Lies, Suicides, Fake Girlfriends: When Your Name is Mud

Manti Te'o tee shirt Notre Dame Play like you had a fake girlfriend die todayDon't fret Manti Te'o, I too, once had an imaginary girlfriend, so I know what you're going through.  I mean, it was 5th grade, and a cool kid said I was a prude who couldn't get a girlfriend, so I made up her name. "Krista, and she goes to my church," I said. Thankfully, nobody at my school went to my church so Krista remained my white lie.

Gary Paulsen The Hatchet 1987 Newbery Award winner Alaska book coverI didn't get anything out of having an imaginary girlfriend. I started to write a note to myself from her, but nobody ever inquired about her ever again. 5th grade was like that. Kids were always moving on to the next big thing, like whether turkey gravy hot lunch was on the menu that day, or Rebook Pump shoes, or whatever new Gary Paulsen book was on the Scholastic flyer that month. So Krista died a natural death and was forgotten (until now).

That was the pre-social media, constant update days. There was no paper trail or digital database that could either refute or corroborate my story.

Yet, Manti Te'o, Notre Dame standout, 2nd in Heisman votes, and media darling, is having to answer tough questions about why he (or someone associated with him) would create an elaborate fake girlfriend, and then kill her off the same day his actual grandmother died, and then use the story as his motivation. The lies finally caught up to him. (The current story line is that a guy named Tuiasosopo invented the girl as a hoax, and that Te'o is some kind of victim of a cruel prank, but the evidence doesn't actually look that way).

The answer will undoubtedly be, fame. It was a good story. Te'o and Kekua: a tragic love story. Disney hasn't made a Samoan Princess cartoon yet. But this story is too complex for a Disney movie. This is like Shakespeare's entire cannon horribly blended together. Oh what fools we mortals be. It has a dash of Comedy of Errors, with a few sins of omission, add in a generous amount of a lie compounding a lie, which bakes up to Manti being SOL, (and the Irish are supposed to be lucky).

Broken Lance Armstrong Livestrong arm band bracelet nike yellow torn destroyed
But his lie wasn't as big or as damning as Lance Armstrong's. Armstrong's last decade has been one giant pyramid scheme of lies. And like any good pyramid scheme, he left victims of his lies all over the place, penniless, broken, and angry. But what about Livestrong, Mr. Shakespeare quoter, doesn't that exonerate some of his wrong?  "The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones..." Or in other words, goodness is buried with men, history only remembers their sins. So it will be with Armstrong, no matter how much money he raised for cancer research.

Over and over again in his interview, Armstrong said he "wanted to control the story." And it was a very good story...better than Te'o's. Yet his desire "to control every outcome," made the lies necessary. Ego and Power and Fame and Money are ugly bedfellows.  We'll see if his confession makes the people ever forgive him. It worked for Tiger Woods, although he hasn't been the same person or player since his teary confessional.   

Aaron Swartz founder of Reddit RSS before suicide photo ugly science shirt
Wonder how well Science is treating you
in the afterlife, Mr. Swartz? 
The last, in this trifecta of cautionary tales, is Aaron Swartz.  A man who baked up new social media ideas and websites. He literally feed it to us, through RSS (the main feed system of blogs) and later let us rank social media with his other creation (which I've spoken of numerous times for its mean-spirited culture).

But Swartz, perhaps out of boredom, or maybe to challenge himself, decided to hack into MIT's online library, and steal every scholarly article from the JSTOR database. Huge amounts of knowledge and information amassed over the years by researchers, educators, and working professionals, and Swartz wanted to give it away for free, like an intellectual wikileaks file.

When he was caught, and facing severe felony time in prison, he "gave back" the information. No harm, no foul, right? The feds didn't think so. So, after 18 months of pre-trial negotiations that didn't go his way, Swartz just decided to end it all, by offing himself. O happy dagger!

Suicide has always seemed to me, the most selfish "did you notice me now?" move there is.

Now, of all three, Swartz is considered the hero, the martyr. Three fairly victimless crimes, and the guy who didn't face the facts, didn't want to do the time for his crime, is turned into a poor victim of circumstance. He HAD to kill himself.  <sarcasm> That was his only option. (As if he would really get 30 years in prison).

So if there's a moral to be had here, and I'm not sure there is, it must be to keep your megalomania to a
Hindu Hindi Indian man in turbin performs for judges in American Idol Fox
"I wanna be a billionaire
(so freakin' bad)..."  
minimum. Cheating by lies to get you notoriety, cheating by injected lies into your physical being, or cheating other's livelihoods by giving their creations away for free, all have me wondering about upward mobility in our times.

It's hard to get attention in a world with 7 billion people. Most never will. "Nothing is so common as the desire to be remarkable." But I think we can all safely say that the price these three are paying for their tampered stardom is not worth the effort. I wish we could change  the old commercial that said, at Smith Barney, "We make {notoriety} the old fashioned way,
Samuel Mudd physician to John Wilkes Booth conspirator to the president treason
Samuel Mudd: Physician to
the outlaw John Wilkes Booth
and conspirator to assassinate
Mr. Lincoln.  That'll ruin your
good name.  
we earn it." Of course, Smith Barney had a number of fraud charges, and is now obsolete after being absorbed by the Morgan Stanley company, so maybe a better line would be... 'Tis but thy name that is my enemy...What's in a name?

Apparently there's a lot to a name and its corresponding fame. Maybe we wouldn't know these names if they didn't cheat to get ahead. But there's a huge difference between being famous, and being infamous. Someone should tell their publicists. Because when your name is Mud, people will always try to dig up dirt on you.


  1. I hadn't even heard about Manti Te'o or Aaron Swartz, but have heard about the Lance Armstrong story. I must admit to being more than a bit out of the loop when it comes to current events.

    "There's a huge difference between being famous and being infamous." How true. Sadly, when someone's desire to be noticed takes the driver's seat, they can easily find themselves settling for "infamous" in an effort to avoid obscurity.

    Not a whole lot different, really, than a five year old doing the same naughty thing over and over again, even though he knows he will get in trouble...if he thinks that is the only way to get attention. The big difference is that with the five-year-old, the parents bear a great share of the responsibility if indeed they DON'T pay attention unless their child is naughty. For we adults, though, ...we never HAVE to choose to be infamous.

  2. That's a great picture: I feel like there are a lot of 5-year-old humans running around throwing fits to get attention. Only there's no parent to punish them, just society to JUDGE them.
    Thanks Julie.

  3. Incredibly well-said and insightful.
    It's so easy to look at these infamous people and see what led them down that road. It's more difficult to look inside ourselves and take "moral inventory" (to quote one of your readers) over our own motives and desires. To check ourselves, here's a good question (and my own Shakespearean-esque quote): "To bless or to impress, that is the question." As well, To (mis)quote another wise man: first take the speck out of your own eye before trying to take the log out of another's.

  4. One of the things I can't help put think as all these stories came out last week: no matter how hard people may try, the house of cards always collapses at some point.