Modern man, thy name is Weiner.
As fun as it is to joke about what Rep. Anthony Weiner (D., N.Y.) has done, and as tempting as it is to gasp in horror at his depravity, the truth is that he is very much a product of our times, and even as we speak many more Weiners are being made.
1. He is a product of what Neil Postman called the “now this” society. We watch the news of destruction in Joplin, Mo., and then a commercial for Tide, followed by a commercial for a slick horror film, followed by a story about a celebrity divorce. Some of it is real, some of it isn’t. All of it is high-quality and entertaining. All of it is treated in a fleeting way.
Thus, we begin to live our own lives as a series of disjointed fleeting events that we judge for their entertainment value … and create a society that makes it possible for a New York representative to tweet a picture of his underwear to a 22-year-old Seattle coed while watching a hockey game being played in Canada.
2. He is a product of the age of the digitized body. Marketing yourself isn’t just for celebrities anymore. Now, we all market ourselves, choosing just the right Facebook profile picture and photo albums to tell the story we want to about our lives. We start to divorce our “self” from our actual body. This phenomenon reaches its extremes in avatars and sexting: The digital me becomes the exciting me.
Thus we are create a society where a member of Congress is able to carry on inappropriate relationships with half a dozen women he has never met and send his body’s constituent parts to the four corners of the nation from the privacy of his TV room.
3. He is a man in the age of “wimps and barbarians.” In this digital arrangement, female identity takes a terrible hit: A woman becomes valued for her sexuality above all. But as Terrence Moore points out, so does male identity. He said men become “barbarians” or “wimps.” Barbarians are emotionally insensitive selfish men who do the kinds of things former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is accused of (and Arnold Schwarzenegger has admitted to): Treating women as means to pleasure without regard for their best interests. A “wimp” is very different but ends in the same place: He uses women thoughtlessly in order to feed his emotional neediness.
This creates the kind of guy who does things like what tweetmate Meagan Broussard says Weiner did. “He was trying to get me to talk about myself sexually. … He would ask me weird things, like ‘Did you miss me?’ I didn’t understand that — how could I miss someone I hadn’t met and didn’t know?”
4. He grew up in a world where “family” and “religion” became abstract terms. Instead of growing up in a culture of families staying together for better or worse, he grew up in the divorce culture where other arrangements can always be made (I don’t mean that he was a child of divorce; he was, but that is a secondary consideration). And instead of growing up in a culture where religion has to do with what you believe and how you behave, he grew up in a culture where, as Moment magazine put it “Weiner has always been assertive about his Jewishness” but “doesn’t belong to a synagogue or consider himself close to a single rabbi.”
Where faith and families are impotent symbols, they no longer have the power to create boundaries. And you end up with a situation where a self-proclaimed man who “loves his wife” is sexting about Jewish sexual stereotypes with strangers. So laugh at the rise and fall of Anthony Weiner if you must, but be warned, the Weinerization of America continues apace.
— Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., where he teaches in the journalism and mass communications department and edits The Gregorian.