January 15, 2013
Oprah Winfrey interviewing Lance Armstrong (AP Photo/Courtesy of Harpo Studios, Inc., George Burns)
Oprah Winfrey interviewing Lance Armstrong (AP Photo/Courtesy of Harpo Studios, Inc., George Burns)

Oprah says Lance Armstrong “did not come clean in the manner I expected” when he confessed his doping to her.

Really? She did not expect this?

I did.

I don’t know what he said. Possibly the actual confession was quite remarkable. Possibly he has drastically redesigned all the armbands so they express his deep contrition. Possibly he goes screaming onto the couch. Possibly he is giving all the money back. Possibly he is trying to argue that what he did still takes cojone.

Possibly he does any number of things.

But the part where he talks to Oprah for two hours? That’s pretty dang expected.

The unfolding of this whole bizarre drama with Lance Armstrong’s Highly Anticipated Confession to Oprah brings to mind the words of Oscar Wilde. “It is the confession, not the priest,” Wilde wrote, “that gives us absolution.” But it certainly does not hurt that the priest is Oprah.

This whole exercise of partial confession and pre-confession confession is one of the stranger things about life today, if you are a Certain Level of Person. I thought confessing was like murdering or deflowering – you either did it, or you didn’t. You couldn’t start and dip a toe in the water and decide whether you liked it. You couldn’t murder someone a little. You couldn’t hand out samples beforehand. If you were in the position to hand out samples, you had the whole thing on hand. You couldn’t commit a tentative pre-murder murder. That was not how it worked.

And for most people, this is true: you did it, or you didn’t.

But if you are a Lance Armstrong, say, or an O. J. Simpson, you go through elaborate stages. There’s confessing. There’s the hypothetical stage (“If I did it”), the complicated pluperfect stage (“After it had been over for a while, not to say that I did it, I had reflected that my behavior was unbecoming and had resolved — again, admitting nothing…”). There’s the Thinking About Telling Oprah stage. There’s the Apologizing To Friends And Family About The Thought That You Might Tell Oprah stage. There’s the Leaking Apologies To The Media About The Apologies To Friends And Family About The Oprah Thing, To See How It Plays stage. It’s a striptease, with as many dollar bills changing hands but without the dignity.

But at some point, it ceases to tantalize. Isn’t the eighth pre-confession confession enough? Ordinary people don’t get the option of thinking about confessing. I wish we did. “Did you break this lamp?” your parents would ask. “No,” you would say. “Absolutely not. But if I had, I would gladly tell Oprah about it.”

This is not how the world works for most people. As though you needed more evidence of that, the article on his confession notes that Oprah “met with him in Maui over the December holidays to discuss it further.” I cannot tell you how many times that has happened to me. I do something wrong, something that jeopardizes my life’s work, something expressly banned that possibly defrauds people, and – well, I slowly haggle over whether or not to tell the details in Maui in December with Oprah.

It’s like the whole weird dance of running for office. You form an exploratory committee to explore the idea of forming an exploratory committee to consider the possibility of allowing the idea of conceivably running for president to flicker dimly for a moment at the back of your mind. The long tease worked so well that we decided to apply it to everything else.

But all these layers after layers have the same effect as those Roman meals with too many courses, and there is no vomitarium to run to. What a strange spectacle this is. It’s not that the coverup is worse than the crime. The slow, tantalizing, grotesque reveal is worse than the coverup. So, no, it’s not unexpected. Disappointing, but not unexpected.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.