Sunday 21 February 2010

Wooden apology from Tiger!

Tiger Woods made his televised public apology on Friday, appearing like some naughty school boy attending the headmasters office to admit his bad behaviour, and to tell the world he was trying to learn from his mistakes and become a better person.

Watch Tiger's speech below.

I found the whole thing bizarre! Only in America would you get this type of public confessional, mixed in with a presidential style address to the nation speech.

I thought 'You're just someone who plays golf who's had some affairs!' Is this all necessary?

On Friday evening both the BBC 6:00 news and ITN early evening news lead with the Tiger Woods story. I Half expected this from ITV, but was this really the biggest news story of he day?

At 7:00 I turned over to Channel 4 News. You can always rely on Channel 4 news for some serious heavy weight news coverage! But no, even they had Tiger Woods as their main feature! What was going on?

What this public apology demonstrated for me, is that Woods is someone who has to be totally in control of everything he does. I'm sure that the media scrutiny he's faced over the last few months has been terrible for him as he's not been able to control the agenda. Friday's event was partly about regaining that power, but I'm not sure how well he succeeded.

This is someone who along with his golfing success has ruthlessly built up a global brand and image over the years that's made him the richest sports star in the world, but all of that has essentially collapsed in a matter of weeks.

What I don't understand is why have this public apology when the only people in attendance were his family and friends. He could have apologised to these people individually and in private.

Instead it would have been better if he'd just called a more conventional press conference and spoke directly to the media, and expressed his remorse for his actions, and answered questions from journalists.

This was unlikely as Woods seems to dislike the media. For what reason I don't know. I'm not aware of any previous hostile media coverage.

He seemed to lose his composure a little when he spoke about his wife and the speculation that she may have attacked him on the night he crashed his car outside the family home. He insinuated that the media were attacking her and that she was blameless in all of this.

The media never attacked his wife, and if he didn't like the intrusion into their private lives he shouldn't have been having these affairs in the first place. It's all a result of his own actions. Anyway he's going back in counselling to help with his so called 'sex addiction'. When will people realise sex addiction doesn't even exist!

I'm not doubting any of his sincerity, as I'm sure he's deeply sorry for his actions, (he said it enough times if you didn't get the message) but everything about Friday's events was so stage managed. It ended up feeling wooden and soulless, without any real authenticity.

I can imagine various counsellors and advisers telling him this is what needs to be said; this is how it should be said, how many times to say sorry, when to pause for dramatic effect during his speech. Where was the spontaneity? There wasn't any?

This is why Woods will never really appeal to me as a sports star. Everything about him is about building and managing his brand. I read in some reports that he spoke about how he's a Buddhist and wants to reconnect with many of the Buddhist teachings he grew up with.

I never even knew he was a Buddhist, but you cynically wonder to yourself whether perhaps his Buddhism was previously kept quiet, that it probably didn't fit in with the brand image, it might alienate potential fans and sponsors. It wouldn't surprise me if that was the case.

So will the public apology rebuild his brand image or his marriage? From what I've been reading his marriage may be over, as for the brand, he needs to get back onto the golf course sooner rather than later so that he can remind the world why he's such a celebrity and eventually his golfing exploits will take precedence again over this private life.

Sunday 14 February 2010

20 years since Nelson Mandela's release.

Last Thursday marked the 20th anniversary of the release of Nelson Mandela after 27 years of imprisonment. For me it's another one of those 'I can't believe it was really that long ago' moments!

It only seems like yesterday. A cliche I know, but it's true. Watching the news reports from 1990, it still feels incredibly monumental and inspiring. I'd almost forgotten how historic this moment really was. It was as if the time had finally arrived for black South Africans!

Even from a very early age I was always aware of the political system of apartheid in South Africa. Watching the news during the 1980s, whenever a report from South Africa was on it always seemed to consist of the white government declaring a State of Emergency, and clips of black people protesting and rioting in the streets whilst being beaten back by South Africa's security forces.

Politicians and other African leaders were always arguing over the merits of economic sanctions against South Africa. In this country, the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously opposed the introduction of sanctions. Finally there was the constant talk of this figurehead and leader of the ANC in prison who you never saw called Nelson Mandela.

The South African government had banned any images of Mandela being shown, he was considered too dangerous. All that existed was an old black and white tv interview with him from the early 1960s before he went to prison. When Mandela was finally released part of me just wanted to see who he was, and what he looked like after all these years.

