Selling culture is a problem beyond pro golf

Even if you don’t play or follow golf—which I don’t—you’re probably aware of the controversy that now surrounds the sport. Many of the world’s top-ranked pro players, notably Phil Mickelson, have made extremely lucrative deals to play in the LIV Golf International Series, a new tour sponsored by Saudi Arabia. The PGA Tour, which has traditionally dominated the sport, suspended 17 of these players.

Saudis apparently engaged in reputation-laundering – greenswashing? – In an effort to make the people forget about the atrocities committed by his regime. It is less clear what prompted the PGA. Does it consider the LIV series to be flawed, not a proper golf tour? Was it attempting to squash the competition? Or was there a problem with the sponsors of the LIV series?

There was no doubt among PGA attendees surveyed by Progolf Weekly: an overwhelming majority attributed Mickelson’s boycott to a “media/culture cancellation”. And I hope they are right. I mean, if paying a hefty amount of money to provide favorable PR to a regime that treats critical journalists by killing them and chopping them to the bone doesn’t warrant cancellation, then what happens? ? And yet Mickelson and others were willing to provide that PR.

So if you ask me, the real story here isn’t that the PGA may (or may not) find a line it won’t cross. It is that so many members of the American elite clearly have no such line.

That is, the rise of the cancel culture seems far less important and ominous than the rise of the sell-out culture. More and more people at the top of our social hierarchy appear to be willing to do anything for anyone, as long as the money is enough.

This is not a purely partisan issue, although the sell-off culture may be somewhat more prevalent on the right than on the left. It remains extraordinary, given Donald Trump’s America First, how many members of his inner circle—including Michael Flynn, his national security adviser, and Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer—have been convicted in some cases. , or even confessed to serving as payment agents of autocratic foreign governments.

And even before Trump left office, both his son-in-law and his Treasury secretary were attracting Middle Eastern investors, both soon receiving large sums of money from the Saudis and other Gulf governments.

But like I said, it’s not a purely partisan thing. On Sunday, the chairman of the mid-of-the-road (and highly influential) Brookings Institution resigned in front of an FBI investigation into whether he had illegally lobbied for Qatar.

And although selling to foreign governments has special legal status—failure to disclose your role as a paid foreign agent is a crime—it’s not clear that it’s any worse than selling to morally questionable domestic interests. .

When cryptocurrency-exchange company Crypto.com started running an ad starring famed liberal actor Matt Damon, my heart sank. Maybe Damon didn’t know much about crypto and highly skeptical many analysts have it for what purpose it serves; He was hired to play a role. (Larry David created an ad for another crypto firm that ran during the Super Bowl.) But while playing that role, he helped promote what looked like a pump-and-dump scheme; The cryptocurrency has been valued at more than $1.6 trillion since that ad ran.

But was it never like that? Haven’t people been cashing in on power and celebrity since the dawn of civilization? Yes – but I don’t think I’m idealizing the past by suggesting that there used to be more restraint, the more opprobrium associated with selling more obviously. In 1967, John Kenneth Galbraith, hardly a cheerleader for capitalism, insisted that top business executives were subject to a “code” that prevented “making personal profits” and that in fact “a high standard of personal integrity”. “Used. I don’t think he was completely naive.

Or consider the fact that it was considered shocking at the time that Gerald Ford got rich, after the presidency, with paid speeches, seats on corporate boards and so on.

Full disclosure: Yes, I sometimes give paid speeches within the limits set by The New York Times’ rules. But I do try, not always successfully, to make sure sponsors aren’t the bad guys, and don’t advocate for pay—which is what’s coming back in golf, exactly what Mickelson & Co. is effective in. They were doing the way they did when they signed in. Play for the Bone Saw Tour.

What is the explanation for the rise of marketable culture? Tax deductions may have played a role: It becomes more attractive to sell your soul when you have more income. Rising income inequality can inspire jealousy, the desire to keep up with the super-elite. And of course there’s a process of generalization: Everyone else is sold out, so why shouldn’t I join the party?

Whatever the explanation, something has clearly changed; The corruption at the top is more apparent than ever before. And the cost of that corruption, I would argue, involves a process of demoralization. Children looked to public figures, especially sports stars, as role models. Are they still there? Will they, given that what public figures will do if the check gets big enough?

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