February 2, 2009

The Real Moral Of The Phelps Bong Hit Photo? (Don’t Mess With The Sponsors.)

“We have been in touch with those sponsors,” the U.S.O.C. spokesman Darryl Seibel said, “and let them know that we’re disappointed and that going forward we expect different and better conduct.” — from: Phelps Apologizes for Marijuana Pipe Photo (NYT)

It seems the American public and media now largely take in stride the knowledge of someone — such as the President, for example — having smoked marijuana, but, at least in Michael Phelps’s case, there is a completely different threshold for the image of it. (One BAGnewsNotes reader addressed the point directly on the recently surfaced Obama college photos, saying how lucky it was for Obama the photographer held onto the pics till after the election, given the visage of him simply smoking a cigarette held like a joint.)

But then, where is the real injury here, given that cannabis is not considered a banned substance by the World Anti-Doping Agency during out-of-competition testing — this visual “bust” occurring in that period of time. Is it a character issue when, according to the NYT: “Phelps has never tested positive for a banned substance” and “last year … (he) agreed to increased testing to prove that he was a clean athlete.” Or, are we to think — again, back to the issue of the power and impact particular images are supposed to have and mean — that a photo like this might actually contribute to the corruption of America’s youth and override, in people’s minds, the knowledge of the intense discipline and rigor Phelps applies to his sport?

Even though the media frames Phelps’s act, in all its visual glory, as morally earth shattering, what I’m actually wondering is this: How much of a social offense would we be talking about here if the media industrial complex, fronting for behemoth corporate sponsors including Kellogg’s, Mazda, Subway, Visa and AT&T (as if corporate America had no moral baggage of its own) wasn’t absolutely freaking out right now over their multi-million dollar investment in the most critical image of all — that of Phelps as the “all-American boy”?

(image: News Of The World.co.uk. via:What A Dope)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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