A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
The headlines should read “Lance Armstrong is a jerk!” That’s the beginning, middle and the end of anything else ever written about the guy — and not because he pedaled his ass over the Pyrenees higher than the Matterhorn. At this point, who cares? Come to find out, most of the cyclists at the Tour de France have so many drugs in them, their pee has been patented by Dow Chemical. Here’s an interesting fact: since 1980, France’s most prestigious bicycle race has been won 17 times (that we know of) by the gentlemanly use of performance-enhancing drugs – that’s over half! So, it’s not like doping is unusual. Nor is he a jerk just for lying about it. What was he going to do … admit it? That would be like Al Capone phoning Eliot Ness to admit he owned a couple of speakeasies. No, Lance Armstrong is a jerk because he thinks he’s smarter than the rest of us. The unfortunate thing is he might be right.
The sordid details of Mr. Armstrong’s misdeeds have been reported to death, so there’s no need to retrace them here. Suffice it to say that Lance concocted an elaborate chemical scheme to turn himself into a superhuman. It succeeded beyond his wildest expectations, and he basked in glory for many, many years – collecting the accolades, admiration and cold, hard cash that come with athletic success. However, Lance didn’t stop there. He wasn’t content with two, four or even six championships: he wanted seven, and when he got that he even tried for eight. The audacity of the man is unbelievable. There he was, year after year, doing things no human being (not even his drug-bloated competition) could accomplish and smiling about it. What did he think? No one would notice? Or, did he simply believe that he could fool the entire world forever? These are rhetorical questions that only Mr. Armstrong himself can answer; which brings us to January 2013, nearly 14 years after Lance first sacrificed his honour for Tour de France laurels. Tomorrow, he’s going to sit down in front of the world and confess his sins. And we’re all waiting to hear it.
However, there will be no ordinary press conference for Lance Armstrong. He will not be relegated to a shame-faced confession and a couple of sincerity tears that get slotted into the morning news — after the headlines, traffic and weather. Lance is going prime time, and the three-ring media circus he’s hauling with him is being brought to you by the 20st century’s Uber Agony Auntie, Oprah Winfrey. In an ingenious attempt at reviving two faded careers, Lance and Oprah have organized an interview extravaganza. This two-night stand is designed to put them both back, wall-to-wall, on video screens around the world. It’s an arrangement made in public relations heaven.
Ever since Oprah decided she needed a whole network because (a la Norma Desmond) she was big and it’s only the television stations that got small, she’s fallen out of the sky. Like it or lump it, her audience numbers just aren’t there, anymore. Even, in an election year, Barack and Michelle couldn’t rekindle the old Midwest magic. So Oprah has unleashed her formidable Harpo publicity machine to tease the world into believing a guy who rides a bicycle is big news. They’re treating it like some magnificent media mating with hints, innuendos and voyeur-style sneak previews. I’m no follower of Freud, but Oprah herself is quoted by the BBC as saying, “At the end of it…we were both pretty exhausted. And I would say I was satisfied.” Make of that what you will, but it certainly is intriguing.
For his part, I’m sure Lance is considering a seven-figure book deal to pay the legal bills when all the people he lied to come calling. Oprah’s celebrity (faded as it is) isn’t going to do him any harm there. Besides, who better to confess to than the High Priestess of Jell-o Journalism? It’s not like she’s going to ask him any hard questions like, “Did you think the French were morons?” Plus, as long as he doesn’t jump around on the sofa, she’s going to make him look good.
This Lance and Oprah show is almost guaranteed to go off the scale on the ratings meter. It’s become an event. So, at the end of the day, maybe Lance Armstrong is smarter than the rest of us. He’s never going to be treated like the smarmy little cheater he obviously is. He’s probably going to write a book and maybe even get a movie deal. In fact, after tomorrow, his future is going to look pretty damn good.
However, it doesn’t matter how many times he confesses to God and Oprah Winfrey. It doesn’t matter how many stagy tears collect in the corner of his eye or how much remorse (real or imagined) he says he feels. At the end of the day, he’s not about to give back any of the money he “earned.” And until he does that, he’s just a jerk.