French Situationist philsopher Guy Debord penned his classic treatise, Society of the Spectacle, in 1967. It's impossible to know today if, back then, he had somehow managed to foresee a basic truth to our twenty-first century American sports landscape. But unfortunately, his phrase continues to prove an extremely adept descriptor of our sports culture. And nowhere is this better seen than in big-time college football, highlighted most recently by the unbelievable case of Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te'o, and the story of his fake dead girlfriend.
Yes, you read that right.
"Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, the stories said, played this season under a terrible burden," Jack Dickey and Timothy Burke write in their excellent investigative report "Manti Te'o's Dead Girlfriend, The Most Heartbreaking and Inspirational Story of the College Football Season, Is A Hoax," which went viral after its posting at Deadspin. "A Mormon linebacker who led his Catholic school's football program back to glory, Te'o was whipsawed between personal tragedies along the way. In the span of six hours in September, as Sports Illustrated told it, Te'o learned first of the death of his grandmother, Annette Santiago, and then of the death of his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua."
Te'o went on to have a very productive senior year, leading Notre Dame to its first national championship appearance in about twenty years, finishing second in the voting for the Heisman Trophy, and making the cover of Sports Illustrated. Along the way he was interviewed and acknowledged in a media storm of football frenzy. A frenzy that somehow failed to realize that the whole story was a hoax.
"Manti Te'o did lose his grandmother this past fall," Dickey and Burke continue. "But there is no SSA record ... of the death of Lennay Marie Kekua, that day or any other.
"The photographs identified as Kekua—in online tributes and on TV news reports—are pictures from the social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who is not named Lennay Kekua. She is not a Stanford graduate; she has not been in a severe car accident; and she does not have leukemia. And she has never met Manti Te'o."
The Deadspin report is long, but must be read. So click on the link here.
If there is any truth to that old adage about truth being stranger than fiction, then this is it.
These lines from Debord's Society of the Spectacle also seem appropriate: "All that once was directly lived has become mere representation," which is exhibited by a "decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing."
"The specialization of images of the world is completed in the world of the autonomous image, where the liar has lied to himself. The spectacle in general, as the concrete inversion of life, is the autonomous movement of the non-living."
Touché, M. Debord. Well played indeed.