Skip to main content

Te'o tale a mirror to our gullibility?

By Gregory Maguire, Special to CNN
updated 9:52 AM EST, Fri January 18, 2013
The sports world and the Internet are abuzz as Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o says <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/16/sport/manti-teo-controversy/index.html'>he was the victim of a "sick joke"</a> that resulted in the creation of an inspirational story that had him overcoming the death of an online girlfriend at the same time he lost his grandmother. Here, Te'o leaves the field after a 42-14 loss against Alabama in the 2013 Discover BCS National Championship game on Monday, January 7, in Miami Gardens, Florida. See more photos of Te'o: The sports world and the Internet are abuzz as Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o says he was the victim of a "sick joke" that resulted in the creation of an inspirational story that had him overcoming the death of an online girlfriend at the same time he lost his grandmother. Here, Te'o leaves the field after a 42-14 loss against Alabama in the 2013 Discover BCS National Championship game on Monday, January 7, in Miami Gardens, Florida. See more photos of Te'o:
HIDE CAPTION
Notre Dame star Manti Te'o
Notre Dame star Manti Te'o
Notre Dame star Manti Te'o
Notre Dame star Manti Te'o
Notre Dame star Manti Te'o
Notre Dame star Manti Te'o
Notre Dame star Manti Te'o
Notre Dame star Manti Te'o
Notre Dame star Manti Te'o
Photos: Notre Dame star Manti Te'o
Notre Dame star Manti Te'o
Notre Dame star Manti Te'o
Notre Dame star Manti Te'o
Notre Dame star Manti Te'o
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gregory Maguire: In the Manti Te'o "hoax" story there is the flash of mirrors, not reality
  • He says screens are meant to be windows to world, they often reflect what we want to see
  • He says we've grown used to believing, not testing stories buzzing on our smartphones
  • Maguire: Good stories make improbable seem plausible. We should question them more

Editor's note: Gregory Maguire is the best-selling author of "Making Mischief: a Maurice Sendak Appreciation" and of many other novels, including "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West," the basis for the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical "Wicked." He has lectured on art, literature and culture both at home and abroad. He lives with his family near Boston.

(CNN) -- I wouldn't normally pay much attention to a sports star, even a Fighting Irish hero.

But it's more than just a story about a sports star, isn't it? The story of Manti Te'o and his putative online dead girlfriend (may she, or this tale, rest in peace) has a kind of oily vodka shimmer to it that transcends hypothetical naked ambition for the Heisman Trophy and girlfriends with leukemia.

I don't know whether any of the story is true; if some shred holds up, my condolences to all involved.

Gregory Maguire
Gregory Maguire

But what I note about it is the flash of winking mirrors, the reflections that stand in for authenticated reality. Yes, here I'm going to say "Mirror, Mirror, on the wall," but the mirror really isn't on the wall, but on the desktop or the portable device. Those fine frangible screens, when dropped, can maintain their structure, though stricken with a jag like lightning. The screens are meant to be our windows to the world, but all too often they are only mirrors, reflecting back what we want to see. Not the great and the good, not even the best and the brightest, but merely the brightest.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Somewhere in these flashing mirrors, we mistake the flash-lit celebrity, the lightning-strike story, for confirmed reality. We the readers of online news, and we the readers of e-mails, Twitter and favorite blogs do it, too. We've grown used to living without reality coordinates that can be tested not with further keystrokes but with a good swift kick to the tires. We wouldn't buy a car without test-driving it, and we ought not to rely on the flash of mirrors for our take on reality. There is too little focal depth in staring at a mirror.

Opinion: Does Te'o story make you laugh or cry?

That's what drove Snow White's old Queen mad. She didn't get out enough. She ought to have stopped texting herself and gone to a football game. She ought to have remembered that real news, even real gossip, begins in what is observed firsthand, not secondhand. She would have said, "Where is this wonderful sick girlfriend?" If Te'o is not an active agent in some cold-blooded scam, she might have met him in his locker room to tell him what she thought of his lady love, or of her absence in the woods. (Not sent a text message.)

Manti Te'o: My girlfriend never existed
Deadspin editor on Te'o girlfriend hoax

As a novelist, I'm a professional liar. It's my job to try to make the improbable seem plausible. My chiefest tool is making readers see themselves in the mirror of the tale. If I can pull that off, they're hooked. Can you picture Manti Te'o getting ready for the showers and being accosted by an old hag with a basket of apples? If you can, even for a moment, I've worked a certain spell, and I've hooked you with my flashing mirror, but I haven't told the truth.

Maybe you can only see Manti Te'o trying to wipe the steamy mirror over the locker room sink clear of fog so he can say, "Who's the best player of us all?" We should all try wiping away the fog more often.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gregory Maguire.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
updated 1:37 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
updated 1:08 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 2:25 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT