MONTREAL, QC. — Like many people, I was shocked by the story of college football star Manti Te’o and his “imaginary” girlfriend when details emerged yesterday that it was a hoax. I’m still not sure exactly where the truth lies, but I’m quite sure that wherever it is, it was hidden for a very long time.
I feel as though I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, this isn’t the first time that I’ve been lied to by a public figure. The monster that is Notre Dame football has tried to cover things up in the past. And the consequences of the abuse scandal at Penn State are still unfolding – it’s still a subject of debate, and likely will continue to be for years. Why? Because no matter what happens to the athletes and celebrities we love, a small part of us doesn’t want to shatter the illusion that they’re perfect. We don’t want to think that our favourite athlete or coach is a liar or a famewhore or a criminal. We don’t want to believe that the perfect Hollywood marriage is a lie. As a result of that, we sometimes sweep things under the rug, either of our own free will or because someone with influence decides that it doesn’t fit into the story we want to hear. And, just like that, bits of real life are left on the proverbial cutting-room floor.
It seems odd to a lot of people that no one in the mainstream media bothered to find out more information about Lennay Kekua’s death. Unless this was a really elaborate hoax, it should have been easy to find out whether a patient by that name was admitted to a local hospital, or where her funeral took place. Wouldn’t someone have wanted to write a follow-up piece, or maybe ask Kekua’s classmates how her memory was going to be honoured? Or was everyone who covered this story more focused on how the death of a young woman played a role in the burgeoning career of the man who made her famous? Is this what our celebrity culture is now? Everyone gets to be a hero, no matter the cost, until the public is tired of them and decides to take them down? It certainly seems that we’re headed that way, now that social media and the rise of celebrity gossip culture have made it near impossible for celebrities and athletes to keep secrets. We’re not supposed to know what those secrets are, but we somehow feel gratified when we know who our heroes are and who has been taking us for a ride. But, if anything, the general public is kept in the dark even more than ever, simply because every medium that we think is helping us to learn the truth, might be covering up just as much as it reveals.
It seems like things will just continue this way, because the media and its public will continue to enjoy this sort of selective storytelling. We’ll think we’re getting the whole truth simply because we get to see celebrities being candid on TMZ, or because every now and then, an athlete will tweet something stupid. We won’t question why the gossip rags are so focused on some celebrities, and not on others. Or why a couple’s very sudden marriage might strike us as strange, rather than romantic. Or why some athletes get more flack about their love lives or their partying than others do, or why players ask for trades and coaches get fired. We just want real life to provide us with stories to entertain us, complete with good guys and bad guys and maybe a “happily ever after.”
The real victim in this story isn’t a football player or a fake dead girl. The real victims here are the fans, constantly searching for a story to hold on to and not caring about what the consequences might be.