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The psychology of Weinergate and what it says about us

June 9, 2011 |  1:11 pm

Weiner

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

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--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo credit: BigGovernment.com / AP Photo

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