Monday, August 17, 2009

Trial before Pilate

The generation of this post came from two very different parents, as should all fertile offspring. The first was a comment on the earlier post at Graphic Firing Table about celebrity culture in general and as it applies to Lance Armstrong, the cyclist, in particular. The other was a part of a long conversation I've been having with a friend, a terrifically bright and vital woman, about perception and truth and the relationship between them.

First, the comment. The poster, a friend of ours who is a cyclist himself and is married to a fitness fanatic and passionate cycling addict, said:
"...your discussion of the Lance's bad behavior was the final straw, and I just took off the yellow bracelet I have been wearing for I read the coverage, and read about Kristin Armstrong I felt less and less happy about wearing the symbol of somebody I increasingly thought of as callous and egotistical. The details of his breakup with Sheryl Crow just crystallized my distaste for Lance's character."
So the revelation of Lance's ruthlessness put an end to both the bracelet and the respect.

The discussion revolved around my friend's concept of Truth as something universal and immutable, a sort of Truth as Godhead, that exists as an object beyond, immune to and unaffected by, human perception.Its a good discussion, and well worth the recounting but beyond what I want to talk about here. But I want to use it as a frame to hang my subject on.

Because in this case the is a central Truth to the matter: the entirety of the personality of Lance Armstrong himself.

This is utterly unknown and, more to the point, unknowable, to any of us; my friends, me, you the reader. We cannot know Lance Armstrong as he knows himself, as his family and friends know him, even as those who are acquainted with the man know him. What he likes, what he doesn't, his strengths, his failings...beyond the crayon drawing of the man presented in the public media we have, like my friend's concept of abstract Truth, no way of understanding LA through inquiry or perception.

We can observe, assess and judge what we see as aspects of the man's personality. And I have, and did; saying that, while I respect the man's athletic skills and his tough struggle back from cancer, his treatment of the women in his life leaves me cold, and less that enamored of him as a husband, fiancee' and lover.

But the things is, those things don't lessen his skill. They don't detract a bit from his courage.

And they don't affect his stated belief, through his Lance Armstrong Foundation, "in living every minute of it with every ounce of your energy: channeled and focus: getting smart and living strong. Unity is strength. Knowledge is power. Attitude is everything."

As someone who has been shot at, well, Lance, no, attitude isn't everything = windage and elevation make a difference. But let that pass.

The thing is, the yellow bracelet can mean different things, and I would say that it may mean more, or less, or just different things than the man himself.

If you're wearing a Livestrong bracelet to symbolize your fight against cancer, or someone's hope for recovery and survival...or as a way of expressing support for the man as a cyclist and a champion, then it seems to me that revelations of the man as a man, husband, father, partner really don't dim the brightness of that little rubber band. You can support the man as an athlete, or as a cancer survivor, without admiring or respecting his romantic or sexual ethics.

But if you're wearing it as some sort of general show of affiliation or association with Lance Armstrong the man, well...

...then you're probably wearing it for the wrong reasons.

Lance Armstrong is no different from any of the other strong, glib and pretty people we "meet" through the electronic media. His strength cannot strengthen us, his prettiness gild us, or his fame enhance us. His intelligence doesn't make us wiser, his wealth make us richer. We are who we are regardless of our wish to cover ourselves with a tiny corner of the mantle of his celebrity.

Sadly, we live surrounded by the notion that none of the realities in the above paragraph are true, but we are smaller and lesser for believing them. When Pilate asked "What is truth?", he meant to pose a conundrum, not state a contemporary confusion. But more and more, I believe that we in 21st Century America are truly confounded separating our perceptions from reality, belief from fact, and the cold truth from warm and inviting lie.

(crossposted from MilPub)

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