Thursday, June 9, 2011

Summer Theatre

What I think is the most interesting aspect of the whole Anthony Weiner story is the response to the revelations — so to speak — as opposed to the story itself. So far it has followed the classic scandal arc from the start: the breaking news, the lurid details, the angry denials followed by the leak(s) of more evidence, then the emotional press conference, the going to the mattresses by the defenders and the accusers, and the inevitable Chorus of punditry trying to explain to the audience What It All Means. It’s a formula that goes back to Sophocles.

As is always the case, the characters who are making the most noise about Mr. Weiner’s shame are the ones who speak from experience. They’re the ones who know from sex scandals, either having to defend someone else in a similar case, or they have been involved in one of their own. (Case in point; Digby has a clip of Rush Limbaugh lecturing a caller for reminding him that he too has a history of questionable conduct that involved a “fishing trip” to the Dominican Republic and being busted by Customs with a quantity of Viagra that would supply a small town in Ohio.) It is a classic diversionary tactic, and it never fails.

In a way, there’s a bit of comfort knowing that we respond to this kind of story in the same predictable manner. It’s like watching the same movie over and over again. It’s not that we expect to see a different outcome; rather, we learn something about ourselves and the people around us and how they react, and knowing that there will always be the same cast of characters; the protagonist caught in the act and the long-suffering wife or family; the friends who stand by them until the going gets dicey for themselves; the gleeful accusers who have their own history of bad behavior and whose schadenfreude is heightened because it’s not them getting caught; and of course the mob — usually the press — who follow the story, hanging on every word, and who will cheer not for the truth but for the one who makes the most interesting tale.

It’s the summer blockbuster where everyone is drawn in as few dimensions as possible in order to keep us from actually having to think — or care — about the characters beyond the visceral reaction that makes us clamor for more. And that sells popcorn.