ORLANDO, Fla. – Let’s all hope Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o is lying.
Let’s hope he totally concocted the inspirational story of overcoming the death of his make-believe dead girlfriend in order to garner favorable publicity and pump up his chances of winning the Heisman Trophy.
As troubling as this monumental lie would be, it beats the pathetically alternative truth: That Te’o was somehow duped by some Internet scammer into carrying on a three-year relationship with a woman he never personally met and never existed.
This is the tall tale Te’o wants us to believe, but it’s the story I don’t want to believe. I would rather Te’o be a massive liar and fraud than a symbol of the valueless, virtual world we live in today. A world where it seems entirely possible to carry on a cyberspacial love affair with someone you’ve never seen, touched, kissed or hugged.
Believe it or not, this stuff happens all the time. In fact, I’ve got a buddy who carried on an online relationship with a woman in another state. She would text him photos of herself in which she looked like a bikini model. He wanted to fly up to her hometown and meet her in person, but she kept making excuses as to why they couldn’t rendezvous. He got suspicious, started doing some investigating and found out she’d filed for bankruptcy a couple of times and was using a fake name. And she was no bikini model. A background check revealed her to be 5-foot-3, 210 pounds.
There’s an entire Internet phenomenon known as “Catfishing” (named after a movie documentary and an MTV show based on it) in which computer-savvy weirdos pull off elaborate hoaxes to lure their “victims” into online relationships. Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick referenced the practice in his vehement defense of Te’o on Wednesday night.
“I would refer all of you, if you’re not already familiar with it, with both the documentary called “Catfish,” the MTV show which is a derivative, and the sort of associated things you’ll find online and otherwise about catfish, or catfishing,” Swarbrick said.
Sadly, this is the bogus new world we live in – a counterfeit electronic world where the trivial becomes important and the important becomes trivial. NFL linebacker Ray Lewis is revered today even though he was once accused of killing two real people. College linebacker Manti Te’o is reviled today for falling in love with a fake girlfriend.
It’s all part of the computerized depersonalization of America, where we don’t even know the name of our next-door neighbor, but we carry on endless Twitter conversations with some stranger in Scranton.
I went to the doctor’s office the other day, and there were six people in the waiting room and none of us said a word to each other. We were all on our smart phones, tapping and typing and tweeting and texting.
On Thanksgiving Day, a bunch of the kids at the house were playing “tag.” Except there was one problem: They were playing it on their iPad.
Attendance at college booster club meetings is way, way down, and you want to know why? Because instead of getting out an interacting with one another face to face, more and more fans sit at home and post nasty anonymous messages on Fire-the-Coach.com websites.
And we in the media are certainly not immune either. Reporters today, it seems, spend more and more time tweeting out meaningless 140-character dispatches on Twitter and less and less time embarking on meaningful issues and substantial investigative journalism. Hard news has given way to soft porn. Many media outlets, in an effort to get the cheap, easy clicks, often run photo galleries of scantily clad cheerleaders and provocative dancing girls.
“I have the theory that news is now driven not by editors who know anything,” comedian and political pundit Bill Maher said not long ago. “I think it’s driven by people who are slacking off at work and surfing the Internet. It’s like a country run by ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos.’ ”
It should be noted that Notre Dame held an expansive news conference earlier this week to talk about the purported death of Lennay Kekau – the make-believe girlfriend of a star football player. But in 2010, the school stood silent when Lizzy Seeberg, a living, breathing college freshman, committed suicide after accusing a Notre Dame football player of sexual assault.
As Notre Dame grad Melinda Henneberger wrote in the Washington Post: “My alma mater held an emotional press conference for a fake dead girl, but none for a real one.”
Sadly, this is the vapid, virtual world we now live in.