When I look back over the last 20 years, I think that Mandela's greatest achievement was preventing South Africa turning into a blood bath following the end of white minority rule. There was a very real prospect of civil war breaking out in the country which thankfully never happened.

After years of his own personal imprisonment and the decades of oppression and humiliation experienced by the black population, it would have been so easy and natural for a sense of anger, bitterness and revenge to take over, but Mandela didn't allow this to happen. You can't really underestimated this.

You can see an example of this with the recently released film Invicitus about the story of South Africa's Rugby World Cup win in 1995.

Despite the fact that the South African 'Springbok' team were despised by the black majority and seen as a symbol of the apartheid regime, Mandela still embraced them, showing whites that he wasn't their enemy and blacks that they could learn to forgive.

Of course with Mandela's release and the end of apartheid there's another side to the story which needs to be mentioned, it goes something like this.

There were two main reasons for his release and the end of apartheid. The first is purely economic. During the 1960s South Africa had one of the fastest growing economies in the world, but as time passed the economic demands of the capitalist system made the realities of a racially segregated society almost unworkable.

How could a country continue to develop a successful economy when its racial policies meant that the majority of its population were treated as third class citizens and denied the opportunity to seriously contribute to the country's economic growth?

The second reason is the collapse of the Berlin Wall. During the era of the Cold War, South Africa had played an important strategic role as a bulwark against the spread of Communism in Southern Africa. Once the Wall collapsed in 1989 and the threat of Communism disappeared, South Africa's strategic role diminished.

You can't overlook these facts, but it can give a false impression that apartheid in South Africa would have inevitably collapsed! It might feel that way now, but it wasn't the case when I was growing up.

By focusing on those two issues it almost over looks all the years of protest, demonstrations, and sacrifices carried out by both black and white people in South Africa and around the world against apartheid! Their protests constantly reminded the world that this was a regime that was seen to be morally unacceptable!

In the UK and the rest of the world, Mandela is the nearest thing we have to a living saint, sometimes almost embarrassingly so. When it comes to politics and politicians, we live in very cynical times. Nobody can be so inspirational, so loved, and respected. But I can't think of a world leader in the last 30 years who's inspired so much respect.

In saying this, it's easily forgotten that before his release he was the enemy of the state and a terrorist for many whites in South Africa.

Reading this week in the Guardian about Mandela's legacy, there were a number of comments from South Africans on Mandela's impact. One white Afrikaner was quoted saying:

"We felt like we were all watching the end of South Africa. There was a lot of fear because in those days Mandela was the enemy. For a lot of the white people in South Africa they were looking at the snake himself. "...I have a comfortable life, but it was much easier during apartheid.....When your kids leave school now they can't get jobs because they go to the blacks."

It's hard, if not impossible to feel any sympathy for such views, but even though it makes me quite angry to read such comments I wanted to include it in this blog, as it reminds me that people like that were wrong and still are wrong.

20 years after his release, South Africa is changing for the better, but there's still a significant amount of problems for the country to overcome. After the years of apartheid there was never going to be a quick fix in overturning decades of inequality. It will probably take another generation before some of these inequalities level themselves out.

What South Africa does have is the inspirational figure of Mandela to remind its citizens of its overall goal of achieving a racially tolerant and equal society.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Mad Men - My new favourite drama

Having loved the The Sopranos and become obsessed with The Wire, there's been a gap in my life just waiting to be filled by another critically acclaimed US drama series. Well it's been filled now, I've discovered Mad Men.

I've actually known about the show for a couple of years, but I never really found the time to get round to watching it. It was on BBC4 which I don't always get a chance to watch on a regular basis, and there's only so many of these award winning US dramas you can watch at one time. But I always knew it was probably the sort of thing that I'd like.

Set in New York as the beginning of the 1960s the show focuses on the lives of a group of advertising men on New York's Madison Avenue. At the centre of the show is the mysterious Don Draper, the main character along with his bored suburban housewife Betty.

It's an incredibly stylish programme particularly in the way it's shot, and I just love the opening sequence. Plus I've always loved 60s fashion which they've really captured the best of.

Because it's set in the not too distant past it presents a world that's still vaguely familiar to us but at the same time shockingly different.

Season One Trailer

Within the first couple of minutes of watching, I couldn't get over the fact at just how much people smoke in the show. You never see people smoking on telly anymore, but this is the early 60s and that's what it was like.

In the show you have pregnant women smoking like chimneys you almost want to shout at them 'What are you doing?'

