“It’s going to be like Tonya Harding – people will be stabbing each other and poisoning each other.”

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about Tonya Harding. Specifically, I wrote about how tonya harding’s story is très très complicated and it gets très très simplified in its current, cultural shorthand form.

Yo, voilà:

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Let’s take a look…

We’ll begin with this 31st January article, where some dude who runs some show I’ve never heard of on the UK’s Channel 4 basically equates Tonya Harding with Macbeth.

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Again, here, Harding is cultural shorthand for cutthroat competition. This is usually how she’s used.

Provocatively, this parallel is specifically applied to female participants on the show. Which is, again, how Harding is usually used.

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She is a symbol of competitive womanhood.

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Which, let’s face it, is culturally not something we prize.

This dude on this show I’ve never heard of is evoking the ghost of Tonya to excite viewership. He is trying to lure viewers with the notion that there will be blood!

Never mind the historical inaccuracy that there was neither stabbing nor poisoning in the Tonya Harding episode.

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As I mentioned previously, the Tonya Harding episode is about knowledge.

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Knowledge is clearly not what this show is about. And knowledge is something that it is really hard to represent in a cultural archetype, which is what Harding has become.

Exhibit B:

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Full disclosure: this is hands down one of the strangest uses of Harding that I have seen since I started paying attention to our cultural use of her. Historically, it makes absolutely no sense.

If you follow politics at all or encounter the news in any way, you no doubt know that there’s a political brouhaha brewing over the recently deceased Antonin Scalia’s replacement on the Supreme Court.

Perhaps you wonder, what the hell does that have to do with Tonya Harding? This headline might lead you to believe that it has something to do with her, but, in reality, I assure you, it does not.

Though Harding is prominent in the headline, in the article itself, we do not get to her until the end. At which point we have this:

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Let’s break this down.

Barry Bonds allegedly took performance enhancing drugs. In 2007, he was indicted on four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice. The perjury charges were later dropped and while he was convicted of obstruction of justice, this was later overturned. He was not banned from MLB.

Lance Armstrong was dogged by allegations of doping for over a DECADE. He repeatedly lied about his use of performance enhancing drugs and threatened teammates and journalists.

Bill Belichick is coach of the Patriots. In 2007, a Patriots spy was caught filming the defensive signals of the New York Jets from the sidelines. Sanctions were imposed on Belichick but he wasn’t fired.

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Tonya Harding, in contrast, was separated from someone who allegedly conspired to attack her competition.

At some point, it is alleged, she found out about this and did not immediately go to the authorities.

This may or may not have been because she felt her life was at risk.

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Please note: THESE STORIES ARE IN NO WAY THE SAME.

Like, even remotely. Armstrong, Belichick and Bonds were all accused of cheating. They all chose to cheat.

Harding was accused of knowing. She made choices too, but- outside of the media- it has not been alleged that the conspiracy to injure Nancy Kerrigan was done at Harding’s behest.

To put her on par with these three dudes is to grossly misunderstand and distort her story. To put in her in the headline as though she is representative of the entire phenomenon of cheating and is a “big-time cheater” herself  is to perpetrate an ongoing myth about what she actually did. It is both cheap and irresponsible.

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My google alert on Tonya Harding maybe only 1 time out of 50 actually brings up something on Tonya Harding. Those other 49 times, it brings up stuff like this, where Tonya Harding’s name is used as a cultural shorthand or a joke, in such a way that it really has nothing to do with what happened to Tonya Harding.

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I’ve only a couple scattered lines written for the book I eventually hope to write about Tonya Harding, but early on in what I have, there is this:

There’s this thing that happens with your story, where people already assume that they know it, own it, and when they ask you to tell it, they no longer even really listen. 

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3 thoughts on ““It’s going to be like Tonya Harding – people will be stabbing each other and poisoning each other.”

    • ah, yes. a detail i evaded here because i’ve not dug deeply into the ways in which this whole story has changed over the years and how incriminating those changes are… but, as far as i know, among the notes and doodles from the garbage bag they found in the dumpster in portland, only an envelop with the phone #, address and name of kerrigan’s rink in MA was a match with harding’s handwriting. harding herself had already admitted to getting the information on the rink (her story of a bet was a bit weak, admittedly) so this doesn’t strike me as especially incriminating- that she would have written it doesn’t really seem proof of her involvement so much as proof that she made a phone call she said she’d made. of course, if this is the version of the story i choose to believe then harding’s refutation of it being her handwriting in “the price of gold” makes absolutely no sense…

  1. Pingback: tonya harding, “new evidence,” and things we have known since 1994 | finding jackie

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