That being said, it’s impossible not to know the name Tiger Woods, and even something about his story. I know he’s the best golfer around, I know that his dad pushed him to play golf from the time he could hold a club, and I know that he is almost universally revered as a great athlete and an all-around nice guy. At least he was until this past week.
I’ve learned a whole lot more about Tiger Woods in the last few days. I learned that he is the highest grossing athlete of our time, bringing in over $100 million annually and close to $1 billion over his career. I learned that only a fraction of this money is earned actually playing golf, with most of it coming from product endorsements ($30 million from Nike alone). And I learned that he has cheated on his wife.
But what’s amazing about all of this is that I have never once searched out news of Tiger Woods. Everything I know about the man has come to me unbidden. Frankly, I couldn’t tell you how I know most of what I know about him. I just know it. It’s like somehow his story has become so universal and pervasive that it just seeped into my brain.
And why is this? Is it because he can hit a golf ball? Is it really that simple? I don’t know, but it does raise a larger question – why do we care?
We care because we need to be entertained and we need to escape. We need to find things to distract us from those parts of our lives that are scary, boring, mundane. I get that. I do it too.
But think how different our world would be if we realized that entertainment and escape can also be educational and enriching. Imagine for a minute how different our interactions would be if we revered artistic excellence and intellectual progress as much as athletic ability. What if instead of watching Tiger hit a ball around a well-groomed park we listened to the music of John Coltrane or Darcy James Argue or Franz Schubert? If we checked out the paintings of Mark Rothko or read some Maya Angelou? And if we started talking to each other about these things around the water cooler, at the bar, over the dinner table? Do you think that would change the way we think about everything, from war to health care to education? I do.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that mind-numbing has it’s place. And I really don’t have anything against golf. But how cool would it be if these lucrative product endorsements went to Twyla Tharp and Bob Dylan instead of Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant?
I know this is an oversimplification of modern society and pop culture fascination. But I’m in favor of simplification, over or otherwise. What if it was knowledge of musicians and painters and writers and dancers that seeped into our collective consciousness? How cool would that be? Is it too much to ask that we give at least some love to our artists, our thinkers, our cultural icons?
I got up too early this morning. Maybe I’m still dreaming…