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6 Reasons Why the Michael Phelps "Scandal" Is Uniquely American

by Kate Sedgwick Feb 13, 2009
Let’s set the hype aside for a moment and examine the facts.

With a lung capacity that helped him set seven world records in the 2008 Olympics, Michael Phelps had to have been higher than anyone at that party.

Phelps probably sucked the whole bowl down in one hit and held it in for a full minute. Maybe that’s why someone felt compelled to sell the photo: When a multimillionaire burns through half your stash in one bong-load, maybe you feel a bit taken advantage of.

The difference is that Phelps sobered up afterward. But his fellow party-goer must have still been high when he or she sold the photo of the 16 medal winning Olympic champion to The News of the World for what’s rumored to have been $5,000 without demanding syndication rights.

To be fair, he or she may not have known that the story would become the sensation that it has. How could smoking pot be such a big deal? In the United States, our last three presidents have admitted to drug use. Time estimates that 42% of Americans have smoked pot. I don’t know who the other 58% are.

It’s no wonder with sites like Celebrity Skin, a site that sells the fecal matter of the stars, reports that the owner of the bong tried to sell it on e-Bay for $100,000. Maybe this is the same person who sold the photo, realizing their folly and trying to make a final effort at fortune.

Now, eight people (the bong owner among them) have been arrested. The talking heads are going nuts, stumbling over each other to seem more scandalized with every bit of “news” they manufacture and release.

Only in America could this happen. Here are six reasons why:

It started in England.

The Brits know a scandal when they see one. The News of the World publishes a couple of paragraphs about Michael Phelps smoking weed and we just run with it.

Banners run on the bottom of the screen on CNN and MSNBC, saying things like, “Sheriff investigates whether Michael Phelps smoked pot,” and “8 people arrested in connection with SC party Michael Phelps attended.”

No wonder no one takes Americans seriously.

Our news outlets cover an incident of marijuana smoking with nearly the same fervor that they do mass murders on college campuses. Don’t believe me? Check out this “Breaking News.”

Those Brits sure know how to sell us back to ourselves. It may be a sort of revenge for overtaking their colonies, but they know us. Now listen as the slot machine pays out heavy to The News of the World for those photo rights.

We prefer fake to real.

Boobs, lips, flavoring, wood paneling, flowers, Viagra, Astroturf, top 40 music, bleach blondes, Christmas trees, fingernails, Velveeta, fur: fake, fake, fake. Better than the real thing– just like our news.

Sure, there’s the issue of the economy. Sure, wildfires are raging out of control in Australia. Sure, bombs are killing people in Baghdad and cholera is affecting thousands in Zimbabwe.


We love to tear down the hero.

Nothing’s better than someone we admire screwing up and getting their ass handed to them: Eliot Spitzer, Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, Tonya Harding, Bill Clinton, Mel Gibson, Michael Richards, Larry Craig, Britney Spears again.

Not everyone admired any of these people, but significantly fewer did after the “news” about them broke.

In the United States, there’s nothing better than seeing someone successful screw up. It’s gratifying to people to see that rich, successful people do stupid things. Bring that celeb down to life size and you’re guaranteed to sell advertising time on your network.

We don’t really care about the corporate stranglehold on our culture.

Visa and Kellogg and Speedo and Mazda all get press. Kellogg gets the most because they are willing to condemn Phelps’ dastardly marijuana smoking ways.

Phelps loses one million dollars and Kellogg gets its name on the news several times a day. Free advertising for them and a small loss for Phelps (all things considered).

Now people can debate whether Kellogg is wrong or right and another news item is born. There’s a movement afoot to boycott Kellogg over its unethical treatment of our American treasure.

Meanwhile, Kellogg gets to come out smelling “gr-e-a-at!”.

We pretend to care about drugs being illegal.

If Phelps had been using TGH or some other designer steroid that could make the viewing public feel ripped off for believing in him, perhaps there would be some actual scandal to this “scandal.”

By all accounts, pot is a performance decreasing drug rather than the reverse. Despite Time’s claim that 48% of Americans have tried pot, it’s really more surprising to meet someone who has never smoked pot.

Why do we pretend to care?

Maybe the only thing stopping every marijuana advocate and midnight toker out there from using this “incident” to claim pot is more beneficial than as a nausea cure is that Phelps could not have been using any drugs at all during his victory sweep. He was regularly tested for all drugs throughout any competitive season.

We like to pretend that we care about illegal drug use.

We don’t really… or we would not have elected our last three presidents.

Profit, baby.

They’re selling it and we’re buying it.

People have the luxury of being morally outraged regardless of what side they’re on in this non-issue. Phelps is just a young guy and deserves to have a little fun. He’s setting a poor example. Whoever sold that picture deserves to be tortured.

We’re celebrity obsessed and when headlines that would once have been relegated to The Enquirer are running on cable news networks, we watch and they profit. For the CNNs of this world, this is great. No foreign correspondent has to be flown to far off lands and risk life and limb to cover real news.

These networks now know they can participate in lazy tabloid style coverage and sell more advertising than they would if they were covering real news that required research or reporting.

Pure profit.


What do you think about the Phelps “scandal”? Is it uniquely American? Why? Why not? Share your opinions below!

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