Whereas the author begins an ongoing—sometimes profane—thread
about Lance Armstrong...
about Lance Armstrong...
In this episode, the author: introduces the subject; identifies his conflict; muses on phalluses and the sphincters; and touches on the difference between a hero and a symbol.
He's been called all of these things (and more).
Where do I stand regarding Lance?
I believe that he is a blank canvas, or (more accurately) a scrim. Sometimes he is transparent, and we see something within him. Sometimes he is opaque, and we see the reflections of our own expectations. And sometimes he reflects the gobo someone else aims at him, and we react to the shadow we see.
This story needs to be told out of sequence, and it's one that is yet to be concluded.
Let's begin in the middle...
Convalescence 2I was recovering from shoulder surgery, so I had entirely too much free time.
As is my won't, I pillaged the library.
I read three years' worth of Bicycling Magazine, cover to cover. Interesting.
I checked-out every nonfiction cycling book on the shelves—at three libraries. Some I devoured. Others I merely flipped through (bicycle maintenance is interesting, but not practical with an arm in a sling and a bloodstream poisoned by painkillers).
One result was that I learned more about Lance Armstrong than is necessary or advisable. There are a lot of pages and column inches devoted to him—and "devoted" is often the word to describe the authors' angles.
The thing about it was that (despite the fawning prose) the more I read, the more I kept asking myself an old question: "Is he a dick, or is he an asshole?"
The NoughtsMy first real exposure to the Mythos of Lance was my reading of "It's Not About the Bike" sometime in the early 2000s (you know, the noughts).
Like most folks, I was enthralled by the triumphant story. Cancer survivorship: check. Champion cyclist: check. But surrounding and beneath it all, he did not move me. Like a hero in a movie, something inside me wants to like him. (Which is one of the major reasons why the great villains in literature and film are so great: they're likable...consider: Lucifer, Richard III, Fagin, Keyser Söze, et al.)
In Lance I beheld a jerk of a hero. Worse, I though he was a class "A" asshole.
Time passed. He kept winning, and every July I slavishly followed and cheered his accomplishments. After all, he strode atop the pinnacle of a sport I loved.
Anything else he did I filed away as: "meh".
Then I started having pain and discovered a serious lump in my naughty bits. Somehow I remembered something from the book. I went back and scanned it. Yep. Same symptoms.
Convalescence 1With a testicular cancer diagnosis ringing in my ears I re-read "It's Not About the Bike". This time, the cycling took a back seat to, well, everything else.
I finished it and I was conflicted. I was deeply grateful to have read it (previously), because my memory of it triggered events that led to my diagnosis, and I was able to avoid chemotherapy's debilitation.
But my appreciation was compromised, because I was grateful to a person I couldn't abide—a person I considered to be...well...a douche.
Considering my situation, it may seem strange that I would spend energy thinking about Lance as a person. Part of the reason is that I needed something to think about that was cancer-related, but not scary. Anxiety and primal fear rule throughout the process of testing, diagnosis, and treatment. Lance fit the bill: he threw me a lifeline, but he was not directly involved in my odyssey. And best of all, he didn't even know it.
Safely distant from the person, I was free to articulate my internal conflict. It all crystallized into a single question: "Is he a dick, or is he an asshole?"
Regarding Dicks and AssholesMy theory—unscientific and puerile as may be—is that an asshole is always an asshole. It cannot help being what it is. A dick, however, has a choice. It can be controlled by a more-civilized mind. Even the hardest dick can be softened. An asshole, however, is always going to smell like shit.
So, is Lance an asshole? Does he act the way he acts and treat people the way he does because he is wired that way?
Or, is Lance a dick? Is his behavior the result of a controlling ego that has been tempered by hard experience?
Heroes and SymbolsI want to like Lance Armstrong. I would like to call him a hero. However, I don't perceive him that way.
To me, a hero is someone you admire, revere, and treasure. It is a person whose actions you would emulate, whose leadership you would follow, and who you would defend against antagonists.
Lance is all of the former and few of the latter. I admire his strengths, revere his accomplishments, and treasure his role as an anti-cancer activist.
I do not wish to emulate many of his actions—his selfishness and meanness is something I cannot abide. His leadership I question—I cringe at his degree of self-promotion and wonder how long I could follow a self-aggrandizing figure. And he has done many thing I consider undefendable; I would not take a hit for him.
Thus, despite my desire for him to be something more, Lance Armstrong remains—for me—a symbol.
To me (and in this context) a symbol is a person whose presence, image, or mention represents something above and beyond the individual.
Lance represents tenacity, strength, endurance, survivorship, and myriad other things. I can look at him and draw strength from his example. I can reference him to others and achieve instant recognition. People "get it". This is his value; he is a symbol.
To expect anything beyond that diminishes his power as a symbol.
His all-too-obvious flaws—from his in-your-face attitudes, his dismissiveness of people, and his overarching egotism—eliminate him as a hero. Yet, as a symbol, he remains powerful and compelling.
Person and PersonaMaybe it comes down to the difference between Lance Armstrong, the person, and Lance Armstrong, the persona.
The public Lance is a persona, the man we see in press conferences and advertisements, on the bike and the red carpet.
The private Lance is a person, with all the aspirations, qualities, and flaws that come from being, well, human.
So, what happens when you meet the person?
...on to Part II