Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps was photographed smoking a bong.
Really, who cares?
Of course there's the outrage and hang-wringing and teeth-gnashing and the pathetic gurgling from upset housefraus who worry that America's golden boy went bad and that the hero of the Beijing Olympics has fallen.
Phelps apologized through a statement: "I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment. I'm 23 years old and despite the success I've had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner people have come to expect from me. For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public it will not happen again."
Mike, chill out. It's not our fault and you shouldn't be apologizing. It was just marijuana. It wasn't like you were snorting cocaine off Boy George's butt crack. There's nothing wrong with smoking a little marijuana. Hell, the Beatles did it and if the wacky weed is good enough for the group that released "A Day in the Life," then it's good enough for you.
What I don't get is this need to apologize for being photographed with a bong in your hand. It's better than being photographed with a horse's cock in your hand. I mean, seriously. What's the big deal?
You're 23, Mike. That's what 23 year olds do. They experiment. They kick back and have fun. Just because you're an Olympic phenomenon and championship athlete with enough product endorsements to choke an elephant, does that mean you stop acting your age? Does it mean you transform into this corporate automaton who avoids pleasure and smiles for the cameras like a well-groomed mannequin?
Why are successful athletes compelled to discard the shackles of mortality and become living gods, impervious to mistakes or the whims of human cravings? And why does the public demand athletes act this way, calling them heroes and champions and role-models? It's like designing a false prophet and propping them up because you need something to believe in.
Why do we idolize athletes or really anybody, including actors and celebrities? And why isn't the public forgiving when these plastic heroes fall from grace?
I wish things had been different for Michael Phelps. I wished he was photographed smoking an even bigger bong and banging Tila Tequila, Lindsay Lohan and her lesbian girlfriend. That'll show those puritanical reactionaries who inflate someone up to hero status and then vivisect them when something goes awry.
Phelps should capitalize on this latest incident. The photo on the box of Wheaties depicting Phelps with the bong might be a start. Maybe he can teach a generation of squeaky clean Millenniums who grew up with Barney the Dinosaur and conservative conformist attitudes to discover the miracle of marijuana. Maybe the kids won't be so cheery and lame if they're lying on a beanbag chair, baked out of their minds and listening to Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon."
Maybe they'll experience new vistas, new perceptions.
One can only hope that hysterical Americans move on to another plastic hero and leave Mike Phelps alone to wallow in the self-generated pity party caused by his inability to act in a rigid, gloomy fashion that his corporate masters demand of him.