The Manti Te’o story has many sports journalists feeling the irrevocable sting of not double-checking the details. How could so many professionals, whose jobs are to dig up the dirt and check the facts, miss the detail that Te’o’s inspiration for his Heisman Trophy-eligible 2012 season was a woman who didn’t exist? In hindsight, it seems inconceivable. But the answer is simple. The story in which Te’o lost his girlfriend right after losing his grandmother and right before playing the best football of his Notre Dame career is prime for a movie a la Rudy or Miracle, or, perhaps, a Manti Te’o reality TV show.
Even before the Te’o story began to mimic MTV’s reality hit Catfish: The TV Show, it already seemed prime to spark reality fame for the Notre Dame linebacker. How could anyone resist such an inspirational story? We couldn’t. We’re not wired that way. Throughout the sports and entertainment worlds, it’s evident that we’ve been trained to crave triumph over trouble in every celeb, hero, and role model. Many of our most beloved sports stars are beloved because they succeed after navigating dire straits. Even our favorite celebrities have to have some back story to get us on board. And of course there’s one pop culture behemoth that practically subsists on exploiting stories of adversity: American Idol. The problem is, the more success-after-tragedy tales we witness, the more outrageous these success tales need to be. It’s no wonder we accepted a tragedy like Te’o’s reported double loss; we could practically see the reality TV sob story background reel playing in our heads and it had us salivating.
It’s a factor that explains why Idol made headlines following the Season 12 premiere, when New York contestant Evan Ruggiero told his tale of surviving cancer and having his leg amputated only to be sent home by the judges because he wasn’t ready to compete on the singing series. This wasn’t what we signed up for. We were duped. Where was that gratification of the good feeling after the sad story? Idol always delivers an overdose of that saccharine-soaked hope, giving us multiple contestants a year who defy the odds and restore the American dream; and in some cases these stories produce winners, like Season 11’s Phillip Phillips, who overcame his severe health problems despite wanting to quit multiple times during the show. In past years, contestants with great stories didn't even need to be all that good, like Season 10's Chris Medina, who sneaked by without vocal chops thanks to being selfless enough to play nurse to his brain-damaged fiancée. It’s hard to accept now that only some people get a ticket to Hollywood after facing periods of great sadness. We cling to the notion that there is always a way to surpass even the greatest roadblock, and it appears we need it now more than ever.
Our favorite stars are greatly comprised of sobs-to-smiles stories. It’s nothing new in the sports world, where Te’o is just the cherry on top of a mountain of trying tales: Jackie Robinson defeating the race barrier to join the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, Magic Johnson returning to the Lakers after being diagnosed as HIV positive, Ted Williams being a WWII vet and a 19-time MLB All-star, Josh Hamilton besting his years-long drug addiction to become the American League MVP in 2010, to name a few. Heck, the reason we’re so obsessed with Lance Armstrong and his doping scandal is because we heralded him as a miracle athlete after her survived cancer and won multiple Tour de France titles. And it’s why we’re watching Te’o like a hawk.
These triumphant stories have also become integral to the celeb realm, where putting a 17-year-old from Kentwood, La. in a sports bra in the music video for “(Hit Me) Baby One More Time” was once enough to make a girl a superstar, without digging into her past life. Now, we want it up front. Just look at Justin Bieber, who just surpassed Lady Gaga as the most-followed celebrity on Twitter and who’s managed to make headlines every day this week simply for having the ability to use a cell phone camera and post images to Instagram. He comes from humble beginnings' he's the child 17-year-old Patti Mallette refused to abort despite being pressured to do so. Years of living in low-income housing later, the Biebs was discovered via Youtube, saving himself and his young mother from further struggle. Then there’s the beloved author J.K. Rowling, who added a famous face to her famous name when we learned she overcame crippling poverty with her Harry Potter series and became a celebrity in her own right (you may know Suzanne Collins’ name, but few would see her face and know she wrote The Hunger Games). Demi Lovato went from Disney Channel kid to a household name when her she emerged like a healthy new butterfly on the other side of a stint in rehab for drugs and alcohol abuse, self-mutilation, and a subsequent diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
Even Jennifer Lawrence, who’s award worthy on her own, has gained momentum in the Best Actress race heading into the Oscar season at least partially due to her “inability” (or refusal, depending on how you look at it) to fit into Hollywood culture as-is. In consistently shirking the prescribed Hollywood ways, like accepting her body even if she’s considered “fat” in Tinseltown and refusing to elevate the acting profession above less glamorous ones, she’s actually given herself the highest form of Hollywood currency: a little bit of adversity. If she’s atypical, she’s fighting the odds. And if you’ve been paying attention, we’ve learned to love that.