Along with the fact that characters rarely appear without a cigarette or drink in their hands, it's also quite shocking the level of outright sexism and casual racism.

Part of the show's appeal is definitely one of slight nostalgia, in terms of looking at a world where political correctness didn't exist, where smoking and drinking all day wasn't frowned upon, but practically encouraged!

Of course it wasn't all a bed of roses back in the early 60s and we should remember all the social, political and cultural advances we've made since then.

If you haven't seen the show, Season Three is currently running on BBC1 on Tuesday nights, and you can also watch it on BBC iplayer. If not you can get the box sets like me.

Saturday 6 February 2010

Terry sacked as England captain

Following John Terry's sacking as England captain yesterday, I thought I'd better write a follow up after my earlier post in the week. I'm surprised by the decision as I thought Cappello would stick by him. It certainly says a lot about Capello's no nonsense manner.

I think the reason why Terry was sacked is that all the speculation about his private life was just too much of a distraction and would have remained so had he stayed as captain during the World Cup.

We saw this type of distraction during the last World Cup, with the side show of the 'Wags'. By sacking Terry, Capello has sent out a message that all the celebrity nonsense that surrounds English football will not be allowed to overshadow the England team.

I've heard a few people say things like 'I don't care about John Terry's private life, I'm not interested' For them it's all about the football.

I admit I've enjoyed reading all about it, in the sense that it's just general gossip and I like hearing a bit of gossip. It's a soap opera with a plot line more interesting than anything that's going on in Eastenders or Hollyoaks at the moment!

Having thought about things, it shows how big celebrity culture has become in recent years. Back in the 80's and 90's I didn't care about the personal lives of top England players, and I couldn't name any of their wives or girlfriends. Why did I need to know this stuff? They were just footballers, that's all you needed to know.

Today they're sports stars and celebrities, with the two worlds merging together. Because the celebrity side of things has become so huge, I now feel that I actually want to care about and have an opinion on these things, hence this post!

So where does Terry go from here? His reputation is in tatters, but he's only got himself to blame. Some footballers are like overgrown kids who don't want to take responsibility for their own actions.

As is the case with such things, more stories have emerged about his private life which makes me think that he's done well to keep them under wraps for so long! A case of 'chickens coming home to roost' and all that.

I found out this week that he's hired the PR advisor Phil Hall to handle the publicity surrounding him. It's interesting that this is the same Phil Hall who was responsible for advising the celebrity TV chef Gordon Ramsay, who had is own problems with extra marital affairs splashed across the tabloids.

As well as Ramsay, Phil Hall was also hired by RBS banker Fred 'The Shred' Goodwin' who last year was at the centre of adverse publicity about bankers bonuses and pensions. Clearly this Phil Hall loves a challenge!

It's getting to the stage where some young footballers at top clubs will need to have some kind of life coaching or training on how to deal with media scrutiny and managing their personal and professional lives to avoid such scandals.

In saying this, it's a very British thing to be so obsessed with the private lives of public figures. Hearing reports on how countries like France and Italy have covered this story, they all seem totally baffled by the reaction over here.

High profile men having affairs? They just shrug their shoulders and move on!

One of the things I've realised about this incident is that you can't totally separate your professional and privates lives from each other. The way you conduct your life in private will always on occasions impact on your work and how you're perceived professionally.

It's really telling how someone like Terry has tried to exploit his position as a footballer and celebrity for commercial gain, whilst failing to understand that this commercial success is in part linked to his own reputation built both on and off the pitch.

It seems obvious but for many footballers and other sports stars they don't quite get this. Maybe Terry can prove to be warning lesson for all future football stars on how private lives impact on professional success. I doubt it though!

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Charlie Brooker - Newswipe

At the weekend a friend of mine suggested that I watch Newswipe, the BBC4 programme presented by Charlie Brooker. The way my friend described it, it sounded like a satirical review on the news media. I like reading Brooker's columns in the Guardian, so I decided to watch an episode on the BBC's iPlayer.

I have to say this programme is brilliant! Anyone with an interest in how the media produces and reports the news should have a look at this show. I've downloaded a clip from last week's episode which I thought was hilarious!

If you want to know how to produce a standard news item look at this clip, it ticks every box!

Watching this clip it makes you realise how formulaic and cliched a lot news reports really are. If you took away the sarcastic commentary, and pressed the mute button you'd probably think it was a genuine news report.

Finally, I loved the irony of the bloke from the vox pop interview, saying he's not interested in the opinions of some punter! Brilliant!