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Printer Friendly Version Theory Beyond the Codes: tbc020
Date Published: 4/5/2011
Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Editors


The UnNatural, or Who's Your Daddy?

Tiger Woods, Nike, and Corporate Parenthood

John Freeman

You've got a gift, Roy, but it's not enough.
You've got to develop yourself.
Rely too much on your own gift and you'll fail.

-- The Natural [1]

So parents be warned, you are creating a monster!
But it is a beautiful monster.

-- Earl Woods [2]

There is nothing more startling and unsettling than when the dead visit themselves upon us. The simulacrum of Hamlet's father appears with tales of purgatorial fire and demands for revenge. Dr. Frankenstein, with his "capacity of bestowing animation," encounters the nightmarish results of his fevered studies: a corpse reanimated. A more recent spectral visitation, the voice of the father of the scandal-beset Tiger Woods, also signals in its own turn something new and chilling in the air. I refer, of course, to the ubiquitous Nike "commercial" in which Tiger's father, dead for four years, has been resurrected by Nike, ostensibly to probe his son's psyche as to his motivations in this sordid affair. Badly stitched together, like a pair of knock-off Jordan's or a Frankenstein creation, the voice has been spliced from its original source, a documentary wherein the cancer-stricken Woods has just responded to Tiger's description of his mother as "authoritative." Inserting the "Tiger" address, as if the words that follow were always meant for him, the ad begins with the father's description of his own methods, effectively cutting the mother out of this repackaging of the clip as a father-to-son heart-to-heart. Although presented as a "Duet with the Dead" à la Natalie and Nat King Cole, [3] Nike's ad is more an act of grave-robbing than one of reconciliation. Definitely forgettable (as Nike demonstrated by quickly pulling it.) Most would agree with the comments of Barbara Lippert, who finds the production "Definitely powerful. Creepy and cynical." She analyzes the motives behind Nike's sponsorship of this production:

For Nike, Tiger is like one of the banks on Wall Street. He's like Citibank. He's too big to fail. They have to prop him up. And they have to show that he's learned a lesson and he's been scolded. As a corporate parent, they can't do it. They needed his real parent. But at the same time, I don't think anyone expected him to play the Daddy Death Card. [4]

If the Daddy Death Card is being dealt here, however, Nike, not the obviously mortified Tiger, is dealing it. Co-opting the voice of Tiger's dead father, re-contextualizing it, and offering it up as a public reprimand, Nike feels itself empowered to chastise its errant "son." At the same moment Nike invokes the authority of the father, it also supplants him. Nike exercises an "in-your-face" dominance over Tiger while also proclaiming the power of a "parent" company to insert itself into that relationship. But this is not Roy Hobbes's father offering sage advice about life and talent. It is -- horror of horrors! -- a parasitical taking-over, an "incorporation" of a new life-form visited upon the hapless Woods.

On the face of it, this advertorial comes across as one more sign of the corporation's successful march toward full personhood, as most recently signaled in the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision expanding its free speech rights. While Nike was aiming to help Tiger -- and itself -- out of the sand traps of scandal and public ignominy, its advertorial only serves to underscore how much Tiger's relationship to Nike as a corporate parent is merely an extension of his own pathological family dynamic. A Manchurian candidate of sorts, Tiger's personal formation and iconic identity are deeply rooted in the traumas of the past, traumas that both he and we must confront if the specter is to be exorcised.

1. Dr. Frankenstein's Laboratory: The Supreme Court, Washington, D.C.

Thus strangely are our souls constructed, and by such slight ligaments are we bound to prosperity or ruin.
-- Frankenstein
(Mary Shelley) [5]

Nike's bold maneuver of speaking in voco parentis is a logical culmination of the legal maneuvering of corporations to achieve full personhood in the eyes of the law. The history of corporations' efforts in this regard demonstrates just how much the expansion of the rights of such "artificial persons" has come at the expense of the rights of flesh and blood individuals. Organicist scholar Otto Gierke argued that as "collective personalities" corporations should be accorded rights customarily granted only to persons. [6] In his Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporations and the Theft of Human Rights, Thom Hartmann traces the corporation's development into personhood, an encroachment upon human rights that began with the Supreme Court's decision in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company (1886). [7] Citing the written record of the case, basically a taxation issue, Hartmann notes the court reporter's summation of Chief Justice Waite's comments has since been misinterpreted as a judgment that "corporations were persons rather than artificial persons, with an equal footing under the Bill of Rights as humans." [8] Although no opinions, supportive or dissenting, were issued on this matter, which would have qualified it as an actual decision, this extension of corporate personhood has since become a matter of settled law.

Earlier, Abraham Lincoln himself had expressed fears that, as a result of the war, "corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow."[9] With their arterial crisscrossing of the country, the muscle behind commerce and transportation, the railroads were the earliest "personified" claimants to personhood under the natural entity theory of corporate rights. Such a claim inevitably brought with it disputes between the corporate superperson and individual stakeholders in the Republic. The encroachment of monopolistic railroads upon individual rights erupted in the Mussel Slough Tragedy of 1880, in which land farmers had leased from the Southern Pacific Railroad with an implied option to buy, was revalued by the railroad and sold at a profit to others. Seven farmers were killed in the uprising, which was immortalized in Frank Norris' The Octopus. Writing in 1901, Norris paints a horrific image of the train as a symbol of monopolistic power:

