Much has been made of Lance Armstrong falling short of an Oprah mea culpa. While he may have admitted to the imbibing, he didn’t say sorry, didn’t express remorse. Certainly didn’t do the expected Marion Jones sob-a-thon.
We all wanted more from him, of course. More detail, more dates, more names. Fear not however, because we’re most certainly gonna get it. He might have been booted from the bike but Mr Armstrong most certainly hasn’t left the building.
There are two reasons that we got few words and scant emotion from cycling’s Great Satan. One, it was all a drip-feed preview to an inevitable – and likely more lucrative – tell-all book.
Two, this Lance – the driven, unflinching, egotistical bastard – is the version he’s always peddled; the image that he, presumably, wants to keep turning a dime from.
Ask any marketing theorist and they’ll readily espouse the value of brand consistency: Lance needs to keep up the bastardry because after the dust settles and we all find someone new to gnaw on, it’s the all-grit-and-determination Bully Boy who will move the merchandise.
The true value of Armstrong is not as a cyclist, rather, as the embodiment of the well-worn, much-loved, tried-and-true gendered tale of that bloke who pulled himself up by his bootstraps and never gave up, never gave in.
Had he laid his head on the lap of Oprah and sobbed convulsively onto the fabric of her interview finery, he wouldn’t have been true to his brand. And it’s the brand – and only the brand – that can be salvaged from this mess.
It was service to this brand that had him “break his silence” and it’s salvaging the brand that explains his arrogance and lack of repentance. Brand Bastard is a label defined by self-belief, self-reliance and an unflailing dedication to winning-at-all-costs, even at the darkest of hours.
Even if Lance decided to straighten up and cycle right, his future lies not in elite athletics: a) decades of cheating and only the village idiot would believe he’s clean, and b) he’s 41 and would be duelling – inevitably unsuccessfully – against younger and more testicled competitors.
The bigger story to emerge from this brouhaha – the narrative much more interesting and certainly more marketable than that of a 41-year-old serial doper – stars a pig-headed champion who would do anything to win. Sure, he’s a drug cheat, but he’s also a clench-your-teeth-and-plough-through-the-pain role model with a story to tell and motivational speaker terrain to conquer.
Like him or – as in my case – find him thoroughly loathsome, he’s dedicated. Dedicated to the Lance Armstrong brand, to the narrative of the self-at-the-centre-of-the-universe and to the story of triumph over adversity.
None of us need to forgive him, in fact, I dare say that us continuing to see him as a jerk is crucially important. Just as there are audiences for unapologetic serial pests like Charlie Sheen, just as people pay good money to be hollered at at boot camp, there’s a market for this Lance and much less so for a sooky sooky la la who might have wished it had all played out differently.
The interview might have been unsatisfying for those wanting him to claw at his chest, gouge out his eyes or offer an artery up to the masses as repentance. But for those of us interested in marketing, in branding, the interview was a tentative – but enormously useful – step into his post-cycling life where his bullying, drive and dogged prize-piggery has a ready-made self-help-seeking audience.
January 19, 2013
© Lauren Rosewarne