HERE’S a quiz question. No prize, but have a go anyway. What do Donald Trump and Ryan Lochte have in common? Odd hair, I hear you say? Accurate, but not the right answer, writes Terry Prone
The right answer is a twofer: 1) They’re both promiscuously addicted to fame, rather than achievement, and 2) Neither knows how to apologise.
Were Lochte addicted to achievement, coming up to the Olympics, he’d have done what Michael Phelps did, which was to train constantly and eat an enormous amount of healthy food. Any half-decent athlete these days knows to the last blueberry what to eat in order to maximise their performance and recovery. Even Lochte would know that if you’re aiming at a gold medal in Rio, you get into blueberry counting. Instead, he got into Big Mac ingestion. Multiple Big Macs. He was lovin’ it to such an extent that it made him spectacularly sick.
A handful of honest people, reading this column, will figuratively put their hands up and admit, just to themselves, that they have done likewise, whether with Big Macs or another form of junk food. It happens. It is fair to assume, however, that none of that handful of honest people would announce their puke-productive piggery to the world. But the real Olympic possible DID announce his binge to the world.
This man, who, like Phelps, the man he shadows in medal-winning terms, is on the verge of retirement from his sport, seems to be akin to a media lizard. Just as a lizard, because it’s cold blooded, cannot run around unless the sun is shining on it, so Lochte seems to be able to function only when he has an audience. Preferably global. As long as he has half the world paying attention to his idiocies, he’s happy out. Not saying he’s stupid, though there’s an argument along those lines. He shares with Donald Trump a total understanding of social media and the capacity of meaningless fame — meaning notoriety rather than respect for achievement — to catapult its owner into mega money.
“I see me being a designer, I see me being a model, I see me being a TV star,” the Big-Mac puker has said about his career plan. And before you shrug, be clear that he will probably be all three, because notoriety sells at least as well as, and in some cases better than, achievement.
Poet Aidan Mathews’ great statement applies: Celebrity is demonisation in a good mood. Both, right now, are box office. Indeed, an infamous Lochte may command higher fees than a merely famous Lochte. When it comes to notoriety, Lochte, like Trump, is such an unending, ever-flowing source, you have to think the two must be related in some way. Trump seems to come alive in the heat of TV studios and town hall meetings, as if both were an end in themselves, rather than a means to an end.
Lochte, similarly, cherishes public acclaim and disdain as if they were equal. As long as attention is paid to him, he is content in himself. Remember, this world-class athlete in his 30s vandalised a gents’ loo in a petrol station in Rio and then claimed to have been held at gunpoint and robbed. No part of that sentence makes sense, and the last bit isn’t even true. If teenagers on mid-term did it, it would be inexcusable but understandable.
However, the guys who did it in Rio were much older than teenagers, at least chronologically, though in maturity terms the jury is still out. To engage in anything that would draw the Brazilian cops on them and then fabricate a hold-up, given the omnipresence of CCTV cameras, suggests these guys may be as dumb as they are fit. When it was all explained, and one of the vandals had paid $11,000 (in an arrangement that seems to be roughly the equivalent of the poor box in a District Court here) Lochte did the decent thing. Nearly.
“I want to apologise for my behaviour last weekend,” he told the world, his steel-capped head hanging, “for not being more careful and candid in how I described the events of that early morning”.
It’s a doozie. You have to admit, as apologies go, it’s a mega fail. He just wasn’t candid and careful enough. What’s odd about that is that candour, in this context, is dead easy. You just say: “I vandalised someone else’s property. Then I lied about being held up at gunpoint. I’m sorry.”
That’s candour. Add a smidgeon of responsibility, and the apology might conclude thus: “No excuses. I’m a stupid tosser. I’m sorry to the petrol station owner, to the police, to my team, to my family, and to anybody I misled.”
Of course, the little sweetie pie did none of these. He got quickly to the excuses. Here they come.
“It’s traumatic to be out late with your friends in a foreign country — with a language barrier — and have a stranger point a gun at you and demand money to let you leave.” All together now, sympathetic “Aaah.” The trauma of international travel for a 32-year-old who has been doing it all his life is indubitably profound. Not only is Brazil a big bad foreign country, although not one to which the Big Mac is a stranger, but it’s a foreign country that has the nerve to speak its own language, and the cruelty to have cops who, faced with a bunch of oversized vandals any one of whom looks like Superman on a good day, pulls a gun and demands money to repair the damage they’ve done. The poor lamb will be in counselling for ages.
Over on the presidential election front, Trump also got into the business of apology. In a speech in Charlotte last Thursday night, he expressed “regret” over comments that “may have caused personal pain”. He didn’t specify what those comments were. They could have been the lies he’s told about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, or the crude racism of his observations about the mother of a dead US soldier. Trump turned apology into a guessing game using a one-size-fits-all formula of words anybody offended by him could apply to themselves. Few of them seem to have had their pain assuaged by this formula. Not that Trump was waiting for them to respond. Like Lochte, he was moving swiftly on to excusing himself.
“Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words or you say the wrong thing,” he went on. “I have done that.”
A bit like Lochte, provoked by the trauma of foreign travel into trashing the toilet in a petrol station. Mitigating circumstances, don’t you know. Addicted to attention of any kind, incapable of apology, bereft of attention span, the two of them are soul brothers. And, right now, if the Republican Party could do a swap, running Lochte for president would be marginally less terrifying than running Trump.
Right now, running Lochte for president would be marginally less terrifying than running Trump
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