... Presley saw again, in his imagination, the galloping monster, the terror of steel and steam, with its single eye, cyclopean, red, shooting from horizon to horizon; but saw it now as the symbol of a vast power, huge, terrible, flinging the echo of its thunder over all the reaches of the valley, leaving blood and destruction in its path; the leviathan, with tentacles of steel clutching into the soil, the soulless Force, the iron-hearted Power, the monster, the Colossus, the Octopus. [10]

As frightening as Norris' symbol of this iron-tentacled beast was, even he failed to foresee how the railroads and other heretofore artificial entities would aspire to the more elevated form of incorporated personhood. The Hobbesian notion of a body politic contracted by individuals for their own protection and advancement is co-opted here. What takes its place is a parasitical creation that slowly arrogates to itself rights traditionally accorded to natural beings. For example, Hartmann points out corporations systematically misused and misappropriated the Fourteenth Amendment's original intent to provide equal rights to descendants of an enslaved class:

Ironically, of the 307 Fourteenth Amendment cases brought before the Supreme Court in the years between Waite's proclamation and 1910, only 19 dealt with African Americans: 288 were suits brought by corporations seeking the rights of natural persons. [11]

Nace traces the various Courts' slow but steady attribution of human qualities and rights to corporations: "Like a myopic Dr. Frankenstein, the Court had worked piecemeal and haphazardly, grafting a finger here, an eyebrow there, until the result was a full-fledged superperson." Nace outlines this steady progression as it "gained a momentum of its own" starting in 1962: Fifth Amendment right against double jeopardy (Fong Foo, 1962); Seventh Amendment right to jury trial (Ross v. Bernhard, 1970); First Amendment right of "commercial free speech" (Virginia Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, 1976); First Amendment right to influence state referenda (Bellotti, 1978); and First Amendment right to "negative free speech" (Pacific Gas & Electric v. Public Utilities Commission, 1986). In the latter case, not only were corporations given the right to speak but they were also allowed the right not to speak, even when the issue involved the disclosure of factual information of vital public interest. In the Bellotti decision, Nace discusses the Court's dilemma in attempting to extend free speech rights to corporations, in that such rights "are intrinsically associated with human qualities such as 'will' and 'conscience.'" Citing Justice Powell's defense of corporate free speech, Nace highlights how the Court accorded a non-human entity free speech rights by claiming the First Amendment offered "protections of speech, not of the speaker": "The inherent worth of speech in terms of its capacity for informing the public does not depend upon the identity of its source, whether corporation, association, union, or individual."[12] Powell might just as well have included specters in his brief.

The most spectacular stage of this progress towards corporate personhood was occurring at the same time as Tiger's tribulations. The Court's decision in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission had further expanded corporate personhood. As Lyle Denniston observes, this decision "conferred new dignity on corporate 'persons,' treating them -- under the First Amendment free-speech clause -- as the equal of human beings." [13] Formerly characterized as a "destabilizing and perhaps corrupting influence in politics," the corporation has emerged in this decision with "the burnished image of good citizen." Once described as "soulless and speechless," the corporation has now found a voice. [14] More than ever before, money talks. Denniston muses: "It is not too much to expect that lawyers for corporate America may well be looking to explore the outer possibilities of their clients' 'personhood' and new-found constitutional equality." Freed now to explore the "outer possibilities" of their status as "naturalized" citizens," corporations needed only a medium to exercise their newly granted right. Enter Earl Woods.

2. "What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?"

GHOST: I am thy father's spirit,
Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night ...
    But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood ...

-- Hamlet (1.5: 9-10; 13-16)

Put silver wings on my son's chest.
Make him one of America's best
He'll be a man they'll test one day
Have him win the Green Beret.

-- "Ballad of the Green Beret"

In further validating the corporation as an ontological entity, the Supreme Court has unleashed the Derridean specter, what Colin Davis describes as "a deconstructive figure hovering between life and death, presence and absence, and making established certainties vacillate." [15] Hauntology wars against ontology. Nike's ad[monishment] displays many features associated with this specter's appearance. Frequently referring to Hamlet, Derrida notes the apparition of such specters signals "the time is out of joint," presenting us with a "disjointed or disadjusted now." [16] The words of the now-deceased Earl Woods underscore what Derrida describes as "the dislocated time of the present." [17] At this point, Derrida would no doubt invoke Shakespeare's Marcellus, "Thou arte a Scholler; speake to it Horatio ... .Question it." Hauntologists differ, however, on what might be divulged in such an interrogation. Davis distinguishes between the phantoms of hauntologists such as Abraham and Torok and the specters of Derrida. From the hauntological perspective of Nicholas Abraham and Maria Torok, the specter or phantom here stands for "transgenerational communication, particularly the way in which the undisclosed traumas of previous generations might disturb the lives of their descendants even and especially if they know nothing about their distant causes." They describe the phantom as a liar, misleading the subject "to ensure that its secret remains shrouded in mystery." [18] A puzzle to be interpreted and solved, the phantom's secret, they believe, can be divulged ultimately through careful investigation.

