I watched the Masters Golf Tournament this last weekend with a growing sense of amazement at the capacity of media (TV in particular) to alter perception. Here we beheld Tiger Woods, the world’s number one golf pro and acknowledged philanderer of epic proportions, go about his business as though nothing more untoward had happened in his life in the last six months than a little collision with a fire hydrant. He strode down fairways with his usual intense purposefulness, dug himself out of bad lies (of the golfing kind) with his usual uncanny finesse, cussed and pouted per usual, and in general appeared to be (if you turned off the sound) just another top contender for one of the great prizes in sport. You would never know from watching the broadcast that he had recently undergone public opprobrium and embarrassment that would render most of us incapable of getting up in the morning, let alone competing at the top of our profession. That he finished fourth despite everything is a testament either to an ability to compartmentalize almost as extreme as his golfing skills, or to an ego and imperviousness to shame that comes only to those gifted early and often with a sense of absolute entitlement. Take your pick.
Whatever the source of the spectacle, the spectacle itself was one of, well, normalcy, enhanced as ever by the bucolic backdrop of Augusta, the soothing incantations of Jim Nantz, that soporific sound track CBS insists on playing endlessly, and the patrician, genteel ritual of golf itself. This was as normal and comfortable as a Georgia day is long, even if a black man who happened to be the best golfer in the world and who had cheated on his beautiful white wife with at least 18 women that we knew of was out there whacking the ball around with the rest of them and getting high fives and hugs from his co-workers and applause from the galleries while he did it. Normal as pie.
TV is the great dissolver — of distance and time, of taste, and as we always knew (but need to be reminded) of morality and conscience. What happens on TV must be of interest, of importance, worthy of note. It’s only a short, confused step from there to believe that who and what appears on TV must be, in some way, simply worthy. That was the real spectacle at Augusta this weekend: a man being cleansed by simply being there on the flat screen and doing what we’ve seen him do before, a man being redeemed by a red shirt on Sunday and the camera’s long look at him across the green fairway.
Thank heavens we didn’t have to see him get a green jacket in the bargain. That would have seemed too much like actual absolution.