Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Would Tony Take a Toke?
Here we go again. In the middle of the new administration's efforts to bring us all together, we are once more ripped asunder--sheep and goats, yay and nay, tomato/tomahto, and so forth. I refer to the Kellogg/Michael Phelps debacle, in which swimmer Michael Phelps--he of the Olympic hero status prior to being caught on camera smoking pot--has been fired as a poster boy for Kellogg's cereals. Some say Phelps deserved to be fired; some say Kellogg overreacted.
As a parent, I respect the Kellogg Company for taking action to protect their brand and reputation. I think they did EXACTLY the right thing. I don't care how many medals someone wins; if they commit illegal acts and show poor judgement, I do not want them held up as a role model for my child. (I'm not thrilled that someone who openly admits using cocaine made it into the White House, either, but that's a whole other issue.)
And while I'm offending people, let's drag Martin Luther King into the fray as well--and JFK, and others whom we all know but I don't want to waste the space to list. Why is it we sing the praises of people who consistently--and, often, publicly--practice bad behavior and bad judgement? Yes, they did good things, but they did them while cheating on their wives, or breaking laws, or violating a code of ethics! Hello?!?!?!? Anyone know the term 'moral integrity?' Do we have no outstanding Civil Rights leaders, no prominent politicians, no public servants who have achieved great things for their country while keeping their pants up and their hand out of the till? Why aren't they our heroes?
Back to the issue at hand, SURELY there are Olympic heroes out there who are just as noble, just as handsome, and just as charming, who are not off doing drugs when they're out of the limelight. Let's put THEM on the cover of the cereal boxes! They're playing by the rules! They deserve our admiration and esteem!
Perhaps I'm naive. There is, after all, that truism that power corrupts and celebrity ruins. Perhaps there are no pure heroes. (Mighty Mouse, where are you?) But this seems to me like when people shake their heads and talk about how horrible teenagers are. I know lots of wonderful teenagers, and only a few horrible ones. But the wonderful ones get overlooked because they're home doing their homework, or at church playing basketball, or at Scout meetings working on projects, instead of out in the street making news.
I'm mixing a lot of issues here, but the point is the same: we (and who is 'we?" the media? you? certainly not me!) keep lowering our standards about what's acceptable. But, to borrow one of my all-time favorite quotes about housekeeping standards, how low can we go? I'm constantly shocked by what I hear on TV and radio, stunned by behavior that people in the public eye display and get away with. I see the expectations for every new generation slipping down one rung after another on the proprietary ladder of life, and it infuriates me that those of us who find this disturbing are viewed as ultraconservative or uncool.
Recently, I had a conversation with someone about O.J. Simpson, who had all he needed to be one of America's great heroes. Instead, his life turned into one bad decision after another. One hopes that Michael Phelps' lapse in judgement is a singular incident, but whether it is or not, he has lost the right to call himself a hero. And with the fall from grace goes the privilege of standing arm in arm with Tony the Tiger--this time, at least.
Come on, middle America: if we can't raise the bar, let's at least grab hold and keep it in place.