Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Goffman and Tiger Woods

I've been reading an old text with my Performance and Dramatic Theory class, Erving Goffman's Presentation of the Self in Everyday life.

One of Goffman's concepts is the arrangement of the space, or regions of performance. The audience for our performance sits in the house, we perform on the stage, and we retire to the backstage area to do those things we need to do in order to sustain our performance. We also do those things that would break the definition that we and the audience have developed to make sense of our performance. In other words, we go backstage to change costumes: we go backstage to take care of private business: we go backstage to let off steam - to curse the audience or laugh at the audience or cry about the audience. This isn't hypocrisy, it is simply what any of us must do to survive in society, for we are always otherwise "on stage."

At least that used to be the case. But reality tv, feeding the desire to be one of the cognoscenti, one of those with intimate knowledge of what goes on "backstage" has demanded admission to the most private parts of our lives. Cribs, for example, shows the viewers the closets, the bedrooms and the toilets of the stars. B, C, and D list celebrities invite us into their homes to watch them fight with spouses, recover from drunken bouts and weep over their infidelities. Ah Tool Academy what wonders you've done for the American psyche.

We are not privy to the backstages of life. But we know that people need a backstage, need someplace to retreat to in order to keep up the front that must be maintained if public life is to have meaning.

Which brings us to Tiger Woods.

When Tiger made his public statement last week I was astounded at the response. Sportscasters and newscasters alike dismissed the fourteen minutes of shame and humiliation. There was something missing from the statement and the news conference - usually the apologies didn't sound sincere enough or Elin was not present or he didn't apologize to the sponsors (look, he has a contract with the sponsors to present their products, not a moral obligation).

I suspect that, no matter what Tiger had said he would still have been faulted. No matter how much revelation we have, no matter how far back stage we're allowed, we always seem to suspect that there is something else, some other backstage area to which we are forbidden access.

Maybe we ought to bring back the idea of performing only on the public stage, and keeping the backstage away from the public. Both celebrities and the public might just be better off.

No comments: