Not the most believable guy in the world*

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:


One of the easily missed moments in the Oprah Winfrey interview of Lance Armstrong came early last night (the first of two parts) on a program called “Oprah’s Next Chapter.”  Winfrey cited the words of an anti-doping official who called Armstrong’s activities with the US Postal Service team “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.” On paper, it’s an ambiguous statement. Read it aloud putting the emphasis on “that” and it’s a claim confined to the world of cycling. Winfrey read it that way and even inserted an extra word to reinforce that impression. Armstrong, in the course of responding, gently but firmly corrected the sense of the quote. It’s a sentence you read with emphasis on the word “sport,” he asserted.  He then denied the truth of the quote, but that little nudge of correction told a bigger story.

Deception is it own accomplishment. To be a damned elusive Pimpernel, to fool most of the people all the time, to be one smart rabbit leading  the watchdogs of your profession on a merry chase….that takes something special.  It takes nerve and cunning that’s entirely separate from the skill and determination essential to win that big French race. I think he’s still a little bit proud of that.

It’s an odd piece of television. It unfolds just as the American public is transfixed by an entirely different sports scandal, the “catfishing” of Manti Te’o.  It was recorded just a little bit too early for the participants to know that.  And yet there are moments that suggest a parallelism.  Armstrong talks about a momentum, suggesting, I think, the way his success and the lies behind it clumped magnetically together and began rolling forward very fast, with the illusion of unstoppability.  This may eventually be an insight into Te’o too.

The interview is also a little odd technically. The set is austere, as these things go. The chairs are more appropriate for a deposition witness than an honored guest. The setting more closely resembles a Marriott mid-grade room than anything else.  And then there’s the mic. Armstrong is wearing a lav mic that seems misplaced on his clothes and cranked up high, so that every fidget, every rustle sounds like someone shaking a box of muesli in the background.  Armstrong fidgets a lot, and the auditory effect is subliminally damning.  I thought at first it was an accident, but then, the interview is edited.  They could have stopped any time and fixed it. So now I wonder.

The giant, implicit question arising in this interview is one raised artfully in a different context — Kathryn Schulz’s recent essay on self-help.

Let us call it the master theory of self-help. It goes like this: Somewhere below or above or beyond the part of you that is struggling with weight loss or procrastination or whatever your particular problem might be, there is another part of you that is immune to that problem and capable of solving it for the rest of you. In other words, this master theory is fundamentally dualist. It posits, at a minimum, two selves: one that needs a kick in the ass and one that is capable of kicking.

Armstrong’s current presentation of self is predicated on this notion: that there are at minimum two Lance-selves and that the better of them is currently in control and kicking the ass of the lesser Lance (which Oprah sometimes calls “your jerk-self.”) As we watch the interview, we either accept or reject that premise. Paradoxically, “integrity” (in its holistic sense) is Armstrong’s worst enemy right here. The more that his current self seems to be “all of a piece” with his former self, the worse things will go for him. My own subjective impression is that things will not go well. Armstrong is not persuasive in suggesting this necessary pseudo-schizoid break with his old self. He has not achieved bifurcation.  He seems like the same old guy with a different story to tell. That’s not the swill we feed on.  We like a different flavor of slop.

There is, of course, a sense in which these two public figured are briefly conjoined. OWN is not what Winfrey hoped it would be. The commercial breaks assume that we know about and will watch even more avidly shows such as “Iyanla Fix My Life.” We’ll see.

* words Amstrong used to describe himself in the interview




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21 thoughts on “Not the most believable guy in the world*

  1. Richard

    Ive been re-reading Tm Wolfe’s writings on the Third Great Awakening in America, The age of Narcissism (The “Me” Generation).

    Wolfe’s notes on 1970s self-help confessionals (and talk shows) where people gush about their homosexuality and their hemmorhoids in one breath seems prophetic.

    Absent ancestor worship in the age of “If I have only one life to live, let me live it as a blonde” mentality, what allows Lance Armstrong or others to say “It’s all good. I helped some charities and my kids are well taken care of. That’s enough for me.” without consideration for the finacial effects on the non-doping losers families and their well-being.

    As Wolfe puts it

    “Most people, historically, have not lived their lives as if thinking, ‘I have only one life to live.’ Instead they have lived as if they are living their ancestors’ lives and their offspring’s lives…….. Where the Third Great Awakening will lead—who can presume to say? One only knows that the great religious waves have a momentum all their own. And this one has the mightiest, holiest roll of all, the beat that goes . . . Me . . . Me . . . . Me . . . Me.”

    I (Richard) am a big believer in the Apocalypse if for no other reason than Americans need to know what they have done to their progenitors and their descendants and the cost of The Third Awakening. Ancestor worship and the traditional family and accountability are not the worse things in the world.

    Wolfe’s 1976 essay:

  2. DrHunterSThompson

    To witless:

    Alas, you couldn’t help yourself from falling into the black hole of pseudo-intellectualism once again. The story of Armstrong may be repugnant to you and other casual, at best, followers of athletics. But the fact of the matter is that some amongst us are competitors, warriors, who will stop at nothing to win. Those people provide us all with entertainment, inspiration, and awe. We need simply to accept it for what it is and move on.

    Lance happened to be the most motivated in the dirtiest of sports. His level of “cheating” was simply greater and smarter than the rest. I think it is safe to guess that nearly 100% of riders that stood on the platform during the Armstrong decade or so has been busted by someone for doping. Lance is simply the last to fall – and the biggest.

    If you want to be the best, you need to do what you have to do. Otherwise simply compete and languish at the bottom.


    1. cmcenroe Post author

      What kind of “warrior” are you, taking potshots from behind your sad little nom de guerre. The real Thompson was a warrior. He wasn’t afraid to lay it all on the line. You haven’t even mastered the basic trick of owning what you do. (Lastly, I’ve been a monthly contributor to the world’s largest magazine on cycling for the last 18 months, but you,a mewling babytroll, know so much more than I?)

      1. Repeal 2nd Amendment Bill

        Colin; Isn’t this the dude that invited you to meet him at the Art Cinema some evening in the dark?

        Hee Hee Hee…

        Holy smokes.

    2. Cynical Susan

      “If you want to be the best, you need to do what you have to do.”

      I guess it all falls on your definition of “best.” Best at riding? Best at doping? Best at doping and riding? Best at deceiving?

      Warriors? Please. How about highly-paid egotists who happens to be good at something and are able, because of some lucky twist of fate, to dance high on the heads of competitors who might be just as good but might not have had that one lucky break, or that one good connection, or that one lucky combo of chemistry.

    3. Repeal 2nd Amendment Bill

      DrPretendThompson; your pretense as an intellectual is exceeded only by your need for unnecessary attention.

  3. DrHunterSThompson

    To witless:

    Yeehaw! That is the most inspired group of words you have pieced together in some time – funny, fiery, well done!

    Nah, I don’t pretend to know more than anyone. I’ve just been a fan of competitive cycling since the Bernard Hinault days. It has been the dirtiest of sports forever and, like the old Rhode Island politics, I like it that way – what’s the use if its not entertaining?

    I’m glad you write for Bicycling. Sure ain’t Velo News, but soccer moms and their kids enjoy your pithiness I’d bet.


  4. Repeal 2nd Amendment Bill

    I’m not into professional sports so all this hullabaloo is mostly a yawn for me. I have a bike and I will ride off road or with a large group like the RAW adventures. I was spooked while riding on the street once and I slammed on my brakes and went flying over my front bars and shattered my right elbow. ouch. I also run and only a few years ago, I enjoyed running in 5k road races. I was pretty fast (not elite by any means) for my age division but I enjoyed the challenge and I may try to get the zing back. The interest is all about health and weight.

    But professional sports? Fogetaboutit. But I think this major jerk, Mr Armstrong, should be brought down like a family of jackals would bring down a fawn. Take him down and eat him.

