12.11.09

If Only Tiger Were a Socialist

Maybe capitalism itself is partly to blame for Tiger Woods’ sexual infidelities. Lee Siegel on how this sort of scandal just wouldn’t happen in Stockholm.

Is Tiger Woods greedier than Hamid Karzai? Maybe capitalism itself is partly to blame for his sexual infidelities. Lee Siegel on how this sort of scandal just wouldn't happen in Stockholm.

Tiger Woods is the reason Americans cannot get universal health care.

Allegorically speaking.

Think of it this way: Elin Nordegren is a nice, decent Swedish girl, the daughter of a nice Swedish socialist politician and the product of a nice socialist country. It’s a place where no one is allowed to enrich himself at the expense of other people, where everyone has access to free, quality health care, where no one lives in poverty, and where money does not play a decisive role in the social contract. No one suffers because he doesn’t have money, and no one is allowed to accumulate wealth without paying his fair share back into the social arrangement that permitted him to make a fortune in the first place.

If your society allows you to accumulate greater wealth than any ancient king, you are not about to let society prohibit you from accumulating pleasure in the same proportion.

It’s the sort of place that turns American conservatives numb with terror, and inspires American liberals to sing pious paeans to social responsibility—even as they pay their accountants thousands of dollars to exploit every loophole in the tax code that can be found.

Then Elin Nordegren marries Tiger Woods. Swedish decency, meet American rapacity.

A champion athlete who is to golf what Mozart was to music, Woods has got to be the greediest athlete who ever lived. Role model? The only people Woods could possibly be a role model for are Hamid Karzai’s in-laws. As a result of endorsement deals with at least six different commercial entities, the golfer is worth over a billion dollars. That’s right, a billion dollars. With his own money, Tiger could pay to maintain 1,000 troops in our Afghan debacle, extend unemployment benefits for the entire country for the next few years, or subsidize a public health option in several states. He wouldn’t have to worry about the well running dry, either. When he ran out of money, he could pitch for Cialis, or maybe a zipper company, or build another golf course in Mexico or Dubai—two countries where his golf course design company is currently at work. (A guy’s got to make a buck between ad campaigns.)

One billion dollars. Not for winning a golf tournament, but for hawking a product. And with the exception of a few image-polishing charity projects—most of them having to do with teaching underprivileged kids how to play golf: just what the poor need—all that money stays with Tiger Woods, who buys houses, apartments, cars, clothes, jewelry and, as everyone in our galaxy now knows, girls, girls, girls.

After all, if your society allows you to accumulate greater wealth than any ancient king, you are not about to let society prohibit you from accumulating pleasure in the same proportion. Such a restriction would be an absurd and unbearable contradiction. This is where Elin ran into the tree-like obstacle of the “celebrity fuck.”

As anyone who moves in Hollywood circles will tell you, the celebrity fuck (henceforth referred to “CF”) is every big star’s entitlement. Everyone who is emotionally involved with a celebrity knows about it. You either play by its rule or you make your exit. It’s no big deal really, the emotionally involved person is told, because in its ideal form it doesn’t involve the emotions. A celebrity is sitting in a restaurant and a woman smiles, he smiles back, goes and sits down with her, the two of them disappear into the bathroom, have sex, and then return to the restaurant, he to his table, she to hers. It happens on planes and trains, in bars, cars, bathrooms and parking lots. The rule is, you don’t do it in front of your significant other, and you don’t let it turn into an affair. This is an understanding between the celebrity and the significant other. If it does turn into an affair (which gets emotional, and also costs money), its status as an entitlement no longer applies. Then the understanding has to become an arrangement. If there is an affair, but no arrangement, then it is every man for himself.

With fame and wealth come invitations and temptations that few mortals could withstand, and foremost among them is the CF. What must have outraged Elin was not just the quantity of Woods’ CFs, and the public revelation that they were long-lasting, but the very fact of the CF’s existence at all. Adultery happens in Sweden, too, of course—the caricature of guilt-free sex in Sweden is proverbial—but in that good, socialist country the CF is an EF (“E” for “everybody”).

There, cheating is, you might say, a universal entitlement. It’s a right that no one abuses on Tiger's scale, in the same way that no Swede hoards wealth at society’s expense. A Swedish Tiger would have applied for an arrangement and, if that was rejected, for an understanding.

No wonder Elin’s mother, Barbro Holmberg, a Social Democrat who has worked on the rights of children (and who has also been, unfortunately in the present context, State Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), was rushed to the hospital a few days ago for what appeared to be something like a nervous breakdown. She came to America from a modern democracy where material well-being and pleasure are available to all at the expense of none. Once here, she found herself in a primitive place where chieftains in the form of bankers, entertainers and athletes are allowed to grab wealth that is light years beyond their worth, while the rest of society argues on television and over the internet about what to do with the scraps that are left.

In other words, when someone hoards hundreds of millions of dollars paid to him for selling shoes and watches, while at the same time legislators are tearing their hair out over how to find money to make healthcare universally affordable, it's not a question of Tiger's fidelity. It's a matter of our national sanity. Maybe when Tiger's good socialist wife allegedly sent him to the hospital, she was trying to tell us something.

Lee Siegel is The Daily Beast's senior columnist. He publishes widely on culture and politics and is the author of three books: Falling Upwards: Essays in Defense of the Imagination; Not Remotely Controlled: Notes on Television; and, most recently, Against the Machine: How the Web Is Reshaping Culture And Commerce—And Why It Matters. In 2002, he received a National Magazine Award for reviews and criticism.