Davis distinguishes between phantoms who "lie about the past" and specters who "gesture towards a still unformulated future." Thus, the traumatic secret that Derrida's specter motions toward is "a productive opening of meaning rather than a determinate content to be uncovered." [19] In line with Derrida's formulations of the specter, "we do not see the one who sees us ... who delivers the injunction"; rather, "we must fall back on its voice," which attempts to articulate "what is no longer and what is not yet." [20] Channeling the father, the ad provides "an imaginary screen where there is nothing to see." Derrida indicates that this screen where specters qua frequencies play themselves out always contains at the bottom or in the background "a structure of disappearing apparition." [21] True to form, by the ad's end we realize the apparition is none other than the corporate sponsor itself, as the image of Tiger fades, replaced by the Nike swoosh. As Goldman and Papson note, the swoosh is often Nike's way of signing its ads, putting its own "personal" stamp on them. A punctuation mark as well: "It locates, orders, and closes the narrative, signs the ad, and hails the viewer goodbye with a wink and a nod." [22] Derrida might equate the swoosh with the idol or "the figure of dead souls ... .which appears or lets itself be determined only against the background of death." [23] In this particular advertorial, the swoosh operates as "a kind of stylized boomerang," indicating just how much the corporate, as opposed to the corporeal, parent is doing the talking in this spot. [24] The hailing or interpellation occurring here represents Nike's rather ineffective attempt to assert some moral authority over its subject by incorporating itself as the father.

Posed as a dialogue (to "promote discussion") and an inquiry ("to find out"), the voice advances neither goal as it is simply a recording, in Derrida's terms, "a theatricalization of speech itself." [25] Tom Callahan calls it "a spliced-together voice-over of Earl from the hereafter." [26] No one at Nike, apparently, foresaw the irony of having the errant Tiger chastised by a father well known for his own wandering ways. As one anonymous journalist observed, "While Tiger would play a round, Earl would play around." [27] Although the Supreme Court has conferred personhood on corporations, the "speaker" here comes across as a patched-together entity with limited capacities for negotiating nuances humans easily grasp. Exploring "the outer possibilities of personhood," Nike's "impersonation" of the father constitutes only the staging of a relationship, what Baudrillard labels "representational dramaturgies [that] have now been displaced into media 'circuits and networks' that are 'cold and communicational, cont[r]actual and motivational.'" [28] No doubt contractual obligations forced this ad upon Tiger. For all its dealing of the Daddy Death Card and its myopic moral vision, however, the ad provides the richest of source materials for a hauntological investigation of the relationship among father, son, and, yes, Holy Swoosh.

The larger narrative here concerns branding and brand recognition, the inheritance that links these three figures. What Nike conjures up in this ad is the inheritance lying behind both the paternal and corporate shaping of Tiger Woods, his branding, as it were. "One never inherits," Derrida observes, "without coming to terms with [s'expliquer avec] some specter, and therefore with more than one specter." Taking on the guise of the specter, Nike speaks here in a borrowed language, under a borrowed name. In this regard, Derrida notes that Marx describes the specter in the language of what is passed down and what is borrowed:

Inheritance from the "spirits of the past" consists, as always, in borrowing. Figures of borrowing, borrowed figures, figurality as the figure of borrowing. And the borrowing speaks: borrowed language, borrowed names, says Marx. A question of credit, then, or of faith.

One cannot, however, selectively draw upon past accounts:

But an unstable and barely visible dividing line crosses through this law of the fiduciary. It passes between a parody and a truth, but one truth as incarnation or living repetition of the other, a regenerating reiviscence of the past, of the spirit, of the spirit of the past from which one inherits. [29]

For whom, then, does this specter speak? Shakespeare's own ghost motions toward a set of oppressed masses. Thus, Hamlet's ghostly father connects the plight of evicted Purgatorial spirits to the despair of another class of "damned souls": the recusants of England. Indeed, Theo Brown documents "a great popular outburst of superstitious ghost lore among the common people" during the mid-sixteenth century, an outburst he links to "the sudden abolition of Purgatory." [30] Vagrant, unministered spirits returned to haunt the living. As Warren Montag informs us, specters such as Marx's communism all make "their appearance in the world already armed: the strikes, disorders, and riots of the working classes in Europe." [31] According to Derrida, Marx's specter can only be revealed by "bringing this representation back to the world of labor, production, and exchange, so as to reduce it to its conditions." [32] In "Marx Dematerialized," Pierre Macherey writes of a "time fissure" occurring through the spectral, which lets "the past appear in what is to come and what is to come in what is past." [33] Itself situated between a parody and a truth, Nike's reviviscent spirit from the past speaks to troubling truths about the legacy behind the Earl Woods-Tiger-Nike connection.

Nick-named after Colonel Vuong Dang "Tiger" Phong, a South Vietnamese officer who had saved Earl Woods's life several times, Tiger's very name provides a transgenerational link to America's earlier colonialist ambitions in that part of the world today being colonized under the banner of neoliberalism by multinational corporations like Nike. Indeed, the same mind-set that exploited that part of the world both now and in the past is also responsible for the shaping of Tiger Woods. Thus, Tiger's own identity and character formation owe a great deal to his father's experiences as a Special Forces Green Beret in the killing fields of Vietnam. Earl claims his training techniques were "an outgrowth of my upbringing and my years as a Green Beret." [34] In 1966, he had volunteered for the Green Berets and saw duty as a Special Services (CIA) Officer in Bangkok, Thailand, as a POW interrogator. Coincidentally, perhaps, the CIA had set up a huge interrogation-torture center in Udorn, Thailand, the country in which he was stationed (and where he met Tida Woods).

