While the ritual of public self-humiliation, penance, expiation and redemption is as old as man--and follows its own strict set of rules--one never tires of the modern American riff on an old classic.
The script for Tiger Woods' speech could have come from any of a number of recent televised shamefests, from Bill Clinton's to Eliot Spitzer's to Mark Sanford's. It is a liturgy that has been hammered out over time by a series of PR flacks and "reputation management specialists."
The televised appearance harks back to the rending of one's clothes and the self-flagellation with whip or chains of olden times. Next there is the period of penance and self-abnegation (In this case, Tiger shook up the sequence a little). In America, that means checking into an exclusive clinic for treatment of an addiction (fill in the blank here), which consists of rigidly doing without whatever it was you did too much of that got you into trouble in the first place.
Finally, there is redemption and rehabilitation. This last phase is, of course, the whole reason for the entire pageant. Back in the Middle Ages, the notion of product endorsement hadn't been conceived, unless you want to count divine apparitions. The big fear then was that if you didn't go through the whole song and dance, you might spend eternity in hell.
In the age of sponsors, the consequences of a celebrity's fall from grace are much more immediate--which is to say you can suffer a serious financial hit in this life, not to mention whatever might befall you in the next one.
So, to quote George Burns: "Sincerity is everything. If you can fake that, you've got it made."
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