Saturday, June 28, 2008


Having recently read 23 Days in July, a book about Lance Armstrong's epic win in the 2004 Tour De France, thus becoming the first person to ever win six Tours (followed by a seventh the following year), I checked the internet to see what recent news I could find surrounding Armstrong, and I came across two items that highlight the vast difference between where we're going and where we should be.

The first is an article in the New York Times, wondering if Armstrong's serial dating is harming his image as a cancer spokesperson:

The second is a clip of Armstrong speaking about leaving the hospital after having completed his cancer treatment. His doctor told him about the 'obligation of the cured', which Armstrong took to mean: Hey, you're cured. The doctor burst his bubble by telling him that he didn't know if Lance would last another month, or year, or ten years. (And the doctor still doesn't know, as Lance points out -- a testament to the uncertainy surrounding all cancer survivors.) But Lance had an obligation, if he so chose, to tell his story, so others would benefit.

I don't know if Lance Armstrong is a serial womanizer. I don't know if he doped and drugged his way through all of those Tour de France triumphs. I don't know if he strangles kittens at night, or is mean to waitresses, or secretly covets illicit contraband, or if he is even a nice guy.

I do know that he is a passionate, eloquent speaker on cancer. He knows his shit. He tells his story. He doesn't sugarcoat his own survival, acknowledging that he doesn't have cancer, but he doesn't not have cancer, either. He is sincere and moving and articulate about what cancer is, and does, and the priority that needs to be put on cancer funding and research.

And here we have a culture fascinated with the fact that he seems to have a thing for blondes.

What worries me is that Western society seems to be sliding...somewhere. I'm not sure where, exactly, but that's what it reveals itself to me as -- a slide, a descent, a slimy, slippery slope that leads us to the baser parts of our inner selves. The internet seems to make everybody junior-high again at heart, eager to hear the latest gossip about anything and everything, always, as much as possible.

Cancer is one of the most serious things in a very serious world. Whenever I hear the word, I cringe and die a little. So to see one of the disease's most prominent foes slandered for ludicrous, adolescent reasons makes me think that even when faced with a fatal disease, we all still want nothing more than tabloid glee, a momentary, pop-culture recess from reality, rather than withstanding the necessary pain of examing something that has detail, and depth, and meaning.

People who've been touched by the disease couldn't give a flying fig what Lance Armstrong does or does not do in his free time.

He is not a hero, nor a saint, and whether he did, or did not, take any illegal substances during his record-breaking run at the Tour de France will forever be a legitimate issue, but for his work in cancer awareness Lance Armstrong at the very least deserves exclusion from the People Magazine mentality that has been steadily sucking the life out of us for the past few years.

He deserves it, yes, but so what? I have a feeling he'll be a staple of the tabloids for some time to come.

Or as Clint Eastwood so succintly put it in Unforgiven: "Deserves got nothing to do with it."

Nobody deserves to get cancer, either, but they do.

And blondes sell better than cancer.