Whether or not Woods Senior had a hand in such covert operations, his regimen for training a Tiger bear undeniable similiarities to the mind-control/torture techniques practiced there. In his Training a Tiger: A Father's Guide to Raising a Winner in Both Golf and Life, Earl Woods tells us that he announced to an eleven-year-old Tiger, "Son, this fall I will put you through Woods's Finishing School." Helling describes this regimen as "a six-month 'boot camp'" to toughen up Tiger. "'It was brutal', Earl would tell People magazine a decade later: 'Prisoner-of-war interrogation techniques, psychological intimidation -- it went on and on.'" Earl goes on to describe his tactics:

During finishing school, Tiger was exposed to every devious, diabolical, insidious trick that any future opponent could pull on him. And not once did he utter the code word. He later told me it was the most difficult experience of his entire life. At times, he was so angry with me he wanted to destroy his clubs. He never forgot that this was for his benefit alone. But he certainly wouldn't have wished it on any other human being. I admit it was equally tough on me. Some of the things I did didn't fill me with pride and joy either. [35]

Methods more appropriate for raising a Manchurian candidate than a child often surface in the golfing prodigy's biographies. For example, a family friend and clinical psychologist, Dr. Jay Brunza, on one occasion hypnotized the young Tiger and then arranged a twelve-player match. Not long into the affair, one of the players came back and complained he had created "a golfing monster." [36] Whether or not Brunza ever hypnotized Tiger before a match has not been answered. Tiger's style of play, described by Helling as "disciplined, even robotic," can be traced to the mind-control techniques practiced on him by Earl Woods. [37] Woods Senior explains his methodology:

In the military we called it standard operating procedure (SOP). Whenever you could quantify something or make it routine, you'd put SOP on it. Then you didn't have to reinvent the wheel each time. It became automatic and rote and thus more effective. SOP is based on problem and solution." [38]

The psychopathy the father evidenced in his abusive "training" regimen is proudly corroborated by his son. Thus, Tiger once bragged to a Sports Illustrated writer that his father could "'slit your throat and then sit down to eat dinner.'" Lusetich wryly adds, "Thirteen years later, the son's cold-bloodedness exceeded the father's." [39] A force to be reckoned with, Tiger is well suited to be the point man or sleeper agent for Nike. In emulation of his father, Tiger even spent a week in 2004 training with the Green Berets. As Woods Senior quips, "He probably wanted in the recesses of his mind to walk the steps I walked." [40] His trip to the Fort Bragg facility where his father trained underscored the military-industrial-sports complex that continues to shape his identity, as he learned on the sniper course that his left eye was his dominant eye, which his father noted would "help with his plumbing on the course, helping to determine where the ball will go." [41] Tiger has remarked several times, "If I weren't a golfer, ... I would have trained for Special Ops." [42] Given the psychological intimidation and mind-control techniques practiced on him by his father, he has already earned his silver wings.

More insidiously still, Tiger's training at the hands of his father has ensured that Abraham and Torok's "undisclosed traumas of previous generations" have been passed on and continue to "disturb the lives of their descendants." Fawning biographers often overlook the Faustian bargain struck by Earl Woods in subjecting his child to such "training." For example, Robert Lusetich points out that it took a "perfect storm" -- parents, golf, mental toughness, and "stratospheric talent" -- to produce Tiger Woods. [43] In movie dramatizations of Shelley's novel, Dr. Frankenstein also needs a perfect storm to animate his creation. Incorporation, apparently, follows a similar game-plan. Like Viktor Frankenstein, Bakan soon feels "breathless horror and disgust" at the sight of his creation:

With a corporation growing into maturity you definitely feel a sense of creative pride, but alongside that pride you also feel a chill. Something complex and even alive has come into existence, but it is no longer governed by intuitively familiar human motives and values. Instead, it is a sophisticated, complex adaptive, continually evolving system -- a sort of mindless yet intelligent being -- governed by an array of internal and external programming. [44]

Earl Woods demonstrates no such compunctions about his own handiwork: "Now you've created a monster -- a competitive eager monster who wants to strut his stuff." [45] Programmed and meticulously groomed to be an "enTitleist," Woods could not help but follow a natural progression from the questionable tutelage of a drill instructor father to the manipulation of an incorporated one.

As a corporate parent, Nike exercises its own psychological intimidation upon a much larger "family." Bakan describes the efforts of Charles Kernaghan, director of the anti-sweatshop National Labor Committee, to expose the exploitation of corporations like Nike. Investigating practices in the Dominican Republic, Kernaghan discovered Nike's internal pricing documents left in a garbage dump. Bakan goes on to reveal the "chilling" calculations behind Nike's own Standard Operating Procedures:

Their purpose was to maximize the amount of profit that could be wrung out of the girls and young women who sew garments for Nike in developing-world sweatshops. Production of a shirt, to take one example, was broken down into twenty-two separate operations: five steps to cut the material, eleven steps to sew the garment, six steps to attach labels, hang tags, and put the shirt in a plastic bag, ready to be shipped. A time was allotted for each task, with units of ten thousandths of a second used for the breakdown. With all the units added together, the calculations demanded that each shirt take a maximum of 6.6 minutes to make -- which translates into 8 cents' worth of labor for a shirt Nike sells in the United States for $22.99. [46]

The specter provides not only a transgenerational link between father and son but also the historical link between Nike's current exploitation of that part of the world to its previous manifestation, the Vietnam War, as set forth by Walter LaFeber:

Some twenty years after the United States had finally given up trying to destroy the Vietnamese Communist government in a savage war that lasted three decades (1945-1975), U.S. officials opened diplomatic relations with those same Communists in the mid-1990's. U.S., Japanese, and other transnationals rushed in to take advantage of cheap, disciplined labor. Indeed, the chance to exploit Vietnam's labor and emerging market was a central reason why relations with the former enemy had been established. [46]

