WINDERMERE, FLORIDA – Tiger Woods, the world’s number one golfer and one of sports’ most famous superstars, finally embraced his Thai heritage this week by engaging in fierce and categorical denial of obvious reality.
In response to the worldwide media storm that began with the global athletic icon crashing his Cadillac Escalade into a fire hydrant near his home at 2:30 a.m., Woods has engaged in a series of actions that are only explicable when viewed as an extension of his half-Thai heritage.
“Most megastars are also experts at media control and spin,” explained Dee Meyerson, a senior reporter at Hollywood.com. “When things go wrong they call their publicists and consultants and agents, and immediately a pro team of managers handles the situation for maximum damage control. But Woods instead tried to ignore the problem, then denied it, then made some bizarre statements that just fed the fire. It made no sense.”
It wasn’t until TMZ ran a full rundown of Woods’ erratic and incompetent image-managing that the press began to make the connection: After decades of essentially denying his Thai heritage, Woods was finally expressing himself in classic and unmistakable Thai ways.
“The refusal to talk to police because he’s a big shot, the hypocritical demand for privacy despite making hundreds of millions of dollars cashing in on fame and endorsements, the absurd belief that somehow the story will vanish with blanket denials of clear facts – all of these are classic aspects of Thai culture,” said Dr. Farcheen Wongsawai, a professor of Southeast Asian studies at Miami University. “This is the most Thai we’ve ever seen Tiger behave.”
Many analysts see Tiger’s timing as poor, given that his Thai way of responding to a crisis has so far not brought very good results in the western press, which, unlike the Thai press, has no fear of libel lawsuits and doesn’t treat celebrities and rich people as untouchable, sinless gods. “When you answer questions from western reporters with childish threats, diversionary appeals, and illogical vagueness, they just tend to ask more questions,” observed Manfred Sanchez, a sports media analyst with ESPN Asia.
The backfiring Thai strategy has turned a minor car accident into a media event, alternatively dubbed “The Tiger Zoo” or “Tigergate” and involving sensationalist allegations of serial infidelity, domestic abuse, and casual drug abuse. While some reporters see these new elements as even more evidence of emulation of upper-class Thai behavior, many editorials point out that there is nothing exclusively Thai about rich and powerful people acting like asses.
“Sleeping with B-level porn stars and skanky waitresses is quite American,” noted Sanchez. “Thinking that your icon status will stop people from writing about it, well, only a Thai would be that obtuse.”
Thais worldwide are greeting Tiger’s sudden Thai-ness with cautious enthusiasm. “It’s great that he’s finally acknowledging his heritage,” said Thongchai Jaidee, Thailand’s top golfer and winner of the 2009 Player of the Year award on the Asian Tour. “But I wish he could have expressed his Thai-ness some other way – maybe by smiling more, and being nice to people. That’s very Thai too, you know.”