Tuesday, March 11, 2008

America Loves a Good Sex Scandal: Thoughts on Eliot Spitzer

America loves a good sex scandal. There can be no doubt of that. There is something satisfying about seeing hypocrisy unveiled. We love seeing that impunity is not a permanent state; nor is it an irrevocable privilege or purview of the hyper-rich.

There is also the taboo, the eroticism of the hidden and the denied. We are a nation that still maintains a tension between a Puritanical stance toward sex, and a place where the scarlet letter is still employed, even if only metaphorically. Our society is drawn to transgressive sex. We expose it and are titillated not only by the idea of the taboo, the forbidden fruit, but also the spectacle of punishment.

America loves the spectacle of the sex scandal. The public can participate in the destruction and dismantling of power. Individuals can thrill to the idea of "disempowering" the powerful.

Ironically, the masses do not gain any real power by watching the spectacle of disempowerment. Instead, on some level, it reinforces their own powerlessness. The grand, larger-than-life image of the object of the public's and the media's gaze only serves to remind us that we are small; they are large. Furthermore, it is to be permanently so, except when we dream, and when we have flashes of images of mob power.

The scandal flowers, the drops its petals quickly. I always think that the people caught up in the scandal tend to overreact. Can't they simply go to rehab and then return after 60 or 90 days? By that time the public will be caught up in the thrall of a new Britney episode, or an echo of the titillations provided by the Marilyn Monroes, Anna Nicole Smiths, and the Governor McGreeveys of the world.


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