Tiger Woods and the limits of fame
Tiger Woods is famous, however I think he will not always be so. Mr. Woods will, one day, be what he once was: a “who?”.
A few days ago, Tiarnan heard the name Tiger Woods, at the dinner table. His name was mentioned in the context of the PS3 Playstation.
“What is Tiger Woods?”, Tiarnan, four, asked of the table, in general. No-one deigned to answer, but just let the question hang there, in the air, unanswered. Tiarnan looked around, expectantly, for a few long seconds, then took on the task himself: “Oh, I know, it is a LONG tiger.”
Clearly, somehow, the word “woods”, was associated, in his mind, with long objects.
Again, no-one answered or clarified for him. I didn’t do so because I was interested in his reasoning. I don’t know why his brothers didn’t do so. Perhaps they were more interested in eating dinner.
Tiarnan seemed very interested in the question of just what this Tiger Woods thing was all about. He sat alertly in his seat, his mind alive with possibilities.
“Is the Tiger woods game like Ultimate Alliance? Is it a fighting game?”
For those who don’t know, “Ultimate Alliance” is a superhero game based in the Marvel Universe. Evidently, that was just the type of game Tiarnan hoped for.
I decided to step in, at that moment, feeling that Tiarnan had struggled enough to understand what “Tiger Woods” was.
“Tiarnan: Tiger Woods is a golfer…he plays golf.”
Tiarnan didn’t quite know what to make of that. I could see the excited tension draining from him. He sat back down, less alertly than before. Golf obviously didn’t sound in the least exciting. He didn’t ask about Tiger Woods, again.
Now, this little scene allowed me to understand something. Fame is mortal. It dies with those who remember it. Thus, for Tiger Woods, only those who have seen him play, or heard news of his playing (both on and off the field!) are going to remember him. Thus it is that an entire generation can get to hear of him. However, if that fame is not renewed in the generations that follow, it will be lost. The day will come when Tiger Woods is no longer famous. This is already evident. Tiarnan is too young to have seen Tiger Woods play at his best. Recent times have been consumed with Tiger Woods’ problems. Tiarnan doesn’t watch the news, so he has no chance to get to hear of Woods, that way (and, to be frank, given the news on Mr. Woods, we wouldn’t want him to.). So, Tiarnan is in the position of never having seen Tiger Woods play –and never having seen him in the news, either. From Tiarnan’s perspective, Tiger Woods does not even exist. Tiarnan didn’t even know that Tiger Woods was a “who” and had considered that he might be a “what”. This is not Tiarnan’s failing. Tiarnan’s situation is likely to be fairly common for those in his age group. He is of the new generation that has not had the chance to yet become acquainted with Tiger Woods. In fact, if Woods stopped playing today, Tiarnan might NEVER hear who Tiger Woods is (or was).
Tiger Woods’ fame is based on something very temporary and fleeting. He hits a ball better than most people. That is it. Once people stop seeing him hit that ball, his fame will soon fade. He will be remembered, by the masses of his generation, for the duration of their lives…but the generations that follow may only be vaguely aware that there once was a golfer by that name. A significant proportion of the generation that immediately follows the end of his career, will never know who he is. As for the generations that follow, Tiger Woods can just forget about being recognized, remembered or cared for. The foundation of Tiger Woods’ fame, is something too insubstantial to last. It is not something that is renewed generation after generation. For a person to have lasting fame, their achievement or work, must either be relevant to each new generation or be reborn in each new generation. Otherwise, its creator is soon forgotten. Tiger Woods’ fame, though intense now, is of the forgettable variety. The day will come when only golfers and golfing historians remember him. The common man will not know Tiger Woods at all.
For a person to be famous to Tiarnan and those of his generation, a person from the past must impact their lives in some way. The famous person, must still have a reason to live in their hearts and minds. Tiger Woods does not truly have such a reason. Yet, others have. Shakespeare, will be remembered as long as his plays are performed: they are reborn for each new generation. Socrates will be remembered as long as his example as a thinker and teacher has power to move us to reflect. Einstein will be remembered as long as relativity is relevant to our lives and atomic power has any meaning at all. It is thus, those, whose work is enduringly relevant, that we remember. By this measure, however, it is clear that almost all modern famous people will not be famous for any longer than the duration of their lives – if that. Indeed, many modern famous people live long enough to become anonymous, again. It is not infrequently that I see the death of a “famous” person, on the news – a person whose fame is completely unknown to me, because it happened so long ago. They outlived their own celebrity and are only remembered by the oldest old.
The essential point of this post is that we must understand the limits of fame. Much fame is fleeting and built on insubstantial foundations. True fame, the kind that endures across the ages, is only accorded to those whose work is truly powerful in some way. In this way, the fickleness of modern fame, which often seems to be accorded on the undeserving, is righted. In the span of ages, only the truly worthy are remembered. Thus, it is that time distills the famous and leaves only those who were truly worthy of our attention in the first place.
This thought leaves me to wonder whom of our time, by which I mean the past century or so, will be remembered in centuries, even millennia to come? Perhaps you might like to suggest those whose present fame signals true merit and an enduring reputation that shall last the ages. Whose name will still be on our lips in centuries to come? Whose name, if any, will still be spoken several millennia hence, as are Aristotle’s, Plato’s and Socrates’?
One thing I know for sure: Tiger Woods’ name will not be among them.
(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, 10, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, 7 and Tiarnan, 4, this month, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html
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