The golfer Tiger Woods recently has been the subject of considerable controversy as a result of a peculiar car accident and subsequent revelations of marital indiscretions. The media of course have lapped this up like thirsty hounds, see, for example, a recent article by Sam Tanenhaus in the New York Times. This leads to a paradox, which is: while Mr. Woods evidently has lost a few endorsements, he has been the subject of more press coverage than at any other point in his career. Provided he undergoes the requisite confessional-rehabilitative rituals, in a few months he will be as good as new. His endorsements (which surely comprise a large portion of his income) will return and he will enjoy even further augmented pop celebrity status.
Mr. Woods and his handlers evidently do not completely understand this dynamic. He has been slow to book time on talk shows with a view towards expurgating his sins. The well-worn path lade down by other sex-maniac pop celebrities such as Kobe Bryant and (more recently) David Letterman provides a better template. They were able to get out in front of the controversy rather than lag behind it. On the other hand this tended to truncate media coverage of their peccadilloes, not prolong it, so perhaps Mr. Woods has the better strategy after all.
The Tiger Woods story conceals a deeper implication, which is the transitory nature of pop culture celebrity status to begin with. Whither art thou Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson and Lindsey Lohan? They seem to have vanished. In their place are people like Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the Virginia socialites-White House gate crashers and Richard and Mayumi Heene, who alleged their son Falcon flew off in a balloon. The aspirations of these dynamic duos are no more ambitious than appearing on reality-TV shows. In the meanwhile there is the astonishing case of Lady Gaga, a piano virtuoso who learned how to dance and now has captivated the pop music scene (I have been meaning to listen to one of her tracks, hopefully I’ll get around to doing so, soon). A recent column in the Los Angeles Times by Dan Neil deconstructed one of her music videos and proclaimed it the most successful product placement advertising of the year.
The media depend as much on celebrity cannon-fodder as actual and would-be celebrities do on the media. It is hilarious when celebrities complain about paparazzi and adverse media coverage because the simple fact of the matter is they revel in it. They depend on it for their very existence, both mercantile and existential. It makes one wonder whom will be carrying the crucible for pop culture this time next year.