But do we really need these stories right now? Why are they so prevalent? The aforementioned celebs certainly aren’t the first ones to overcome something and thus earn a place in our hearts (just ask Oprah Winfrey, who came into our lives in the late ‘80s after conquering a horrible childhood that included allegations of rape and, later, a miscarriage in her early teens).
Still, it’s impossible to deny the relevance of the underdog story right now, especially in the face of the Te’o story. We want it so bad, we were willing to believe it blindly. We shouldn't beat ourselves up too greatly: it makes sense in America right now. The economic climate has been bleak since the housing crisis, unemployment rates have steadily risen for the past 10 years, and the future is more precarious than ever. It’s in times like these that entertainment begins to reflect our fears. Looking back at the 1930s, during and after the Great Depression, we saw the emergence of superheroes like Captain America, who overcame his cripplingly tiny stature to become a freedom fighter with a dose of Super Serum, and Batman, an orphan who grew up to own a multi-national corporation and a secret cave of tools for fighting crime. When times are tough, we seek triumph over hardship in entertainment, and that pattern is clearly in effect today. Add to that pattern a hopeless addiction to reality TV and celebs like Kim Kardashian (who lacks any discernible talent, but packs a tawdry back story), and it's not hard to see how we've landed here with a pile of overcomers on a pedestal.
The question that remains is, what will happen next? Now that stories like Te’o’s and Armstrong’s have shattered the shiny surface of the classic underdog tale, are we growing weary of it? Is that why watching American Idol judges crush a cancer survivor’s dreams is a possibility now? Now that the underdog is everywhere, are we moments away from being bored with him?
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Getty; WENN]
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Brolin and Driver to wed
Jews are angry
Smile, Mrs. Dirty Harry
Moore birthday bash
Pryor turns street
Beastie Boys are back
Brando takes ill
Brolin and Driver to wed
Actor Josh Brolin (Hollowman, The Mod Squad) and actress Minnie Driver (Return To Me, Good Will Hunting) are engaged to be wed, People magazine reports.
This is the third wedding for Brolin, who was married previously to Deborah Adair. Brolin's first wife, Jane, died in 1995. Brolin has two children, Trevor, 12, and Eden, 8.
This will be the first trip down the aisle for Driver, who previously dated Matt Damon and John Cusack.
Brolin -- son of famed actor James Brolin and stepson of Barbra Streisand -- and Driver became romantically involved when they costarred in Slow Burn.
"It's obvious they are very much in love," Danny McKeever, Brolin's auto-racing instructor, told reporters.
No wedding date has been set yet, People reported.
Comic strip "BC" defames Jews, says Jewish group
The Simon Weisenthal Center, a nonprofit Jewish civil rights organization, is asking newspapers that carry the syndicated comic strip BC not to run Sunday's cartoon.
The strip portrays a Menorah, a Jewish symbol, in the first panel, under a quote by Jesus: "Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do." Succeeding panels then show the Menorah morphing into a cross, with more of Jesus' last words atop each panel. The final panel's quote, "Do this in remembrance of me," frames a picture of a cave, presumably Jesus' final resting place.
The founder and director of the Weisenthal Center, Rabbi Marvin Heir, said that newspapers have a duty not to run the strip, as it describes Judaism being "subsumed" or encompassed by Christianity, Reuters reported. The strip "will promote hatred rather than tolerance and diversity," Heir said.
A statement released by Johnny Hart, creator of BC, defends his work, saying that during a week that is holy for both Christians and Jews this year, he was trying to honor both.
The Simon Weisenthal Center, located in Los Angeles, is named in memory of Nazi hunter Simon Weisenthal.
Dirty Harry's wife on "Camera"
Smile, you're on Candid Camera.
Dina Ruiz Eastwood, wife of Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood, will be saying that more often, having joined Candid Camera's team as the show's co-host.
Starting with the new fall season, Eastwood will co-anchor the show with Peter Funt, The Associated Press reports. Eastwood will take over for Suzanne Sommers, former star of Three's Company.
The Eastwoods, who appeared together in True Crime, have been married since 1996. Prior to taking her new gig as Camera's co-host, Eastwood was a news anchor for KSBW-TV (NBC) in Salinas, Calif. Prior to taking the gig as Camera's co-host, Eastwood was a news anchor for KSBW-TV (NBC) in Salinas, Calif.
Candid Camera airs Sunday evenings on Pax TV.
Former "Survivor" contestant gives deposition
America hasn't heard the last from the first season's cast members of the TV hit Survivor.
As part of ex-cast member Stacy Stillman's $70,000 lawsuit against CBS, fellow South Pacific islander Dirk Been delivered a videotaped deposition -- six hours in length -- to lawyers, according to a report by People magazine. Been's deposition will remain under wraps due to confidentiality agreements that each cast member signs before taping begins.
