Skip to main content

Te'o tale a mirror to our gullibility?

By Gregory Maguire, Special to CNN
January 18, 2013 -- Updated 1452 GMT (2252 HKT)
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
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1259 GMT (2059 HKT)
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
September 21, 2014 -- Updated 2132 GMT (0532 HKT)
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1917 GMT (0317 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1927 GMT (0327 HKT)
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT