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The psychology of Weinergate and what it says about us


One of the most interesting things about Weinergate isn't that Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) took photos of a sexual nature and shared them outside of his marriage, but that he was careless enough to send them over the Internet and dumb enough to lie about it when the scandal was first exposed -– and that we, the audience, have remained hooked to a story that basically amounts to a non-issue. What's going on here?  

The kind of guy who takes such a photo:

The dialectic between exposure and concealment in the Weiner scandal offers us a way of conceptualizing the ever-growing archive of politician sex scandals -- the nonstop parade of highly accomplished men performing acts of breathtaking self-destructiveness in public. Just as it was impossible that a congressman sending lewd pictures under his own name wouldn't soon be exposed, it was impossible that anyof the crop of recently humiliated politicians wouldn't be exposed, from Clinton, to Edwards, to Vitter, to Spitzer, and so on. Punishment was inevitable. What we're looking at, in other words, is a species of male masochism. […]

The story of male power has been under revision for some time now. Watching men in power use their positions of power to take themselves down is just the latest twist in a still-unfolding story.

--Laura Kipnis, Slate

 The kind of woman who wants to see it:

I was going to give up on the idea [of taking a photo of my penis] when sex columnist Dan Savage explained that while very few women want to see my photos, the small percentage who do are exactly the kinds of dynamic, exciting women who like travel and exotic foods. At least that's what I got out of what he said. He may have used the phrase "that sort of woman." […]

[L]ike Weiner, I went to Twitter, where I wrote, "Would anyone care to see a photo of my penis?" As Savage predicted, I got a lot of nos and two "I didn't think cameras could zoom in that far"s. […]

But in between the avalanche of "eww"s and some positive responses from gay men, I got -- as Savage promised -- a few requests. Jen Goertler, a 33-year-old married mom of two in Willoughby, Ohio, has been on the wrong side of some unrequested penis photos as well. But mine, she said, would be different, since she likes my column and has seen me on television. This is exactly why I didn't go into banking.

--Joel Stein, Time

The kind of media beast that wants to cover such a scandal and what it says about the audience:

Reporters who would never dare challenge powerful political figures who torture, illegally eavesdrop, wage illegal wars or feed at the trough of sleazy legalized bribery suddenly walk upright -- like proud peacocks with their feathers extended -- pretending to be hard-core adversarial journalists as they collectively kick a sexually humiliated figure stripped of all importance.  The ritual is as nauseating as it is predictable.

What makes the Anthony Weiner story somewhat unique and thus worth discussing for a moment is that, as Hendrik Hertzberg points out, the pretense of substantive relevance (which, lame though it was in prior scandals, was at least maintained) has been more or less brazenly dispensed with here.  This isn't a case of illegal sex activity or gross hypocrisy (i.e., David Vitter, Larry Craig, Mark Foley, who built their careers on Family Values) or Eliot Spitzer (who viciously prosecuted trivial prostitution cases).  There's no lying under oath (Clinton) or allegedly illegal payments (Ensign, Edwards).  From what is known, none of the women claim harassment and Weiner didn't even have actual sex with any of them.  This is just pure mucking around in the private, consensual, unquestionably legal private sexual affairs of someone for partisan gain, voyeuristic fun and the soothing fulfillment of judgmental condemnation.  And in that regard, it sets a new standard: the private sexual activities of public figures -- down to the most intimate details -- are now inherently newsworthy, without the need for any pretense of other relevance.

--Glenn Greenwald, Salon


Weiner's fate

Poll: Should Anthony Weiner resign?

My Anthony Weiner apology, in his own words

Most commented: Our readers' Weiner obsession

Don't blame Anthony Weiner, blame his 'Type T personality'

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo credit: BigGovernment.com / AP Photo


Comments () | Archives (13)

The comments to this entry are closed.


Congressman Weiner is a deeply flawed human being. Any middle-age man who takes pictures of his genitalia as a means to gain sexual gratification, is operating at the level of a twelve year old boy. You would think he had just discovered you can do more with your penis then urinate with it. He is a disgrace to his wife, his unborn child and most importantly, himself.

anonymouse too

I think this story keeps circulating around the idea that the men who do this are all powerful. They're not.

They simply have a blackberry, laptop, iPhone or some other device used for instant communiques, a high ego and a low self esteem and a predisposition to lie or keep secrets. If I was a wife, and i wanted to know if my husband was up to this stuff, I'd look on his devices or better yet, ask him if I can see all the .pngs and .jpg he has stored up. If you find any of himself or worse his junk, I think you know your man's up to no good too.

Men need to know that this is considered cheating by most women.

pasadena jag

Let's get real. This guy is a public servant. He lied. We can barely trust our government, let alone this guy. Congress is a joke and this guy is a sicker joke. Who writes these ridiculous opinion pieces in this failing newspaper? As for your website, why doesn't the staff check out SF Gate or NY Times to see how a newspaper should be run? Your paper is becoming an irrelevant joke under the current dreadful ownership. Bring back the Chandlers.

Joe Pingue

you'd think that folks in congress would be smarter!
wow, i just looked at what i said, and, well, i'm embarassed at my naivete'.


Congress has standards? They are an embarrassment that we live with every


You will never, ever hear of a woman taking a picture of her cooter.

Boobies, yes. But boobies hardly register as nudity anymore.


I just saw the results of a poll on a news TV channel and most Americans that responded to the poll said he should not resign. Amazing! We deserve whatever kind of trash is elected to federal office. Unfortunately, it seems to me, the culture in general is in decline. All the evidence is on the reality TV shows now available that focus on the stupidity of regular people like the Kardashians, Bridezillas, housewives of (plug in the city), etc. etc. In the mean time, the nation goes broke as we enjoy trash TV on our flat screens while eating popcorn and takeout pizza. We are doomed by our own hands.

Big Jim Slade

Look for the key words "stupid" and "idiot".

If they're not included in the editorial, it's obviously left biased.


weiner has a worse J-- beak than Howard Stern.

Lou Jolly

Institutional media.

Gwen Lebec

Could all men everywhere just plain old zip it up!!! From the weird dudes that whistle and shout at women on the street to the creeps in power that are just a different kind of sleazy - we are sick of all of you! Shut the mouth, zip the pants! Grow up!

The real answer is to just segregate men, lock them up somewhere and limit their access to tools, toys and power and turn the world over to women to run. We can actually focus on getting things done.

Dancing Scorpion

What it says about "us" is absolutely nothing. He certainly didn't have physical sexual contact; and, everyone seems to agree Weiner broke no laws. All politicians are liars and hypocrites. They'll say and do whatever it takes to get elected. So Weiner's peers, no better or worse than himself, can just shut up and pray they aren't caught with their pants down. Weiner's constituents will decide his fate; and, apparently, he's as popular as ever. New Yorkers aren't stupid...


What does the Weiner scandal say about us? Simply put, from top to bottom we're a nation of voyeurs and sensationalists without a life.



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