I’m sure I’m not the only one who watched Lance Armstrong’s “apology” last week with a massive dose of cynicism. On a plane back from Sydney on Saturday, I managed to see the second half of Oprah’s tell-all interview with the cycling world’s fallen hero and was not convinced of his authenticity one tiny bit.
There have been plenty of news stories, before and after, Lance was scheduled to finally spill the beans about his alleged performance-enhancing drug use during his cycling career, the vast majority of which don’t seem to buy that he’s sorry at all.
After years of rumour and innuendo, and lawsuits from Lance against those who appeared to have been telling the truth all along, it was hearing of his son defending him in the playground that finally made Lance come clean. And unsurprisingly it was while he was recounting this tale during the interview that I felt he was actually remorseful – to a degree.
But Lance Armstrong is but one in a long list of fallen heroes, especially amongst sportspersons in the past few decades. Of course, to be ultra-successful in sports, or the arts, or in anything really, one has to be competitive and have a healthy dose of ego. In fact, ambition is not a bad thing. The trouble these days is that our society appears to be fanatical about fame and fortune above anything else.
We reward our sports-stars with riches beyond the majority of our population’s wildest dreams just because they are the best at running fast, or throwing and kicking balls, or are the quickest on a bicycle over unnecessarily-long distances. And with the riches comes fame and adulation, and often a wife or girlfriend who wouldn’t look at them sideways if they had been Lance or OJ or Mike (Tyson) the service station attendant or green grocer.
Millions of dollars are thrown at our elite performers, often at a very young age. Unfortunately sometimes this means the temptation to win at any cost or to live a hedonistic lifestyle with few boundaries or limitations can have unexpected, possibly fatal, consequences. Indeed contemporary history is littered with the bodies of some of the most wonderfully artistic human beings who were given far too much, far too soon.
All of this is not to say that one shouldn’t aim for the stars, if you believe success is in the stars for you. In fact, I have a recurring dream where I am on the red carpet at the Oscars with my brother – him in a Tom Ford bespoke suit and me in a J’Aton gown – because I have been nominated for the best original screenplay for a script I have not yet written. But my dream is about creative expression and the love of stories. Plus I am old enough now to not let any success go to my head – well not for too long anyway.
I was reading a book the other day that said the trouble with fame is that it just exaggerates all the negative, less attractive, parts of your personality. So, for example, if you are an arsehole and somehow manage to achieve celebrity even though you are a bit of a dick, fame will just make you even more of a tool.
We all know the media is quick to create a superstar but it is just as quick to bring them crashing down to earth without much thought for the consequences. It is a ride few people on earth get to experience, and like so many other things in life, some people appear to be better suited to fame than others.
They accept they are in a privileged position and that they get paid a ridiculous amount of money for something that not that many years ago they happily did for free. They give back to society in a meaningful, honest way that is altruistic and not part of a wider, cynical PR strategy developed to protect their image at any cost.
The fame monster, it would seem, can come at a very high price. It is a lesson that Lance Armstrong finally seems to be learning.