What the specter cannot quite reveal nor quite conceal is "the secrets of his prison house," not the house in which he is imprisoned but that which holds the son of the corporeal parent and the tens of thousands of sweatshop laborers of the parent corporation. What we witness here is Baudillard's "interminable circulation," this time with Nike securely situated in the dysfunctional family dynamic. How can Woods answer his "father's" queries when he was merely doing what he was long programmed to do, following both a paternal and corporate imperative -- "Just Do it" -- ? We might as well expect Nike to answer to charges made against it concerning its other "children," young girls exploited in sweatshops like those in the Dominican Republic, so overworked that they are discharged by age 25, exhausted, their lives essentially over. [47] As Baudrillard points out, "Misfortune, misery -- all these things are traded very easily these days. There is a stock exchange of negative values, so to speak." [48] Women, like the Gillette razors Tiger endorses, are disposable objects, as demonstrated by Tiger's serial, compulsive affairs. They labor in obscurity. To this end, Habiba Ibrahim points out how the heavily marketed "Black masculine visibility [of a Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan] obscures the comparatively hidden labor of women and children in Southeast Asia." [49] What lies behind Tiger's "thousand-watt smile" is Bataille's "accursed share," the suffering induced by the extraordinary accumulation of wealth that drives a consumerist society whose appetites, sexual and otherwise, can never be sated. Like the specter of communism summoned forth by the oppression and suffering of the masses, the specter of Earl Woods cannot but help show Nike's hand in all of this exploitation.

3. From Brainwashing to Brandwashing

This above all else, to thine own brand be true.
-- Shakespeare (loosely paraphrased)

Branding, in its truest and most advanced incarnations,
is about corporate transcendence.

-- Klein [50]

Don't try to understand 'em
Just rope, throw, and brand 'em
Soon we'll be living high and wide.

-- Theme Song to Rawhide

In spite of all its advertising acumen, Nike inadvertently overplayed its hand in this ad by summoning forth the specter of Earl Woods and thereby laying the groundwork for an unflattering -- in fact, disturbing -- sense of brand recognition. Here, Nike links itself to the brainwashing of Tiger by Woods Senior. Indeed, Tiger arrived at Nike already pre-packaged by his father. Drawing on his public relations experience in the military, Earl Woods was well practiced in the art of brand packaging and management. Combining what Helling describes as "a strong narrative, an intriguing central character, and an emotional punch," Earl "calculatedly and shrewdly started building Tiger's brand before anyone even knew who he was." He arranged for his four-year-old son to appear on the Mike Douglas Show in a putting match against Bob Hope. Like an expert special ops instructor, he taught the young Tiger early on to withstand the "interrogation techniques" that increased media attention would surely bring on. He taught him "the fine art of only answering what they [reporters] asked." [51] Basically, name, rank, and serial number.

In an era when the catch phrase has become "Brands, not products" [52], corporations have long recognized the need to create what Clay Timon describes as personifications "of who they are and where they've come from." [53] There has been, in effect, a merger and take-over of personal identity by the corporation here. Lusetich indicates just how much the notion of branding has seeped into Tiger's psyche. Tiger confides to him that "The brand has certainly grown to where I'm doing golf course design, licensing, just different things that I hadn't done before when I first came out here." Lusetich muses about the person he often describes as "the man behind the Nike hat":

It was revealing to hear Woods describe himself as a "brand." Certainly others had used the term when speaking of him, and it was not an inaccurate description, but it was nonetheless odd to hear a man use such a cold, impersonal word to describe himself. It was almost as if he thought of Tiger Woods as a creation apart from the person he really was. [54]

Martin Reimann and Arthur Aron maintain that "Brands function as identity. When there is a close relationship with a brand, the brand's identity becomes part of the cognitive structure of the self." [55] Tiger Woods stands, indeed, as a "creation apart." The father's brainwashing has been supplemented by corporate brandwashing, the replacement of personal identity with brand identity. As Feinstein indicates, though, there is a Faustian price that comes with such branding:

It has been said in the past that when an athlete puts a corporate logo on his body or his equipment, he sells off a piece of his soul. If that is the case, Tiger Woods has very little soul left to work with, because almost everything he owns -- from cap to shoes, golf bag to golf balls, even his free time -- has been sold. In the corporate world the term is "golden handcuffs." Even when he is on the golf course, playing the game he loves to play, Woods isn't completely free. He is always under the microscope. [56]

Dragged out for display in "golden handcuffs," Tiger has been emptied of content in Nike's ad, a simulacrum lectured by a simulacrum. One is reminded here of American POW's put on display during the Korean conflict -- possessing the same vacant stare and eerie aura of a dissociated state. Clearly, the captor had had its way with the captive, who would tonelessly reiterate the script supplied to him. While Tiger displays only silent acquiescence in the Nike ad, in his later pronouncements he displays symptoms of those suffering from Stockholm syndrome, who develop strong emotional attachment, even adulation, for their abusers. How else to explain Tiger's curious inability to link his own scandalous behaviors to their source? Thus, when asked by interviewer Tilghman what his father would say to him concerning the scandal, Tiger noted he would be disappointed, continuing: "We would have numerous long talks, and that's one of the things I miss. I miss his guidance. I wish I could have his guidance through all this, to have him help straighten me up. I know he would have done it." [57] Ironically, Tiger often had to buy his father "out of some sexual jackpot ... .Any woman who went within fifty feet of him was a potential plaintiff." [58] This "trademark" dissociation extends to the highest level of Nike management. Thus, when Michael Moore tries to prick Nike CEO Phil Knights' conscience concerning the filth and squalor of Nike's Indonesian plants, he assures Moore that he is doing all he can to make Nike the best company it can be. Knight notes that he wants to have a clear conscience when he retires to "that great shoe factory in the sky." [59]

For Knight, the hereafter is conceived simply as a continuation of the same. The specter, however, never comes with the promise of a sweet hereafter, motioning instead toward more real world conditions. If the phantom stands for "transgenerational communication" of trauma, then the ad itself is a veritable switchboard channeling and connecting its viewers through the specter of Earl Woods to some of the most nightmarish elements of our past and present. That past can be traced to events earlier than the Vietnam War. Not incidentally, Hartmann parallels the judgment of the Citizens United case with the Supreme Court's worst decision of all time: the Dred Scott ruling (1857). Declaring the escaped slave to be the property of his slavemaster, the Court invoked the Fifth Amendment's prohibition against the seizure of property without due process in ordering him returned. The Court defined Scott as simply property to be rightfully reclaimed by "its" owner. Ironically, Tiger is put on display here as the most recognizable of Nike's human property holdings. As my colleague, the social theorist Rosemary Weatherston notes, he is on the auction block here as Nike brandishes its power over him.

"Advertising," Baudrillard informs us, "absorbs all meaning." It involves what he labels "a liquidation of all referentials." [60] Bakan argues the corporation "now is seeking to remake real people in its image." [61] Tiger Woods has proven particularly amenable and malleable to the brandwashing that, in liquidating the referential, allows for the image to take over an identity for its own purposes. As one of his early promotions, "Are You Ready for Me?" demonstrates, Tiger is presented as both all-in-one and none-in-all. This promotion features children of different ethnicities. Helling points out, "The clear message: Tiger represents all people." [62] Kutilda Woods' designation of him as a "Universal Child" comes to mind here. Indeed, Tiger has been the all-purpose gold standard for diversity marketing appeals, what Klein describes as the "candy-coated multiculturalism [that] has stepped in as a kinder, gentler packaging for the homogenizing effect of what Indian physicist Vandana Shiva calls 'the monoculture.'" [63] Tiger's own self-professed malleability makes him a fit subject for manipulation. Thus, he defines himself as "Cablinasian" in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. In "Deconstructing Tiger Woods: The Promise and the Pitfalls of Multiracial Identity," Kerry Ann Rockquemore gives this account of the dialogue:

Winfrey asked Woods if it bothered him, the only child of a black American father and a Thai mother, to be labeled "African American." He replied, "Yeah it does. Growing up, I came up with this name: I'm a 'Cablinasian.' Tiger Woods went on to explain that "Cablinasian" was an acronym, created to reflect the fact that his background is actually one-fourth Thai, and one-fourth Chinese. [64]

Ibrahim observes how divisive and singular this definition proves to be:

Since the power of racial categories comes from their work of tying a number of people together under a single description, a label such as Cablinasian that serves only to describe Woods' own individual admixture has little use. [...] he might as well have used his own name "Tiger" to label what was in the end a virtually singular racial description. [65]

Citing Henry Yu, Ibrahim argues the term "'Cablinasian cannot adequately encapsulate transnational, migratory experiences in terms of a shared national condition, and manages to isolate Woods as a 'branded' icon." [66] Of course, the owner of the "brand" is Nike. Employing Hortense Spillers' phrasing, Ibrahim finds a sense of "denial and 'illegitimacy'" in the term. [67] Charles Barkley, who resisted being branded as a role-model, has long challenged Woods on his racial self-definition and the hazards of trying to be all things to all people:

"Tiger likes to be okay with everybody, to appeal to all people ... And I tell him, 'That's cool, but the race card is here to stay.' So he knows he's black. Enough has happened to him to see that: the playa hatin' on the all-white PGA Tour and the hate mail and the death threats he gets. I tell him that Thai people don't get hate mail, black people do." [68]

As Goldman and Papson argue, "Consumer advertising works by removing meanings from context, and then recontextualizes those meanings within the framework of the ad itself." [69] They demonstrate how a signifier of revolt -- "by any means necessary" -- had been transformed in an earlier Nike ad into "Just Do It." [70] Once unmoored, however, signifiers are not always in control of those who would refashion them according to their own purposes. Dealing the Daddy Death Card and appropriating Earl Woods by invoking his ghost is not the first instance in which Nike has overplayed its hand. Designated the official outfitter of the 1996 U.S. track and field team, Nike replaced the stars of the American flag with tiny swooshes, a move that was condemned by Newsweek as "'crass even by Olympic standards." [71] Even though the design was quickly abandoned, Nike's effort to appropriate a whole nation was not entirely thwarted. Columnist Dave Anderson remarked of the athletes, "They 'think they're here representing Nike instead of the United States." [72] While the plight of Nike's exploited Third World laborers is fairly well publicized, its other branded laborers, athletes of universities and sports programs all over the world, go blithely about doing Nike's bidding, with Tiger's same sense of dissociation. "Mind-forg'd manacles," indeed.

4. Exorcising Specters

At first blush, buried lies bum us all out.
Truth is, buried lies aren't all that difficult to play ...

