Saturday, January 19, 2013

Mal y pense

My bride was intrigued by the spectacle of Lance Armstrong and Oprah Winfrey, so that is what we watched tonight.

And it was, indeed, intriguing, but not for the reasons it was advertised.

Most of it was a simple repetition of things we know, or should have known already.

The doping, well, I've said this before; I had no doubt that Armstrong, like most of his great competitors, used the methods they did - EPO, CERA, HGH, testosterone, stimulants, corticosteriods - because they had to, to win. The officials that should have been ahead of the cheaters were helpless, and so it was cheat, or lose.

It was obvious to me that Armstrong fully absorbed the ethic of the peleton of his day; that to win meant to cheat, and that anyone who couldn't or wouldn't cheat was not a hero but a fool.

From tonight's interview it's fairly obvious to me that Armstrong still feels that way. And he is still the carefully unsentimental predator he has always been.

He is remorseful, yes, but only because he was caught and in so doing has harmed people he actually cares about; his children, his mother, perhaps his wife and his ex-wife.

The rest of us, well, we're not really people who matter. We're there to be extras in The Lance Armstrong Story.

Most of us think this way, of course, but it takes a pretty enormous ego to be willing to parade that attitude in full view on national television.

And for the record, Oprah really was an awful inquisitor. She wasted an immense amount of time on things that were self-evident and let slide the real hard questions that might have forced the man she was supposed to be interviewing to reveal himself. He slid around any real acceptance of the wrong he did to those who had spoken the truth about him, notably Betsy Andreu and David Walsh.

Armstrong seems clearly using this as a ploy to win sympathy and as an attempt to gain some sort of toehold back into professional sport. He openly stated that he thought his punishment was excessive and that he was driven by a need to compete.

And that was a point that Oprah, as was her habit during the entire interview, failed to seize upon.

Because if Armstrong really needed to compete he needn't return to the Chicago Marathon or any other sanctioned event. He could train and run or ride in secret and alone, where only he would know how strong and fast he had become.

But for this man what he knows about himself is not important. His life is lived by what others know about him. It is not important to be the fastest, or the strongest. It is important to him that others see him as the fastest and strongest.

That has always been the only real question to me worth asking here: "Why now?"

"We've heard you say you're sorry. We've heard you claim that you feel that you have to tell the truth now for your children's sakes. But if that were the case, why didn't you tell the truth when you, of all men, could have told the truth and changed the very sport you claim you loved? Why should we believe any of your apologies now, when you had the chance to be a truly great man and you didn't; worse, instead of merely lying and cheating you savaged those who DID speak the truth about you?"

Sadly, this interview just made clear what we've known; that this man will never do anything for itself. He is simply not made to value such things.

Lois Bujold - I always seem to come back to her when I'm talking about Armstrong, for some reason - writes that the difference between honor and reputation is that reputation is what others know about you, while honor is what you know about yourself. That "(t)here is no more hollow feeling than to stand with your honor shattered at your feet while soaring public reputation wraps you in rewards. That's soul-destroying."

Which it may well be for a man or woman who prizes honor above reputation, the inner truth over the outward show.

But, if otherwise irritating, obscure, and incomplete, this interview did show me one thing clearly; Lance Armstrong was not that man.

And he still is not.


Lisa said...

This is the essence of a non-remorseful person:

He is remorseful, yes, but only because he was caught

Words mean nothing; face and body belie the truth. Oprah has never been a big hitter. What was she -- a small-town newscaster? She was from the right demographic at the right time: A woman -- of color -- she's fat, she's thin, she's mediocre+ (=reads books, mostly self-help).

That Oprah's our Pied Piper for the past two decades says it all, really. When I stopped watching her (in college), I resented the patronage back then; I could see the writing on the wall.

FDChief said...

I've never "got" the Oprah deal. She seems to be all over everywhere, but what "is" she? What does she stand for? I know there's the book-club thing but most of the books, as you say, seem like the usual commercial dreck.

And I think it's important to distinguish remorseful from contrite.

LA is "remorseful"; he feels regret. But he does not seem in any way "contrite"; he feels no shame, he has no interest in actually humbling himself and paying for what he did.

He is, as he always was, completely externally-driven. He rues being caught, he is unhappy that the few people he DOES care for - his kids, so far as I can tell - are being pilloried for his sins. Were it not for that he'd probably still be denying everything.

No big deal, really; just another liar and cheat caught out. The only real significance is the emotional freight that his many adherents put on him being what he told them he was, rather than what he was.

But it was instructive to watch him show so obviously his utter shamelessness. Seldom outside the Cheney Administration have I watched such a calculated and ballsy performance.

Lisa said...

Oprah is a great show woman, an entrepreneur, and I can't fault her for that. We love mediocrity, we love to think we are what we aren't (hence Martha Stewart's empire.)

Her brilliance is her ability to be overwritten by the rest of us. Do you struggle? Oprah struggle's with you; she feels your pain, in the exquisite way Bill Clinton did: with sincerity, and she will take you along on the ride and you may be her minion. But her acolytes will only rise and fall with her successes, and I believe people enjoy that sense of camaraderie.

I don't know if "remorseful" is the word for someone like Armstrong; contemptuous, I imagine; not contrite, as you say. Reminds me of story my mother told me from her grade school days.

Growing up in a GER neighborhood in NYC, anti-Semitism was de riguer. A friend in her school group was a Jewish girl, and a German was spouting her vituperative amongst her friends while the other girl walked by. Someone in her group suggested to the German she apologize.

Rigidly, the offender offered an apology to the Israeli girl who replied, "That's alright, Ingrid -- you're not sorry you said it, you're sorry I heard you." My mother always thought that was the height of cool, and it showed great understanding for jr. h.s.

That's the crux of the biscuit.

FDChief said...

Yep. I'd say your story of adolescent prejudice and lack-of-shame is a pretty good description of what I saw; a man who is not ashamed of what he did OR of how he treated others who accused him. Probably a better term than "remorse" for his feelings would be "regret"; he regrets that those people he cares about are getting pilloried for defending him. But, as with everything else in the man's life, it seems, his concerns are purely for the outward show.

Inside, he seems merely irked that he was caught in an act that HE considered a mere peccadillo, of that.

As an aside, his public appearance seems all of a piece with the current fashion for the "passive-aggressive-non-apology" (the sort your young lady identified); not an expression of genuine shame or contrition but the formula "If my (words, deeds) offended you I apologize." which puts the burden on the recipient. It's not the "problem" of the offender - it's "your problem" that his or her acts or words "offended" you.

Utter horseshit. Very human, but utter horseshit all the same, and it's to our general discredit that we allow that to pass as an "apology".

Lisa said...

I totally agree re. the "passive-aggressive-non-apology". Perhaps that entered alongside the idea of "situational ethics", that is, I do what I deem necessary and justifiable at the time, but always it is the "I" at the center of the valuation of the action.

A friend from the CIA world just introduced me to the concept of LAMOT (Lying at the Most Opportune Time) ... I suppose that's about the size of it. The much-adored phrase of Malcolm X ("By any means necessary") would be another iteration of this imperative.