Stillman contends that the TV series rigged the vote that kicked her off the island. Stillman reportedly asked the questions during Been's deposition.
"We're very pleased with what Dirk said today," Donald Yates, Stillman's lawyer, told the New York Post.
For its part, CBS filed a counter-suit against Stillman, claiming she broke her nondisclosure agreement when she brought her suit against Survivor last February.
Moore to celebrate birthday with TV bash
To celebrate Dudley Moore's 66th birthday, his family and friends are throwing him a small party -- at Carnegie Hall.
Michael Caine and Julie Andrews will chair the televised event, An All-Star Tribute To Dudley Moore, People magazine reports. Mary Tyler Moore, Barbara Walters, Amy Irving, Lauren Bacall, Eric Idle, Chevy Chase, Jimmy Fallon and Bo Derek are scheduled to give praise in person, while Robin Williams and John Cleese have taped video messages for Moore.
Dudley Moore, star of such films as 10, Arthur, and the original Bedazzled, suffers from a rare brain disorder called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, a relative of Parkinson's disease. The ailment has severely limited Moore's ability to work as Moore is confined to his wheelchair. Moore has curtailed his public appearances.
Net proceeds from the evening go to two of Moore's pet charities, Music for All Seasons and the Dudley Moore Research Fund for PSP. The tribute will take place on Monday.
Pryor's name to headline street sign in Illinois
Peoria, Ill., will try for the second time to honor hometown hero, comedian Richard Pryor, USA Today reports.
Peoria City Council members rejected on March 27 the renaming of South Sheridan Street in honor of Pryor, but that apparently did not sit well with certain council members. The proposal has reappeared on the docket, and the council will once again vote on the matter in two weeks.
Councilman Eric Turner said that the city has received a black eye for failing to honor Pryor. According to Turner, he and Pryor were childhood friends while growing up on the south side of Peoria.
Pryor is a controversial choice for such an honor, given his past penchant for profanity-filled routines and his well-documented battles with drugs. In 1980, Pryor nearly killed himself accidentally in a fire related to his freebasing cocaine.
Pryor, currently living in California, suffers from Multiple Sclerosis.
Beastie Boys' Grand Royal reappears
Out of print since 1997, the Beastie Boys' cult magazine Grand Royal has been licensed by Harper Collins to reappear in the guise of a coffee-table book. The book would comprise the best of the old magazines and incorporate fresh new articles, according to a story filed by online portal Yahoo!
The Beastie Boys produced just six editions of Grand Royal, from 1993 to 1997, which were all instant hits. The magazine, which linked skateboarding and politics and music and pop culture, sold out three of the six print runs. The magazine featured articles with then-obscure musicians, such as a Kid Rock interview in the fourth edition.
According to the report, Josh Behar, a senior editor at Harper Collins, said that the Beastie Boys "really love this project. Their dedication is amazing." Beastie Boy Mike D is working closely with Behar to finish the book. The book is scheduled to appear in bookstores in April 2002.
Actor Steve Buscemi reportedly knifed in fight
Actor Steve Buscemi has flown from the North Carolina set of Domestic Disturbance to his home in New York to recover from knife wounds, according to The Associated Press.
Police arrested a local man and will charge him for assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill after allegedly stabbed Buscemi in the head, throat, and arms, AP said. Buscemi was released from a local hospital and flew home to recuperate.
The fight happened early Thursday at the Firebelly Lounge, a local bar, in Wilmington, N.C.
Domestic Disturbance costar Vince Vaughn also was arrested for his alleged involvement in the fight. AP said Vaughn was trying to come to the aid of Buscemi.
Buscemi's agents, the William Morris Agency, said they had no information at this time. Domestic Disturbance's studio, Paramount Pictures, refused to comment.
John Travolta and Teri Polo also star in the film.
Marlon Brando hospitalized
Screen legend Marlon Brando, 77, has reportedly been hospitalized for pneumonia, days before he was due to shoot the opening scene for the upcoming comedy Scary Movie 2 this week.
The actor is said to be undergoing treatment at a Los Angeles-area hospital. Neither Brando's agent, Dimension Films nor Scary Movie 2 producer Brillstein-Grey Entertainment have commented on details about his illness, or how long he is expected to be in the hospital.
The filmmakers still want Brandon to be in the film and, even though production wraps this month, his scenes could still be filmed after he recovers, according to Variety.
Scary Movie 2 is the sequel to last year's summer blockbuster directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans. It costars Chris Elliot, Tim Curry, Tori Spelling and Andy Richter.
The sequel, also directed by Wayans, is due in theaters for the July 4 holiday weekend.
Brando's next project is working alongside Robert DeNiro and Edward Norton in the crime drama The Score.