From: Tom Grant, doctoral student at the Center for ETHICS*
Does coverage of Tiger Woods’ sexual escapades serve as a personal constraint on people who are considering sex outside marriage? Or is it making marital transgressions seem morally acceptable because so many people commit them?
New York Times columnist Robert Wright says media coverage of Tiger Woods’ marital infidelity, as well as other prominent cases, may be changing our idea of morality — though he’s not sure how it’s changing.
In the article , Wright points to Woods and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford as what he calls “victims of the new transparency.” He says more and more of us are creating records of our behavior through text messages and e-mails, which make it more likely the world will learn about our hidden sexual relationships.
As Vanity Fair summarizes Woods has been a tabloid sensation since a car accident outside his Florida mansion. Gov. Sanford’s affair was discovered by a newspaper when he flew to South American to meet his mistress. Other sports figures and politicians involved in such scandals include Alex Rodriguez, Kobe Bryant, Bill Clinton, and John Edwards. Even though public figures are the ones whose stories will actually make the front pages and nightly newscasts, Wright thinks the coverage could have widespread impact on the general public.
“The resulting parade of foible is bound to affect our values,” he writes. “On the one hand, there could be a drift toward Victorian uptightness. If people are scared that their transgressions will come back to haunt them, then presumably there will be fewer transgressions.”
On the other hand, he says, wide media coverage of every affair of the rich and famous could make such transgressions seem more acceptable to all of us. “In a 1993 essay called ‘Defining Deviancy Down,’ Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan worried that the more common social pathologies became, the more common they would become,” Wright wrote.
Some evidence exists that media coverage of some negative events increases the likelihood of copycat actions, particularly with coverage of suicide and bomb threats. Other research suggests that drawing people’s attention to deviant acts, such as when a park put up signs condemning some visitors for stealing precious artifacts, can actually increase social approval of the action and increase the problem.
What do you think?
Do incidents of sexual escapades teach us that it’s OK to have affairs? Or, do all the sexual escapades warn us about our own behavior?
The answer is not easy. To ferret out a solution to any moral issue, we must first consider reversibility. Ask students to place themselves in the shoes of the people involved. Who is the victim? Tiger Woods? His wife, Elin? Tiger’s children?
Ask : “How you would feel if you were Elin? Or if Elin were your sister or Elin were your mother? How would you would feel if you were Elin’s son or daughter?” We all know someone who has faced the issues of infidelity, and we have seen the consequences. Then ask if the way Elin and her children have been treated the way all people should treat other people.
Now back to the original question, from a personal perspective: Do the students feel desensitized by such sexual transgressions? Are they more fearful of getting caught? Or do they see other values emerging, such as the importance of the promises Elin and Tiger made to each other?
Here’s a look at what Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll has to say about the issue: