Anthony Weiner Wants You To Know He’s Not a Dick

I find it a bit difficult to judge the Anthony Weiner story in the NYTimes on its merits. It’s clearly a professionally produced feature, well-written, easy to read, captivating subjects, check check check. But it’s also clearly a marketing vehicle for Weiner. The story even says

By agreeing to be interviewed, Weiner and Abedin [his wife] would seem to be trying to give voters what they want — and gauge public reaction. […]

Weiner and Abedin have realized, it seems, that the only way out is through. So they have agreed to talk — and talk and talk — for the first time about what happened and why and what it looks like from the inside when your world comes crashing down because of, as Weiner puts it, “one fateful Tweet.”

Weiner is planning a comeback to public life, and ‘get a feature in the NYTimes’ is obviously a bullet point on his to do list. He and his wife must have carefully planned what they were going to say, the story they wanted to tell. The fact that the journalist was aware of this doesn’t change the story’s fundamental purpose.

But what’s even more interesting is the tone of sombre bewilderment everyone in the story uses when discussing what Anthony Weiner actually did.

On Friday night, May 27, a photograph of a man’s torso wearing gray boxer briefs and an obvious erection appeared on Weiner’s official Twitter account. […]

It was a sex scandal without any actual sex — more creepy than anything else. But it was hard for people to get their heads around: an affair is one thing, but sending crotch pictures to a virtual stranger? Mike Capuano, a congressman from Massachusetts and Weiner’s roommate in Washington for many years, spoke for a lot of people when he told me, “He obviously did something incredibly stupid that, honestly, I still don’t understand.” […]

Weiner fielded a lot of calls from friends and colleagues, many of them offering advice. One prominent state politician called to confess that he was a sex addict and urged Weiner to join his support group. […]

Is what he did really so extreme? We live in a world where 16 year olds get tips on sexting from talk show hosts, where ‘manage a trois’ is familiar to more Americans than ‘café au lait’, where ‘cyber’ is a verb. Is it really so hard to believe that sending strangers naked pictures of yourself is a turn-on?

But despite the occasional flash of anger or lingering disbelief, [his wife] told me that she had forgiven him. When I asked how long it took for her to think she might be able to get over what her husband did, she said, “That’s a really good question,” and then took a minute. “At the time, we were very early in our marriage, but it was an old friendship. He was my best friend. In addition to that, I loved him. There was a deep love there, but it was coupled with a tremendous feeling of betrayal.”

It took a lot of work, both mentally and in the way we engage with each other, for me to get to a place where I said: ‘O.K., I’m in. I’m staying in this marriage.’ Here was a man I respected, I loved, was the father of this child inside of me, and he was asking me for a second chance. And I’m not going to say that was an easy or fast decision that I made. It’s been almost two years now. I did spend a lot of time saying and thinking: ‘I. Don’t. Understand.’ And it took a long time to be able to sit on a couch next to Anthony and say, ‘O.K., I understand and I forgive.’ It was the right choice for me. I didn’t make it lightly.”

Committing to someone who’s embarrassed you in public is one thing. But I hope people aren’t throwing away otherwise good marriages over a few text messages and a fetish that is, at most, one standard deviation away from vanilla.

Ultimately, though, the most interesting thing about this story is that it exists at all. It’s 8,300 words of a politician talking not about his policies, his experience, his goals, but his marriage. This is what redemption looks like in America in 2013. Don’t convince me to vote for you, convince me you’re a good husband. Convince me you’re in therapy.

By that criteria, the story works. It takes two faroff people, public figures, and puts them into a familiar story of love tested and renewed. It takes something strange and makes it relatable. That’s what all the best commercials do.

3 Comments

Filed under America, Journalism

3 responses to “Anthony Weiner Wants You To Know He’s Not a Dick

  1. Helen

    One tweet? Right. He’s probably already close to running a ménage à trois. The dots go back a lot farther than he admits, I suspect.

    I’m enjoying your insights very much, not just on this piece, but on others I’ve read also. You’re a very good writer, a pleasure to read. Thanks for making your observations available.

  2. The world of politics and politicians is very different from ordinary folks. The act of contrition and public humiliation it precedes is often an exercise followed then by the comeback.. Most politicians and celebrities and crooks here in the U.S. go on to different careers (pundit/commentator) or sometimes back where they started in the limelight (with greater scrutiny). The degree of offense is the key. Anthony Weiner’s indiscretion is a 2 compared to Clinton’s 9. He will return somehow back to the limelight he seeks.

  3. eva

    It’s not what Wiener did, per se, because I agree, it’s fairly tame. It’s that he, as a public figure, had so little self-awareness that he didn’t realize how it would affect his public persona. It would be one thing if he’d, you know, banged a super hot colleague – everybody would understand the motivation for THAT. Or even a slightly chubby but pretty intern. But sending unsolicited, unreciprocated sexy pictures of himself to younger women is, crucially, a strangely feminine thing to do. And THAT’S what’s going to bite him in the ass, and what makes people shake their head in disbelief. Wiener’s transgression messes every so slightly with the script of how masculine straight men are supposed to be naughty. They’re supposed to conquer, not be able to control their immense, macho libidos and straying, because boys will be boys and we all know that htey feel so guilty afterwards as they talk to their pastor and wife and god and they write so many country songs about that and we all know how they go.

    They’re NOT supposed to make themselves into objects of desire to be looked at and admired – but not touched – and then have the self-discipline to not even have sex with the recipients of said photos.
    IT’s that humiliating aspect that I think will be hardest for him to overcome, because there’s no ready script for that, culturally. For younger, more digitally sassy people, sure it’s not shocker that men also want to be admired and objectified and engage in a big of self-objectification, but Wiener is just a bit ahead of the curve for mainstream America I think. And that’s why that Times article is only too happy to follow Wiener’s lead on it, which makes for sort of unsatisfying journalism.

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