Anthony Weiner drama gets worse. Why we follow such shallow things.
Anthony Weiner saw his former online paramour talk to Howard Stern, a former intern trash his campaign, and his spokeswoman launch a profanity-laden tirade. Is it tragedy or farce?
New York — The tragic spectacle of "Carlos Danger" is not only dragging on, it is getting even more lurid.
The latest: Sydney Leathers appeared on the "Howard Stern Show" Tuesday, taunting her former online sext partner and hinting she may appear in an adult film. The same day, Anthony Weiner’s now ex-intern, Olivia Nuzzi, wrote a bylined article in a New York tabloid, appearing on its cover in a sultry pose and saying she and others joined the campaign simply to get close to his wife Huma Abedin, and by extension, Ms. Abedin's friend Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Ms. Nuzzi’s dish then prompted Mr. Weiner’s communications director, Barbara Morgan, to erupt into a profane tirade so vile that neither dashes nor bleeps could mask it – and she said this to Talking Points Memo, a top political blog. She has since apologized, saying she didn't realize the interview was on the record, but still, another episode that makes eyeballs bulge.
So the theater of the tawdry continues, and though many express exasperation and weariness with the scandal, it remains a topic of conversation in the city – as well as a top-trending news story. Each day’s plot lines draw out the curious, gaping interests of the public, like a line of highway rubberneckers.
While many have couched Weiner’s forehead-slapping behavior in terms of medical addictions, or even as an ill-defined narcissism, the nation's fascination with it is, in some ways, like a refresher course on Sophocles or Shakespeare. Not your typical summertime fare, perhaps, but during a summer in which Hollywood blockbusters have drawn little more than a collective yawn, the downfall of Anthony Weiner offers the elements of classical tragedy that have been compelling grist for millenniums.
Indeed, tragedy might “explain the grip that such stories have on us, and perhaps there’s something of the sort in the case of Mr. Weiner,” says David Konstan, professor of classics at New York University in Manhattan.
“Aristotle tells us that tragedy is effective when the protagonist is a good person – not perfect, but basically decent – who, through some error that is more one of judgment than a matter of vice, suffers a downfall,” says Dr. Konstan. “When we see such a pattern, we feel pity, because in some sense we know that the figure is not wholly deserving of such a fate, and also fear, because we know that it might happen to us too – we are not so far superior to that fellow in the play.”
Hmmm. Basically decent? Before the scandal, when Weiner topped the polls, pundits complained the New York mayoral campaign featured a lineup of milquetoast bureaucrats. It was Weiner who lit up campaign events and seemed to draw the interest especially of black voters and lunchpail union workers.
“We’ve all, younger men our age, have been involved in scandalous behavior,” said an elevator worker to the Yiddish publication Voz Iz Neias last week. Another said, “He does things wrong, but everybody makes mistakes – it makes him human.”
The great Greek dramatists would call this error in judgment “hamartia” – a word that can be translated as a “tragic flaw,” or, in the case of the New Testament, “sin.”
And in one of the few sexts that can be discussed in polite company, the former congressman wrote to his 20-something paramour: “I’m deeply flawed.”
Ms. Leathers responded, quoting Marilyn Monroe: “We all are. Imperfection is beauty & madness is genius.”
If she had finished the famous bombshell’s quote, she would have added, “It's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”
After sharing their lurid sexts, Leathers has since gone on to mock the mayoral candidate, and she’s reportedly negotiating to make an adult film that will parody their online tryst.
“I would say that we need to look at a different kind of tragedy: revenge tragedy,” says Leonard Cassuto, professor of English at Fordham University in New York. “Revenge, of course, centers on a vision of retributive justice – or in this case, we might say ‘comeuppance.’ ”
“I think people are fascinated by the spectacle that is Anthony Weiner because he's a serial misbehaver who, in the overall scheme of things, awaits his comeuppance so that equilibrium may be restored to the world,” he says.
Yet perhaps it’s not the tragic hero Weiner represents.
“I don't think he'd qualify as a Shakespearean tragic hero,” says Cynthia Lewis, an English professor at Davidson College in North Carolina. “He hasn't the gravitas or nobility. He's more like one of Shakespeare's truly foolish fools – on the order of Malvolio in Twelfth Night, a figure who takes himself seriously when no one else does.”