Everything You Think About Tiger Woods is Wrong, So Shut the F*** Up!

The hundreds of media theories that have grown up around the Woods scandal have nothing to do with him and everything to do with us.

[Disclaimer:I don’t know anything at all about Tiger or Elin Woods but am going to write about them anyway.]

Everything that's been written about Tiger Woods is wrong; that is, every inference and judgment about the meaning of his actions (the paltry slivers of it that we think we know) has nothing to do with him and everything to do with us.

Not a single author or commentator among the hundreds who have weighed in on Woods' life, marriage, morals, choices, or psychology has ever met or spent any time with him. Thus, everything that's been said has been a response to our projections onto images that Tiger Woods and we have jointly created.


For example, consider the following statements culled from recent press:

Tiger is a sex addict. He has to repair the damage he's done to his family. He has to grow up. He should “man up” and have a press conference to publicly apologize. He is a typical alpha male. He was a “bad boy” in order to undermine the burden of being the “good boy.” He is irresponsible and immature. He's got the same syndrome as Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and Magic Johnson. He obviously doesn't care about his kids. He's a liar. He and Elin are in “deep discussions” about whether they can save their marriage. Elin's a fighter and is fighting like hell now to keep her family intact.

All nonsense. All fictional narratives about someone we know absolutely nothing about, except that he's the best golfer in the world. Some of these opinions might be right—but then so is a stopped clock, twice a day. All of these views are only projections of things inside us. In this one sense, the tidal wave of Tiger reporting is interesting, much like responses to an ink blot test can tell us a lot about the responder.

The problem is when people don't know that that's what they're doing. Or they know, but they don't admit it. It's not exactly a news flash—the awareness that we don't know anything about the motivations and interior lives of celebrities. But the pull to weigh in and make judgments is irresistible. I like to read celebrity gossip; it's titillating, funny, and often outrageous. I suppose that it's a comfort to know that celebrities and others we put on pedestals are screwed up just like us. Then, for just a moment, we don't have to feel badly about our own problems. But I try not to confuse this game with reality.

Most people, though, don't really know that they're just making shit up and applying it to Tiger for personal reasons of their own. They think it's true. They have conviction. They may know that we live in a sick celebrity-obsessed culture but don't realize that their opinions about Woods stem from this very pathology.

We think we own Woods, that he's a commodity about which we have every right to publicly judge. After all, he invited us to love and admire him in order to make money. Isn't he simply reaping what he sowed? O.K. Fair enough. But let's make that explicit. Let's insist that athletes who sign contracts with corporate sponsors include a stipulation that the corporation owns their image and that fans who buy products based on this image own the athlete's personal life. I'm buying Nike golf balls because of you, Tiger. I'm giving you and Nike my money. So, I deserve access to your personal life if it should in any way trigger negative feelings in me, e.g. betrayal, disgust, envy, or guilt. You're an extension of me, man, so what are you complaining about?

These celebrity male adulterers and their wives are a gigantic blank screen onto which we displace our own feelings about sex, loyalty, betrayal, abandonment, temptation. Poor Elizabeth Edwards. God, I never trusted John Edwards—too slick. Spitzer got what he deserved….what a hypocrite! Imagine Silda, standing there in shame while her husband confessed! But how can you blame Tiger!? I mean, tell me this, buddy-- if everywhere you went, beautiful women were offering themselves to you. What would you do? Be honest, now. But Elin is so beautiful—what was Tiger thinking? Typical man, led around by his…… Blonde women and a black man—I mean, we know what that's about, right?

Again, we don't know anything about anything. But the theorizing goes on and on, all the while reinforcing the fact that the various human strains and stresses and fears and hurts and conflicts that no doubt occupy the minds of celebrities don't really afflict us. We're the judges and no longer the defendants.

The fact is that we're the victims, the perpetrators, and the observers. We act selfishly, lust after people other than our partners, feel rejected and abandoned, have fetishes and weird fantasies, feel guilty, make amends, love and hate. We are afflicted and we sometimes afflict others. But we're desperate for relief from these internal states and are therefore relieved to find them in others. I suppose it can entertaining, but we should know that we're doing it.

That's why I began this essay with a disclaimer. I think that everyone who write about this situation ought to do the same.

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Michael Bader is a psychologist and psychoanalyst in San Francisco. He is the author of "Arousal: The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies" and "Male Sexuality: Why Women Don't Understand It -- and Men Don't Either." He has written extensively about psychology and politics.