On the Commodification of Damn Near Everything

From the great electronic encyclopedia in the sky:

Commodification is the transformation of goods, services, ideas and people into commodities, or objects of trade. A commodity at its most basic, according to Arjun Appadurai, is “any thing intended for exchange,” or any object of economic value. People are commodified—turned into objects—when working, by selling their labour on the market to an employer.”

A year ago, a Seattle runner, training for a marathon, took a self-defense class. In the middle of a long training run, she hopped into a public bathroom on the Burke-Gilman trail, where she was attacked by a violent, deranged person inside her bathroom stall. Thought she was going to die. Then drew on her training, tapped her inner savage, and repelled her attacker.

Made the news. Clearly, a tough, resilient, inspiring woman. A few days ago, I listened to an update. She finished the Chicago Marathon and created a “NTMF” movement, Not Today Mother (something or other), which is intended to inspire women to learn self-defense. A good thing, but then the story took a sharp, predictable, commercial turn. T-shirts and coffee mugs now available for sale. Note too, she’s available for media inquiries and bookings.

A few months ago, pre-Weinstein, my favorite radio sports talk host, who I’ve enjoyed listening to for two decades, stopped by a Bellevue condo complex after a round of golf. Said it was for a massage. Turns out, he paid for sex. His radio station thanked him for his service.

After going dark for awhile, he turned to Twitter to revive his personal brand. He’s not selling t-shirts and coffee mugs, he’s selling himself. The vast majority of people responded positively, quick to forgive, hopeful he’ll get a new gig soon. He replied to darn near each person with a personal “thank you”. I’m sure they think he cares, that they have some sort of personal connection.

They’re all being played. How can he truly care about them, when he’s never met them? All he cares about is increasing his followers on Twitter. The higher that number, the better his odds of a second act.

Everyone is selling something. A friend tells me I’m no different. I’m selling ideas on the Humble Blog. Guilty as charged. But don’t underestimate my commercial chops. At last look, I had 61 Twitter followers.

 

What Lance Armstrong Can Say to Oprah to Make Things Right

Nothing.

Apart from a simple “sorry for the long-standing deception,” Lance doesn’t owe me, or any professional cycling fan, anything.

Why do we continually delude ourselves to think we know the entertainers, athletes, and politicians we follow? That we’re in some sort of relationship with them? That when their moral failings become painfully evident, that they let us down?

Remember Tiger Woods awkward, post-rehab, public confessional in some Florida hotel conference room? The one with his mom in the front row. The one where he said he “kinda got away from his Buddhism (one of my favorite understatements of all-time)?” What was that all about? Tiger didn’t pledge to be faithful to me or you or even his corporate sponsors.

The bright light public confessional is all about limiting the damage to one’s personal brand, and by extension, earning potential. To reset as a human being, Tiger would have been far better off listing all the people he had hurt and then seeking each person’s forgiveness outside the media spotlight.

At 41, Lance is in trouble if he needs advice on how to reset as a human being. I’m offering it anyways. He won’t follow it because he doesn’t read this blog regularly enough, and like all of us, he’s highly skilled at rationalizing his behavior. He tells himself, “If it wasn’t for my success, Hamilton, Landis, Andreu’s wife, and even my masseuse and others involved with the sport wouldn’t have made nearly as much money.” In his mind, his accusers are indebted to him.

Forget Oprah Lance. And forget your athletic career (triathlon has a long ways to go before it reaches “fringe sport” consideration). Resolve to be a more kind, empathetic, and truthful person. Take time to make a detailed list of everyone that you’ve directly hurt as a result of your words, actions, and privilege. People who you repeatedly lied to. People you bullied on and off the bike. People whose reputations you trashed. People whose businesses you ruined. Then come clean in a written mea culpa, a no holds barred confession. In it, take complete responsibility for hurting those people as a result of their truthfulness.

Send it to the New York Times. Then buy however many plane tickets necessary and travel to see everyone on the list. No matter how much it cuts into your triathlon training. Seek their forgiveness as personally and privately as possible.

Do that and the tide of public opinion will begin to turn. But don’t do it for that reason. Don’t even do it for your children or your legacy. Do it to reset as a human being, for the sake of human decency, to live the second half of your life in a more kind, empathetic, and truthful manner.

imgres