see their demigod of the green, one who performs in a sport the critic A.A. Gill described as worse than cannibalism, as painfully straight. Crookedness is never allowed to intervene. What is shocking about the Woods ‘transgression’ to followers is that he could transgress at all, that his manifestation of public virtue, the highpoint, could itself come tumbling down, sullied by very earthly cravings. That cravings should somehow take residence in bedroom gymnastics, the old dance across the chaise lounge, is indicative of how the public view a private deviation. To transgress is to taste forbidden fruit.

Celebrity acts as a substitute for the cult of sainthood. It creates followers, loyal creatures who become extensions, rather than identities, of the celebrated. The celebrity’s transgression against himself or his relatives, in Woods’ case, becomes one against the collective, a trespass.

The Fourth Estate, or what’s left of it, also want a response. If the media is there to be wooed, to be spun, turned and manipulated, they expect results. People such as Woods are on a plane of worth that demands different ethical considerations. He is seen as having a responsibility to his fans. The same goes for his corporate masters. A man so webbed and entangled in sponsorship deals, with an enormous public profile fuelled by large receipts is expected to entertain the media representatives who promote him, and pay lip service to his fan base. On the golf course, he is sovereign; off it, a hired taxi of company promotions.

The interest in Woods is deeply distasteful and says nothing for his golfing credentials. It may be puerile in some ways. It is entirely appropriate on one level to demand he be tried for his skills in putting rather than his prowess in petting. But he is not a golfer on a quiet local circuit boring his friends to death with deficient stroke play. Celebrity has intruded, a fact he has fully colluded with. Once that happened, the irritating, and nauseating intrusions of bedroom antics and private loyalties, were inevitable. The bank balances will tell whether the ‘transgression’ was worth it.


Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:

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