Our Obsession With Cheaters
There is a particular apartment building in Manhattan that has a well-known “secret.” Everyone knows it — the residents know, the local dogwalkers know. And the doormen know best of all, because, late some nights, they’re the ones who let in the famous man, who steps into the elevator. In doing so, this person steps out on his significant other with his other significant other.
This is non-fiction, but I’m not going to say who this person is. I’m not going to speculate as to why he’s engaging in behavior that, if not self-destructive, is at least sketchy. But why? Doesn’t the public deserve to know about this guy’s duplicitous behavior, and stage a Salem witch-style trial in the unblinking eye of Internet gossip sites?
Is there a point at which we can say, ‘Enough’? Truthfully, I’m a bit sick of the whole prurient news scandal cycle…in no small part because it’s not really news. I wrote about this as early as the Clinton-Monica mess — i.e., that our generation tends to be surprised that other people are surprised by the misconduct of politicians, famous figures, what have you. It’s not that these people have a free pass of some sort — these people do crappy things, and their wives and partners have their hands full.
But I do think there is only so much surprise we can convey without being disingenuous to ourselves. A friend of mine put it well and succinctly: “Imagine the ego, confidence and insecurity needed to be a national politician, movie star, athlete, or head of the I.M.F. — plus all the people telling you all day long you are great? It’s a recipe for really believing the BS about yourself.” In other words, the people who opt to stand in front of the glare of the media spotlight all day and all night are a self-selecting bunch of people, often with some serious emotional issues. And if they didn’t have emotional issues before they got to their respective positions, you could see how they sure would have them once their every action — right down to their decaf hazelnut latte — is the subject of media scrutiny. And the worst part of it is that we care about this crap. We feed into it; we devour it. I feel confident that most people could tell you more about Anthony Weiner’s penis than they can his position on health care. This is lowest-common-denominator journalism, and we become lower and more common as a result of it.
We can’t look to our public figures to be better people than we are. I’m not sure why that is a job prerequisite in the first place, since the group of people who actually want these jobs tend to be, or to become, attention-seeking egomaniacs.
So what can we do? We can look to ourselves and not talk about people behind their backs. We can treat our spouses with the respect and dignity they deserve. We can try to be better people ourselves, and stop caring so much about who we see in the elevator or where they’re going.