Inscrutability, felines and heroes

As a cat lover, critic of heroic mythologies, and observer of masculinity in general, I have a few thoughts to air prior to Tiger Woods’ unscripted press conference today at 2:00 pm ET at the site of the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia.

One of the characteristics that highlight the feline personality in a somewhat stereotypical way is the seeming inscrutability of the animal. The relative lack of facial expression, compared to other domestic animals like dogs, that might expose the physical or emotional or psychological state of the creature that is relied on in the evolutionary struggle for survival might be a key to the animal’s predatory success especially in more “wild” natural settings where signs of weakness and vulnerability can be especially dangerous.

It is likewise important for the (super) hero to contain emotional, physical, and psychological expression in order to not show weakness, give away vital information, or unnecessarily dissipate vital energies in the struggle against evil forces. All forces of the hero must be focused, channeled and protected.  The need to avoid distractions such as social and romantic entanglements that tend to dissipate energies and encourage vulnerability (defined as weakness) is a hallmark characteristic of the hero.

This inscrutability also has a racialized dimension–the “inscrutable” Asian–which combines with the almost hyperbolic animal/masculinity of Mr. Woods to create a cultural fascination with his mysterious superhuman qualities.

So when Arnold Palmer, a golfer of heroic standing himself, suggested that Tiger needs to “open up” to journalists, allowing them to “shoot at him,” in order to begin a process of redemption after his marital infidelity came to light beginning in late November 2009, he was suggesting a less heroic, more functional option for Tiger in order to begin the process of healing, not just cultural/media redemption.

Indeed, “opening up” Tiger with journalists’ arrows or bullets in the form of questions and comments as Palmer suggests Tiger should allow would ironically be one of the bravest, strongest acts Tiger could undertake in his thirty-five years, especially if he chooses to engage honestly and without hesitancy. The calculated, clipped, limited cliched responses of his past that divulge no real information about his fundamental beliefs and experiences will not suffice if he is to begin the process that Palmer believes is crucial to his return.

In other words, sometimes the real hero must face his deepest fears, those of emotional and psychological fallibility. These internal struggles of the hero, of the feline predator, that show up in other ways as loss of mastery over the physical–I can tell when my cats are anxious or happy or sad by observing their body movements in the form of tail twitches, ear position, pupil dilation, etc. much as Tiger’s “secret” sexcapades have exposed his loss of control over the physical–in the stories we tell ourselves, that construct our cultural imaginaries, really determine the varieties and powers of our most important heroes: our everyday heroes.

I am interested to see if there will be a new “Tiger” with more fully human qualities who can not only play incredible golf, but value his most important relationships in thoughtful, fearlessly vulnerable ways.

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