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You think you know Tiger Woods?

Tiger Woods's plea for privacy underscores the price of fame – and also our dangerous obsession with it.

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Do you know Tiger Woods? Of course you don't. But you that you do.

That's why you care so very much about Mr. Woods' apparent extramarital affairs, which have swirled around the golf star ever since his November 27 car crash near his Florida home.

And that's also why Woods' plea for privacy – posted on his website yesterday – sounds so poignant, and also so preposterous. Modern celebrities are defined by their public personas, which give us an imagined entryway into their private lives. Once we're inside, they can't expect us to leave.

Nobody knows that better than Woods, whose very request for privacy revealed just how public he has become. If this is really just a private matter between Woods and his family, why did he even release a statement about it?

And why, most of all, does the statement start with Woods' confessions about – you guessed it – his private indiscretions? "I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart," the statement begins. Privacy, indeed!

Remember, too, that our generation didn't invent celebrity. It dates to the early 20th century, when the first mass-marketed Hollywood blockbusters made us believe that we really "knew" Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Rudolph Valentino. Not just as images, mind you; as real people, just like you and me. Only better.

And sexier. Tabloids and gossip columnists chronicled – or simply invented – the love lives of movie stars, with a glee and intensity that rivals any modern-day celebrity website. Like Greek gods, the film stars coupled with each other and then exploded in rashes of rage and jealousy. But they were beautiful, and literally larger than life, so we relished every new detail about them.

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