Archive for February 4th, 2009

Labeling Phelps

Phelps inhales

Phelps inhales

Michael Phelps:

  • Millionaire
  • Olympic champion
  • Role model
  • 23-year-old

Your take on the photo of Phelps taking hits from the bong likely depends on which of the above labels you ascribe to him.  Becker tells us that no acts are inherently deviant, rather it is the label that we ascribe to an action that determines how that action is viewed by society (or a subset of it).  Thus, for some millionaires and 23-year-olds, smoking marijuana is seen as a “normal” part of life.  However, many claim to be shocked that a high-paid role model such as Phelps could partake in the use of an illegal substance.

While nobody would be surprised by a photo of Phelps drinking a beer, some are outraged that he smoked marijuana at a party.  Based on reports, Phelps didn’t injure anybody or put himself in a position that he could have injured somebody, unlike his previous DUI, so the legality of the substance itself seems to be the primary issue.  The legality of smoking marijuana returns to the crux of Becker’s argument.  Because drinking alcohol is defined as something that, while potentially harmful to the body, an adult has the right to do, it is not considered deviant.  Marijuana, on the other hand, has a long history of illegality, despite widespread availability and continued use, and is thus considered deviant by many nonusers while being considered nondeviant by many users.

For his part, Phelps has apologized for his “bad judgment” and “regrettable behavior” and it appears that his sponsors are willing to continue seeing him as a high-profile Olympic champion and role model, despite the fact that he sometimes behaves like a 23-year-old millionaire.

Read Full Post »