-- Tiger Woods: How I Play Golf [73]

A necessary work, first to identify whose visitation it is on the parapets at midnight, for unless it is done, consciousness continues to deny the law of inheritance and becomes a crippled son.
-- Applebaum [74]

At a personal level, the brand personality disorder afflicting Tiger Woods will require an exorcism of the specter sponsored by his newly incorporated parent, although Tiger may well discover that the personal demons arising from "buried lies" are not so readily played out of. The "internal and external programming" that has defined Tiger, his brand personality and, one might add, his brand loyalty, may be a closed loop impossible to break. As long as Nike can deal the Daddy Death Card and control the "representational dramaturgy," Tiger will find "there is no reflec ion, only interminable circulation" [75]. Even his return to Buddhism may not serve him in this regard. Worse yet, the self-aggrandizement and monetary compensation that accompany branding at Tiger's level stand in the way as well. Only through a symbolic killing of the father by acknowledging his unsavory side and rejecting the ongoing exploitation that helped fashion him as a Manchurian candidate can Tiger finally confront the specter and go beyond him.

Unfortunately, in the realm of branding and marketing, Tiger's willingness to allow himself to be broken down into bits and bytes of information and be served up as a simulation also make confronting the spectral a difficult proposition. For example, to prevent reinjuring himself Tiger was advised to modify his swing, advice he followed. He went one step further, however, Helling describing the pains Tiger went through to ensure that his game-playing avatar corresponded to the changes he had made in his game:

I spent several hours with Tiger that day, watching him put on a reflective suit to do a motion capture session for his video game Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2006. He had famously modified his swing, and wanted to update the video game to reflect his real-life changes. [76]

Baudrillard, who sees the real being transformed into "circuits and networks," would no doubt be appalled by such digitization, the human body translated "into pure information." [77]

With its increasingly sophisticated ability to record complex nuances of movement and "secondary motions, weight and exchange of forces," motion capture techniques can reconstitute the dynamic of the human body, recording that now-disembodied body and storing it in circuits and networks. Digitized and "captured," Tiger becomes the virtual property of EA Sports, its prize pet. (One motion capture device is actually likened to a hamster ball.) Tiger's willingness to serve himself up as a simulation broken down into bits and bytes of information, combined with his labeling of himself as ca/bl/in/asian, makes him particularly vulnerable to a corporate takeover. Along these lines, Ibrahim argues that "Woods himself takes on something of the ungendered body, the 'oceanic' space where male and female bodies are torn apart (ca/bl/in/asian) to be made into whatever the dominant culture needs." [78] The impossible seems possible here, running counter to Baudrillard's assertion that "life is precious because it has no exchange value -- because exchanging it for some ultimate value is impossible ... it cannot be traded as currency for any other world ... " [79] Not only can the physical be exchanged for the simulated, but "Tiger" himself can be easily relocated to simulated playing fields such as Wolf Creek or the Predator Course, a "brand new fantasy course designed in and out of a jungle set among the Mayan ruins near Belize." [80]

Digitizing Tiger as a two-dimensional character in a game format in which "players would be able to become Tiger Woods, at least on-screen," EA Sports is peddling a "participation mystique" à la Xbox in which the audience can mingle with and play against the elite. Baudrillard's project of precipitating rotting "by accentuating the simulacral, parodic side of dying games" is thwarted here. Given the Supreme Court's expansion of the power of corporations such as Nike, the triumphal neoliberalism of unfettered capitalism hardly seems like a dying game. Derrida's own project of exorcising the specter by "bringing this representation back to the world of labor, production, and exchange, so as to reduce it to its conditions" is also problematized by the willingness of players to ignore those conditions, the real world misery that allows such corporations to carry on business (and pleasure) as usual.

Meanwhile, Nike and EA Sports continue to run the show. Reducing Tiger to a simulation, EA Sports enlists any number of people in a game located at least one world away from the sweatshops that make it all possible. Predator Courses, indeed. We the players become absorbed in this simulated world of endless fairways and pleasant greens. And this is why Nike wants desperately for Tiger to get back in the game. It is through the play of Tiger that Nike gets so many others to play along as well, blinded to its ruthless exploitation by the glare of that thousand-watt smile.


[1] Bernard Malamud, The Natural (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1980), .

[2] Earl Woods, with Peter McDaniel. Training a Tiger: A Father's Guide to Raising a Winner in Both Golf and Life (New York: Harper Collins,1997), 23. Hereafter, Training.

[3] In 1991, pop-jazz singer, Natalie Cole remixed her vocals of the song "Unforgettable" with the 1961 recording of her father, the late iconic American jazz-pop musician, Nat King Cole.

[4] Barbara Lippert. Interview.! Accessed November 1, 2010.

[5] Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, ed. Johanna M. Smith (New York: Bedford/St. Martin, 1996), 48.

[6] Ted Nace. Gangs of America: The Rise of Corporate Power and the Disabling of Democracy (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2004), 164.

[7] Thom Hartmann. Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporations and the Theft of Human Rights (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002).

[8] Hartmann, 105.

[9] Nace, 15.

[10] Frank Norris. The Octopus (New York: Seven Treasures Press, 2008), 327.

[11] Hartman, 105.

[12] Nace, 117; 167; 168; 168.

[13] Lyle Denniston, "Opinion Analysis: The Personhood of Corporations." SCOTUSblog

[14] Hartmann, 120.

[15] Colin Davis, "Hauntology, Spectres and Phantoms," French Studies (59.3): 373-79: para. 1.

[16] Jacques Derrida, Spectres of Marx (New York: Routledge, 1994): 1.

[17] Spectres, 20.

[18] Nicholas Abraham and Maria Torok, The Shell and the Kernel, trans. Nicholas T. Rand (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994), 2.

[19] Davis, para. 5.

[20] Derrida, 7.

[21] Derrida, 125.

[22] Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson, Nike Culture (London: Sage Publications, 2003), 52.

[23] Derrida, 184.

