About a week ago I watched the documentary “Stop At Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story”, which obviously chronicles the rise and fall of cyclist Lance Armstrong. I found it incredibly interesting, firstly because the Lance Armstrong saga was itself something that I honestly hadn’t followed that closely over the years, but only heard about through random appearances and news pieces and the overall Lance-worship that went on for a good many years. As I watched the film and started to put together the main figures involved and see how he was of course “doping” from the very beginning, and probably only stopped during his bout with cancer (cancer caused no less almost certainly because of the doping itself) I started to appreciate another layer of the whole thing, the way in which the Lance Armstrong tale really embodies such a perfect example of how easily the hearts and minds of the general public can be guided and manipulated.
Lance Armstrong was a living icon, about as close as humans these days can get to reaching full-on godhood. Far beyond just another “sports hero”, in the minds of so many around the world, he represented some kind of “archetype of the human spirit”, something to be inspired by whether you gave a rip about cycling or not.
He was a cancer survivor after all, and his creation of the “Lance Armstrong Foundation” cemented his status as not just a living sports legend but a full-on Philanthropist guru who attended elite Hollywood functions and did PSA’s with Presidents.
So on one level, it’s not hard to say that Lance’s fraud being hidden for so long isn’t hard to believe, when we step back and think about how much his “legacy” had become interwoven and synonymous with. “American pride” for starters, but then there was the reputation of professional cycling (which is no small industry itself, particularly in places like Europe), his copious endorsements and corporate sponsors like Nike and Oakley, as well as just the broader medical/pharmaceutical establishment, having such a heroic face to attach to the notion that “we are winning the war on cancer”, and all the donation money that was flowing in due to the rejuvenating life-blood that was Lance and his larger-than-life story…
On the other hand, in the “grand scheme of things”, the “monolith” that was Lance Armstrong was really small potatoes in comparison to so many other controversial topics and scandals going on today, where issues of so much greater importance have yet to see the light of day in the open public forum. After all, in the end a cyclist cheating in the Tour de France is hardly a matter of national security or massive corporate-level fraud, but that’s really my whole point. It took years and years for the truth about Armstrong to finally come out, for the few who had testified against him to be exonerated (even though, like a true coward, he would never actually go so far as to admit to the allegations of those such as Betsy Andreu, who heard him admit to taking a laundry list of banned substances while he laid in his hospital bed).
He was, overall, just an “average guy”, with no government connections, no massive financial backing and no political clout, at least to start with. He didn’t even have a college degree, and yet this guy, along with the team he rode with (who also “doped”) and a relatively small cadre of team doctors/managers/backers all “conspired” together to the point where eventually this man was virtually untouchable, due to the fact that he came to represent such a veritable cash cow of “inspirational value”.
So to someone such as myself, the story of Lance Armstrong is astonishingly indicative of just how willing the public can be to believe the thing that it so wants to believe. We don’t like watching our “heroes” fall. We don’t like having a little “paradigms” shattered. We don’t like feeling fooled, betrayed and duped, to be shown that the thing we were so long worshipping was not the divinely-bequeathed symbol of our own uber-humanity, but just another empty idol. If this can be demonstrated to such a staggering degree in an example as comparatively minor as that of Lance Armstrong, then no wonder so many people are so absolutely opposed to questioning things with far greater ramifications, whether they be the events of 9/11, or the “safety” of adjuvants in vaccines, or the broader global techno/financial/security net that is closing around us all, a little bit more each and every day…