A Review of The Passion of Tiger Woods:
An Anthropologist Reports on Golf, Race, and Celebrity Scandal by Orin Starn
by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan (in Exile)
For some golf is a game; for others it is leisure. Golf, at its core, is about mastery; it’s about fantasy; it’s about fulfillment of the possibility of greatness. It is about that hole-in-one at the local public course or the bullet drive that covered 300+ yards. Golf provides the fulfillment of a myriad of “fantasies.” With his new book, The Passion of Tiger Woods, Orin Starn leads on a journey not to Pebble Beach or the courses of Hawaii, not into these fantasies playgrounds, but into the treacherous world and real-life drama that he describes as “Tigergate.”
Starn starts his discussion with a foray into the sociology of golf, highlighting the emotional appeal of the game. Describing golf as the “last chance to do “childish things” and as a cheap replacement for masculine yearning for outdoor adventures, Starn locates golf’s appeal within the mental stimulation and imagination afforded by golf’s immense challenges. It’s appeal rests not with improved cardiovascular health, the camaraderie of pickup basketball or soccer, or even tradition (fathers and sons bonding), but with the mental stimulation; it appeal rests with its similarity to a video game rather than basketball or soccer. “The game’s most elementary lure … is that flush of satisfaction and even inner delight that comes from a good shot.” The popularity of the game that Mark Twain once described as a “good walk spoiled” rests with the prospect of making “a twisting twenty-five foot put curving into the hole; a cleaver escape from under the tree.” While “none of us will ever know the ecstasy of running as fast as Usain Bolt or cutting through the water like Michael Phelps,” every once in a while, “even a rotten golfer will hit a shot as magnificent as if it had been hit by Tiger Woods” (15).
It is no wonder that golf is one of the most popular games despites its cost. While not at the levels of baseball, football, or even NASCAR and basketball, golf is tremendously popular as a spectator sport and a leisure activity. With over “17,000 golf courses, covering an area the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined” (XV), golf may not be America’s national pastime it might America’s most prominent and important hobby. Golf is a national obsession, at least within certain (white; male; middle and upper-class) segments of the American populace.
This analysis isn’t simply an interesting examination of golfing cultures but one that provides an important backdrop for understanding the rise and fall of Tiger Woods. The popularity of golf, its cultural meaning, the ascendance of celebrity culture, and the increased power of new media all contributed to his ultimate tumble before the nation.
Starn identifies the media spectacle surrounding Woods as evidence of the hegemony of the scandal industrial complex. “Now scandal has become a multibillion dollar industry. Talk shows and trash television, glossy magazines, supermarket tabloids, and gossip blogs power this vast and viral entertainment complex” (45). Identifying “Tigergate” as the perfect storm, Starn argues that the media obsession and sensationalism embodied in the “celebritaization” of modern athletes. Yet, his discussion goes beyond the missed placed priorities of today’s tabloid media circus to highlight Tiger Woods’ specific place within the American landscape.
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