Reports in the press, including AP and New York Times, indicate that pop violinist Vanessa-Mae may have been unwittingly implicated in a cheating scandal during the qualifications for the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.
Miss Vanessa-Mae herself is not accused of wrongdoing; rather, Slovenian Ski Association officials say that four of their racing officials faked results in the grand slalom, Vanessa-Mae’s event. They suspended the officials and are passing the dossier to public prosecutors. Vanessa-Mae finished last in the event at Sochi, which was actually one by a Slovenian.
The matter would be a cause for laughter and tut-tutting, with both sports and music chroniclers agreeing that the silly episode is in keeping with the character of a pretty, vain, ditzy 35-year old musician whose prodigies as a child were channeled into the kind of insipid pop classical performances that are used in airports to lull travelers or the noise you hear in the toilet stalls of big hotel chains.
Other observers may note that, withal, it is encouraging to find such a spirit of amateurism still alive at the Games, conceived in the Edwardian era to celebrate the promise of youth. Olympic competitors were expected to be accomplished individuals pursuing studies and careers in all kinds of fields, civilized citizens and upright and virtuous human beings, who also were, and not coincidentally in the thinking of those distant times, fine athletes.
Viewed from this perspective, Vanessa-Mae is the victim of idiot or corrupt officials in Slovenia who had their own motives, no doubt wicked. On the other hand, what interest had they in promoting her chances to qualify for the Sochi Games? Was there money on her — as allegedly there is in big-time soccer, up to and including certain qualifying matches for the recent World Cup, as the world series of this sport — disliked as boring and un-American (but I repeat myself) by Miss Ann Coulter, the noted attorney and commentator — is known. The trial in Slovenia — not to be confused with Slovakia — if it takes place, may shed light upon this murky affair at the recent Winter Games.
But viewed in still another perspective, this case underscores the culture of cheating as it permeates human affairs. Pending the results of a study by a Ph.D. candidate in the sociology of sports, which I would guess is underway at a leading university, my guess is that cheating is not specific to these times. What has perhaps changed is how we view it. A minimum of honesty must be enforced, as this case shows, but it seems to me — alert readers will correct me if I am paranoid — our tolerance has expanded vastly for large and small acts of cheating.
Cheating has been around a long time. Stuffed ballot boxes, for example, and graveyard voters. The 1919 Chicago White Sox. Fraudulent bankers (viz. the perp in John Ford’s Stagecoach or such ponzi men as Bernie Madoff). Leave aside statecraft and war, where all is fair to protect the national interest and the only crime is incompetence, but in how many ordinary activities do we get the sense that the prevailing attitude is that everybody does it?
Consider the weapons of the spirit, which are, like athletics, supposed to be used “loyally,” as used to be said: why, we all have long lists of stories of plagiarism and other kinds of intellectual dishonesty. It happens in journalism as well as in allegedly serious scholarly work. Mr. Walther mentioned one the other day involving a Balkan philosopher of the communist persuasion.
The Marxist-Leninist intellectual tradition is rife with all manners of shenanigans, ranging from the plagiarism of this case to the misuse of data, approaching outright falsification, present already in the works of Marx and Engels. It is true that Marxist thought gives itself the phony cover that under capitalism everything is permitted and whatever advances the revolution is moral. But people find the rationales they need, down to the all-purpose cretinism that a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.
Why cheat? What gain is there in winning something when you know in your head, not to mention your heart, that you have not earned it? Lest this sound like the most terminal case of a self-satisfied sanctimonious moron, I willingly own up to a fair share of childhood peccadilloes — and let us not pretend a peccadillo is not a crime — including cheating on a German exam (take that, Marc Falcoff!).
I am still at this late stage in life undecided on a basic question, the question of human innocence. Are we born in sin, or not? I admit I incline toward the affirmative. You may prefer the biological explanation to the theological one, but I think the whole point of human culture is, precisely, to remove certain natural or cosmological reflexes from, if not our nature, at least our behavior.
When I taught school, I found cheating to be common. The worst part of it was that many parents and school officials did not seem to mind — if finding excuses or even trying to deny the obvious means anything other than not minding. Kids copied each other’s work, used cribs during exams, plagiarized assigned reports, faked permission slips from parents and other teachers. None of this, I knew, was specific to the condition of our public schools in recent years, decades rather. Kids have done this as long as there have been schools, though not in all schools, which is the important caveat. But the culture of tolerance for such behavior was breathtakingly different from what I had known in my own school days.
Queasy, especially during my early career, about my own wicked past, I tried to use reason. I recognized this as the slippery slope toward just the kind of tolerance that subverted the moral ends of education. I made a little speech that went as follows.
“Boys and girls, I have noticed several instances of cheating in this classroom. You know it is against the rules, rules that we have discussed and that are prominently displayed over there [pointing] and for which there are penalties, also prominently displayed [pointing], that affect your grades. Now I know many of you think I am a straight arrow kind of man because you have told me this. I hope this is not my own weakness for flattery — a type of cheating — that you, wicked children, are taking advantage of. We have discussed our fictional heroes in this class many times, and you know I am partial for Walker, Atticus Finch, and Will Kane.
“Some people may be born straight arrows, but I happen to think most straight arrows are made, usually with considerable effort. I am not ashamed of admitting I cheated in class when I was your age. Why am I not ashamed? Because I learned from that experience, the bad behavior itself and the consequences that followed, the details of which I’ll spare you.
“As several of you know, I have caught some of you in flagrante. We have had some discussions in private, so you know what I am now telling the rest of the class. I can give everyone one chance to get over the temptation to cheat. One warning is what you get. If it happens again, a report goes straight to Miss Lovergine [the principal], to your parents [rather an empty gesture, since parents, when you were lucky enough to find them, as likely as not accused you of persecution if you raised this kind of issue], and for those of you who are in sports, to the coach. What it means for your grade, take another look at the rules we have discussed and written on that chart on the wall [pointing again].
“We can discuss this [discussion followed].
“The essay assignment for this week is: What represents cheating in the minds of Chuck Norris, Atticus Finch, and Marshal Kane? Is there pressure on them to cheat? How do they deal with it? One thousand words max. Refer to the materials we have read or seen. Be specific.
“Thanks for paying attention. For those of you on our regular lunch-time basketball game, Mr. Brown [another teacher] likes our routine, and he asked if he can join us with some of his students, as those of you in his class have heard. Ciao piccoli.”
I have more than once talked to alleged experts in human psychology regarding the wisdom of my confession. Would kids in 1919 have benefited from Joe saying it weren’t so? I found no consensus on that one. And I wish I could report that my efforts were met with outstanding success and were widely recognized throughout the City, the country, and the world, but they were not.