  5. Doxy

    Am I the only person in this state who doesn’t care about this story? Why give attention and publicity to anything this lying fraud says?

  6. Todd Zaino

    I am with you Doxy…it’s a sport I could careless about, he’s been caught with hand in the cookie jar…he’s fooled about as many people as Obama has…time to move on. Funny how Americans, and our media will vet Manti Te’o and Armstrong better than do the clown in the White House.

  7. John F. Murphy

    Colin: Re: Guns
    The left is far too rational, the right is crazy, and the result is that we’re always arguing way down at the crazies’ end of the spectrum. The “legitimate Sportspan” is lionized and made into some sort of deity. We throw Michael Vick in prison for two years for killing pit bulls, but every autumn we give licenses to “sportsmen” to go out and kill Bambi. In a weird sort of way, we legitimize the craziness of the fringe simply by responding.

    The result of all this is that we always seem to be drawing our line in the sand over issues way down at the other end of the spectrum – like having a five day waiting period before someone can buy his second handgun, or not limiting the magazines for semi automatice rifles to ten bullets, but rather to thirty or fifty.

    The antidote to all this craziness: There ought to be someone from the left who is as crazy and who proposes the same sort of “off the way” nonesense that’s comes from the gun nuts.

    So here’s my proposal: (Find a psychologist, a PhD, a physician, a Freudian psychoanalyst – someone in authority who will publicly offer this “scientific” opinion: that someone who needs a gun is a frightened man who has a problem with the size of his penis.

    The goal would be to make this theory so widespread, and accepted as a counter argument, that someone will ask the president of the NRA about whether HE has this problem.

    Do you catch my drift?

    1. Repeal 2nd Amendment Bill

      John Murphy, my friend, I have argued that the need for guns is social se us
      Insecurity and that maybe size dos count when one of those pro gunners purchases a big gun at compensate for his inadequacy.

      But I like your idea of making the theory widespread. How about a law that the gun dealer must lastly measure the size of the genitalia of the purchaser before the transaction. Maybe like the final step after a 10 day background search.

  8. Repeal 2nd Amendment Bill

    Has anyone taken notice that potato chips and other treats have finally won the battle of the girth over Ophera?

  9. Luis Morales

    Careful there 2nd Amendment Bill, in some circles your above comment could be considered racist, at the very least, very non-PC. Rush Limbaugh was fired from ESPN for stating that the media was rooting for Donavan McNabb because he was a black QB. Funny how the so-called World Wide Leader has now decided to hire Ray Lewis to comment on football next season…I guess asking a black all-pro linebacker about a double homocide is not PC as well.

    1. Cynical Susan

      I don’t consider the comment racist, but I do consider it shallow. Oprah has been very open about her battle with trying to keep her weight down, but she’s also done both intelligent and generous work. But women especially are subject to any and all sniping about their appearance.

  10. Repeal 2nd Amendment Bill

    She admitted it herself that potato chips was her Achilles heel. We all define what may be permissible and not. I don’t need to worry in that she is not my wife. Sometimes that perfectly good person has a few flaws. Oprah once bought art from a friend of mine as he charectorized it, she insisted on a lower price. A billionaireiss asking for a lower price. Well she has a right to demand a lower price and I have a right to comment on her multiple potato chip battles with her Alice B. Toklas who also has lost the battle – kinda. And with Gail, I once observed her bump into a woman at the Bushnell then proceed to berate the woman.

    No Luis, it isn’t “racist” but we frequently miss identify a poor remark as racist.

    I too love potato chips but after reading the fat content, I stopped. No mas. Except last year when I had to consume 20 grams of fat 3 times a day with medication for 5 months and potato chips were high on my list of major fatty foods. I learned to count how many chips equaled 20 fat grams. Yikes and when I started I didn’t stop until the bag was turned upside down, LOL.

    1. Repeal the 2nd Billy

      My comment was in bad taste and I would like Colin to remove it. I refuse to listen to negative gossip about others and I just expressed it here. Clean it please before I loose sleep.

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