Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Put yourself in a museum.

There’s a great work from one of the emerging talents in the art world. Throughout the last two weeks, many people who have heard about this famous painting –either from the news or the huge marketing campaign surrounding it – have come to take a gander to see what the fuss is about.

96.324% of the people who have come across this haven’t been in a museum in at least four years; most of them not having done so since passing notes on the bus to a crush on that fateful high school trip twenty years ago. So it’s safe to say that this is the first artwork in generations that has made the public take notice.

So here you are, among curious onlookers, curators, scholars, actual art lovers and critics. The reception is overwhelmingly positive and the artist herself is absolutely humbled by the adoration for her masterpiece. It’s the only thing that Keith Olbermann, Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck have shared a similar praise for EVER!

A few months pass and while the painting remains in public view, our artist decides to take a personal break from the media circuit and the art college tour. While on this break, she partakes in a little recreational activity with a few friends. She enjoys a couple of drinks, some laughs and a few puffs of marijuana.

Some genius decides that this is the perfect time to make use of his cellphone camera.

Before she can exhale, the picture he took has been splattered all over the Internet.

Immediately after she exhales, the art critics that once extolled the virtues of her work and shared her life story to the world are suddenly asking if her image will be tarnished because she took a toke.

What’s crazy about this is not that she smoked a little weed, but that those who help shaped her image to the public are asking this question amongst themselves and not the public itself.

That’s the frustration with this Michael Phelps situation. In all honesty, the only people who are talking about this as some sort of a national crisis are reporters on the evening news, opportunistic public relations executives and sports marketing experts with the news networks on speed dial. Yet, there’s a general shrug of the shoulders by most purveyors of sports media. While there are your usual jokes and potshots (had to fit one reference in there), this news was bestowed front-page status when all it needed was a small paragraph on page 36.

Phelps, who was already a star because of the 2004 Olympics, became the stuff of legends for two weeks last August when collecting eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics. It’s extremely rare for most Olympic sports, let alone swimming, to cast a shadow over ongoing professional action in other sports. So what Phelps did was nothing short of remarkable. However, it seems as if people forget that under the visage of corporate sponsorships, ever-flowing superlatives and a can’t-miss smile happens to be a guy who has the right to be human, whether we like it or not.

Even more maddening is that if there was a time to get on his case about behavior considered ‘unbecoming’, it was shortly after those Olympics in Athens when he was arrested for DUI. That news was relegated to page 36, despite the potential of harming others because someone was bent behind the wheel.

This seems like a bigger deal because he took the world by storm five months ago. Yet, the rest of society moved away from him and swimming within days while turning their attention towards the remainder of the baseball and soccer seasons, the upcoming start of NFL training camps and the push towards tennis’ US Open. Phelps made an initial flurry of appearances on TV and began speaking at corporate functions, but he also began to fade back into his own life as we moved back into ours. Unless he shot himself in the thigh at a club, what he did in his own life was no longer the sporting public’s obsession of the moment.

Would be nice that the next time someone on your TV screen asks if a star’s image is hampered by a perceived minor misdeed that he or she actually talks to the public and not another person in the know? Let the fans – who mostly couldn’t care less – decide if his image is sullied. Since Speedo and Omega brushed off Phelps’ day in infamy with relative ease, the experts probably didn’t ask them, either.

Just remember, kids: Image is nothing...

Say What?!?!: By the way, how much of a fool is the person who actually took the picture and sent it to the media?

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