Photos That Don’t Lie: Giffords and Weiner

To say the least, there is a lot wrong about the story involving Anthony Weiner. And it’s not just about morality, ethics, decency and common sense. It’s about how these and similar situations — involving elected officials both Republican and Democrat — diminish the public’s view of government and those who we elect to represent us and make the tough decisions in the public interest.

The point. For every Weiner there are many more like Gabrielle Giffords who have a sincere interest in public service and who often pay a terrible personal price to stand up and be counted in a forum that should reflect the best that this country can offer.

And two photos released over the weekend tell just about everything you need to know about the contrasts between the two members of Congress. One shows Giffords celebrating the miracle that she is alive and progressing toward recovery after being shot in the head by a madman while she was meeting constituents in Arizona.

And the other shows Weiner — and you have to wonder what triggered that madness.

In the midst of all the commentary about Weiner, here’s an interesting opinion article in the NYT by Ross Douthat, “The Online Looking Glass“:

At 46, Weiner isn’t technically a member of Generation Facebook, but he’s clearly a well-habituated creature of the online social world. The fact that he used the Internet’s freedoms to violate his marriage vows isn’t particularly noteworthy. That’s just the usual Spitzer-Schwarzenegger routine performed on a virtual plane. What’s more striking is the form his dalliances took — not a private surrender to lust or ardor, but a pathetic quest for quasipublic validation.

In all the tweets and transcripts that have leaked to date, there’s no sign that Weiner was particularly interested in the women he communicated with — not as human beings, certainly, but not really even as lust objects either. His “partners” existed less to titillate him than to hold up mirrors to his own vanity: whether the congressman was tweeting photos of his upper body or bragging about what lurked below, his focus was always squarely on himself. If Bill Clinton was seduced by a flash of Monica Lewinsky’s thong, Weiner seems to have been led into temptation primarily by the desire to boast about his own endowments.

In this sense, his tweeted chest shots are more telling than the explicitly pornographic photos that followed. There was a time when fame and influence were supposed to liberate men from such adolescent insecurity. When Henry Kissinger boasted about power being the ultimate aphrodisiac, the whole point was that he didn’t have to worry about his pecs and glutes while, say, wooing the former Bond girl Jill St. John.

Not so in the age of social media. In a culture increasingly defined by what Christine Rosen describes as the “constant demands to collect (friends and status), and perform (by marketing ourselves),” just being a United States congressman isn’t enough. You have to hit the House gym and look good coming out of the shower, and then find a Twitter follower who’s willing to tell you just “how big” you really are.

Writing in the late ’70s, Lasch distinguished modern narcissism from old-fashioned egotism. The contemporary narcissist, he wrote, differs “from an earlier type of American individualist” in “the tenuous quality of his selfhood.” Despite “his occasional illusions of omnipotence, the narcissist depends on others to validate his self-esteem.” His innate insecurity can only be overcome “by seeing his ‘grandiose self’ reflected in the attentions of others, or by attaching himself to those who radiate celebrity, power and charisma.”

This is a depressingly accurate anticipation of both the relationship between Weiner and his female “followers,” and the broader “look at me! look at meeeee!” culture of online social media, in which nearly all of us participate to some degree or another.

Facebook and Twitter did not forge the culture of narcissism. But they serve as a hall of mirrors in which it flourishes as never before — a “vast virtual gallery,” as Rosen has written, whose self-portraits mainly testify to “the timeless human desire for attention.”

And as Anthony Weiner just found out, it’s very easy to get lost in there.

Here’s a news flash.

While chasing the treadmill early this a.m. I heard on Fox News that the city of Dallas is going to proclaim Tuesday LeBron James Day.

And in honor of the King’s ability to disappear during the fourth quarter in any game that means anything, all workers in Dallas will be able to leave their jobs 12 minutes early.

Ouch.

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2 responses to “Photos That Don’t Lie: Giffords and Weiner

  1. barry knister

    What no one talks about is the triviality of these matters when placed against the really serious issues of the day. A prurient-minded public addicted to tabloid nonsense, in the hands of like-minded journalists. Tell me such a combo doesn’t equal mediocrity.

  2. Pingback: Dionysian sacrifice | Madame Pickwick Art Blog

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