8/29/16: sextastrophe

If you’ve been watching BrainDead, which I highly praised in my review earlier this year, then you sadly know that politics at this point isn’t really much more than a horror show. BrainDead‘s been on point with all of its parallels and suggestions for why America’s become so divisive and rhetorically (and actually) violent, but this week’s episode could not have been more prescient, since it focuses on Luke Healy, a brilliant politician who cannot get over his crippling sex addiction. Perhaps this reminds you of today’s lengthly smears and screeds about Anthony Weiner’s latest leaked series of sexts and his wife’s subsequent announcement of separating from him: here’s another politically smart and largely independent man again brought down by his inability to control himself, which is a shame, because his private life (and privates) really have nothing to do with his wife’s competency nor his political views, but instead, they’re used by the opposition to attack and weaken both.

But what fascinates me the most about this incident is how crazy some people have gone because of the contents of one photo–that is, the fact that Weiner’s son is in the background of one of the shots. Perhaps we would have otherwise ignored this; many of us seemed immunized to the infelicities and indiscretions of his second set of infidelities. Instead, like the horror sequel that this is, the media has turned to “gorier” new details in order to get our goats; they understand that they need to somehow keep our attention fixed on an otherwise familiar sight that we’d otherwise tune out.

We’re clearly not, as a people, better than this, though I wish that we were. Even if you don’t actually get a link to the photo, which I won’t provide, you can’t help reading things like this in USA Today:

The Post published the selfie, which shows Weiner wearing only white boxer briefs. His son is lying next to him in a green blanket.

So here’s my question: Why is this shocking? Why sensationalize what is such an innocuous fact that it can be difficult for parents to find private space? Walking in on one’s parents, or having a sexual encounter interrupted by a sleepless child is a well-worn trope. Had Weiner been video-chatting and his son had wandered in, people would have understood the innocent context; instead, because it’s just a single photo, The Post gets to claim that he “posed” with his son, or that his son is somehow involved in this “kinky” shot–as if there’s something abnormal about sending a picture of yourself in underwear to another consenting adult. (Having just played Bound, I encourage you all to look up the Kuleshov Effect.) Remember, through all of this, that nobody else was meant to see this photo, either; we’re already intruding on a private moment, and then we’re leaping to judge an intimacy that we don’t have any way of actually understanding.

His son is not endangered, folks. There’s no evidence here that his son is abused, sexually or otherwise. Occam’s Razor clearly suggests that Weiner is just sex-crazed texter; his son, just an innocent bystander; The Post, an opportunistic muckracker. (And what’s the deal with leaking this image anyway? Didn’t we just see Gawker go out of business over hosting a slightly more invasive bit of dirtiness?) Even if you assume the absolute worst, that doesn’t discount Weiner’s arguments, and it certainly doesn’t reflect anything about his wife–and especially not about Clinton, for whom Huma works. If there’s a conspiracy here, it has more to do with why the media keeps acquiring and publishing content like this, releasing it with scorn instead of context.

So let’s all de-escalate, shall we? Let’s not be distracted by the flashy knife work from the horror movie’s serial killer, and instead, let’s focus on the policies that actually matter. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could manage that?

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