[24] Goldman and Papson, 53.

[25] Derrida, 125.

[26] Tom Callahan, His Father's Son: Earl and Tiger Woods (New York: Gotham Books, 2010): 227.

[27] J. Lawrence Londino. Tiger Woods: A Biography (London: Greenwood Press, 2006), 31.

[28] Jean Baudrillard, "The Ecstasy of Communication" in The Anti-aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, ed. Hal Foster (New York: The New Press, 2002), 130.

[29] Derrida, 136.

[30] Qtd. in Anthony Low, "Hamlet and the Ghosts of Purgatory: Intimations of Killing the Father" in English Literary Renaissance 29 (1999): 455.

[31] Warren Montag,"Spirits Armed and Unarmed: Derrida's Specters of Marx" in Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium of Jacques Derrida's Spectres of Marx (London: Verso, 1999), 81.

[32] Derrida, 214.

[33] Pierre Macherey, "Marx Dematerialized, or the Spirit of Derrida," in Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium of Jacques Derrida's Spectres of Marx (London: Verso, 1999), 19.

[34] Training, 150.

[35] Training, 145.

[36] Londino, 31.

[37] Helling, 36.

[38] Training, 12.

[39] Robert Lusetech, Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season (New York: Atria Books, 2010), 145.

[40] Callahan, 237.

[41] Donna Miles, "Tiger Woods Trains, Hosts Golf Clinic at Fort Bragg," American Forces Press Services. April 14, 2004. Accessed January 10, 2011.

[42] Helling, xi.

[43] Lusetech, x.

[44] Joel Bakan. The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power (New York: Free Press, 2004), 8.

[45] Training, 155.

[46] Walter LaFeber, Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2002), 148.

[47] Bakan, 67.

[48] Jean Baudrillard, Passwords, trans. Chris Turner (New York: Verso, 2003), 74.

[49] Habiba Ibrahim, "Toward Black and Multiracial 'Kinship' After 1997, or, How a Race Man Became a 'Cablinasian.'" The Black Scholar 39.3 (2009).

[50] Naomi Klein, No Logo (New York: Picador), 21.

[51] Helling 78; 67.

[52] Klein, 21.

[53] Bakan, 26.

[54] Lusetech, 42.

[55] Martin Reimann and Arthur Aron, "Self-Expansion Motivation and Inclusion of Brands in Self: Toward a Theory of Brand Relationships" in Handbook of Brand Relationships, eds. Deborah J. Macinnis, C. Whan Park, and Joseph R. Priester (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 2009), 74; 76.

[56] John Feinstein. The First Coming: Tiger Woods: Master or Martyr? (New York, Ballantine, 1998), 15-16.

[57] Callahan, 205.

[58] Callahan, 161.

[59] "Nike Chairman Phil Knight with Michael Moore." YouTube Accessed 6/28/2010.

[60] Baudrillard, "Ecstasy," 130.

[61] Bakan, 135.

[62] Helling, 63.

[63] Klein, 117.

[64] Kerry Ann Rockquemore, "Deconstructing Tiger Woods: The Promise and the Pitfalls of Multiracial Identity" in Heather M. Dalmage, ed. The Politics of Multiracialism: Challenging Racial Thinking (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004), 132.

[65] Ibrahim, 25.

[66] Refer to Henry Yu, "How Tiger Wood Lost his Stripes: Post-Nationalist American Studies as a History of Race, Migration, and the Commodification of Culture" in Popular Culture: A Reader, eds. Raiford Guins and Omayra Zaragoza Cruz (New York: Sage Publications, 2005),

[67] Hortense Spillers, "Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: An American Grammar Book" in African American Literary Theory: A Reader, ed. Winston Napier (New York: New York University Press, 2000). In "How to Rehabilitate a Mulatto," Perez argues that the iconography of Tiger Woods ostensibly masks the inequitable conditions of miscegenation. Perez refers to the historical illegitimacy of black/white biracial children and of Amerasian children of Asian women and American service men. Perez points out that Earl met Kultida as a Green Beret in Vietnam. He argues that Woods' public persona obscures a prevalent legal condition regarding such a union: illegitimacy (225).

[68] Qtd. in Lusetech, 47.

[69] Goldman, 25.

[70] Goldman, 115.

[71] LaFeber, 144.

[72] LaFeber, 100.

[73] Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods: How I Play Golf (New York: Warner Books, 2001), 72.

[74] David Applebaum, Jacques Derrida's Ghost: A Conjuration (New York: State University of New York Press, 2009), 46.

[75] Baudrillard, 130.

[76] Helling, xii.

[77] Jean Baudrillard. The Vital Illusion. New York: Columbia UP, 2000, 16.

[78] Ibrahim, 25.

[79] Vital, 28.

[80] "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10."

Figure 1: Laurie Kendrick. "Jokes at Tiger Woods' Expense." December 10, 2009. Accessed January 29, 2001.

Figure 2: Charlotte Campbell, "Adventures in Golf." Blog entry. November 5, 2009.


John Freeman is a professor of Renaissance literature at the University of Detroit Mercy. His research interests include articles on the recusant legacy in Shakespeare (Fordham University Press), intellectual property rights in More's Utopia (ELR), and claims by an Irish technology company to have perfected a perpetual motion device (CTheory and Postmodern Culture). He is currently working on an essay about the death of the American commons. An ongoing project includes a multimedia production employing the frequency hopping invention of Hedy Lamarr as a means both of expressing her life as a "Woman, Interrupted" and exposing the disruptive forces with which she had to contend.

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