Paleo Retiree writes:
Thanks to the brouhaha about Anthony Weiner these past couple of weeks, I’ve let myself get fascinated by the case.
My verdict on the guy: Anthony Weiner is almost certainly someone who in person would strike me as an egomaniacal jerk, and why on earth hasn’t he been more careful about his online escapades? But, all that aside for a minute, the amount of abuse and ridicule Weiner has received for having done some sexting amazes me. Although he wasn’t caught consorting with prostitutes, although no telltale stain on an intern’s blue dress has been discovered, and although he wasn’t putting government secrets at risk, his political career is over. Let me underline that: Bill Clinton committed worse indiscretions and Hillary Clinton has been professionally more careless. Yet their careers continue to thrive while Weiner’s is kaput. Why?
And, on a more simple, human level, Weiner has been condemned not just as a wicked man but as someone with an addiction, maybe even a mental illness. When I suggested on Facebook that the reaction to Weiner’s misdeeds has been over the top, and when I wondered how warm and sexy a wife Huma Abedin had been to him, dozens of angry comments quickly accumulated on my postings. Apparently today’s husband is expected to feel thrilled and honored that his wife works 80 hour weeks and is on the road for 11 out of 12 months. Reflected glory should be enough for any man, I guess.
So, curious about it all, last night I watched the documentary “Weiner,” which is currently available on Amazon Instant. Verdict on it as a film: directed by Josh Kriegman (a former Weiner aide) and Elyse Steinberg, it’s an excellent, quick-witted, fly-on-the-wall-style doc. And talk about having an irresistible subject dropped right into your lap. The doc is framed by Weiner’s 2013 run for NYC mayor, a couple of years after his first sexting scandal. Running for mayor was Weiner’s attempt to redeem himself and move forward. During the race (in other words, during the making of the movie) his second sexting scandal hit. Which means that the film is something really rare: a character-study film that got lucky and wound up with a great plot.
Many of the film’s situations are almost too delicious (in the sense of juicy and excruciating) for words, and the film is full of tons of NYC energy (pack journalists, everyday citizens bursting with pugnacious personalities and strong opinions) and hyper-colorful minor characters. The movie also offers up a great look at Anthony and Huma as a NYC power couple. How did these two relatively young people who aren’t in finance wind up dressed in designer clothes and living in a stylish, big apartment? They’re both pushy and bright, but so are zillions of other New Yorkers who are making do with grunt-level jobs and cramped living spaces. As a viewing experience the film is like a low-budget, HandyCam, nonfiction version of a cross between Robert Altman’s political-campaign satire “Tanner ’88” and the classic tabloid-news melodrama “Sweet Smell of Success.”
As for Anthony Weiner himself … Well, although he’s been discussed in the press and by innumerable female commenters as a psychiatric case, what I saw onscreen was an absolutely typical NYC Jewish guy, nothing more and nothing less. Back in our NYC years I knew dozens just like him. “They’re all peas from the same pod, aren’t they?” is something my wife and I have said to each other many, many times. These guys think they’re just great; they’re unstoppable Energizer Bunnies; they like nothing better than a good verbal fight; they seem to relish both attention and humiliation; they all think they’re as funny as Woody Allen and Rodney Dangerfield (and they usually are really quickwitted); they somehow manage to be both self-aware and incorrigible; and they’re so possessed by a sense of their innate wonderfulness that of course they’re fascinated by their dicks. Short version: the Anthony Weiner we meet in “Weiner” is a standard-issue horny, smart, pushy, full-of-himself Jewish guy. He’s bursting with Sammy Glick hustle as well as beaming with self-delight. The usual WASP/Christian/middle-class/American rules and expectations just don’t apply. If anyone’s going to love sending dick pix, it’s going to be one of these guys — no depth psychology required. Weiner was horny, he could get carried away with his own chutzpah, he was full of self-admiration … Hence, “Carlos Danger” and dick pix.
Which leaves me wondering what to make of the people who have called Weiner mentally ill or addicted. Some are obviously cynics who are playing the outrage game for their own reasons, but as for the others … My theory: some of them have simply never met one of these guys in person. For them the only way to explain Weiner’s admittedly breathtaking lack of shame and his admittedly boundless self-admiration is mental illness. They just aren’t aware that in (((certain cultures))) what Anthony Weiner is is a not-uncommon kind of normal. Is he afflicted with narcissism? Well, maybe … But if he is, then millions more just like him are too. Does it make sense to label as pathological what’s, in certain areas anyway, normal and widespread? Maybe, maybe not.
I don’t intend my descriptions of Weiner as put-downs, by the way. He clearly is bright, he clearly can be funny, he clearly is scrappy. Although I’ve had to learn to be wary of these guys, I’ve also liked and enjoyed a lot of guys like him. It can be fun and a little intoxicating to get swept away for a few minutes by their energy and self-belief. And for all I know Anthony Weiner would have been a wonderfully effective NYC Mayor.
As for his wife, Hillary aide Huma Abedin: she spends the movie looking miserable, humiliated, resentful and appalled. She’s doing her best to show that she believes in her disgraced man. (Maybe it occurred to her that a wife might want to make some efforts to be supportive to her husband?) But she’s just as clearly someone who’s temperamentally born to be in the background. She genuinely seems to hate the limelight. She’s also clearly very proud of being stylish and slim. She routinely gets herself up in slick makeup, and even on relaxed days she goes around in summer dresses that are as self-consciously frisky-fashionable as something out of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” (FWIW, the only NYC women I’ve ever known who dressed themselves that carefully in that particular style were incredibly brittle and high-maintenance.) The movie and the current Presidential campaign have left me very curious to see what’ll become of Huma. Will she find some guy to play house-husband for her as she skedaddles around the world pursuing her Wonderful Career? Will she back off from her career a little bit in order to spend a little time with her family and child?
Hats off to Anthony Weiner, by the way, for permitting the documentary to be made. He could have stopped its filming at any point, and he didn’t. At one moment in the film he wonders out loud something to the effect of: Maybe the kinds of drives that push a man into politics are the same kinds of drives that will also tend to push a man into sex scandals. Not a dumb hunch, it seems to me. Maybe they’re also the same drives that push a man into letting a doc be made about his humiliations and defeats.
“hey just aren’t aware that in (((certain cultures))) what Anthony Weiner is is a not-uncommon kind of normal.”
Sorry to say this, but this has to the dumbest thing you’ve ever written. In what culture is it normal to display one’s genitalia to perfect strangers? I’ve never heard of one. Before smart phones existed and made sexting and sending dick pics possible, someone like Weiner would’ve been a garden variety flasher, who were always treated as pervs or weirdos. Growing up, nobody had to tell me that exposing yourself publicly is a no-no and is not likely to win their heart.
There’s clearly something wrong with this guy, because even after being shamed, ridiculed and having his political career ruined, which should be enough feedback to give him a clue that his behavior was unacceptable, he continues even today.
And your comparison to Bill Clinton and Eliot Spitzer, with your take that they got off practically scot free for a lot worse acts is ridiculous. Clinto was impeached and, though he was eventually acquitted, he could have lost the presidency. He was disbarred. Yeah, since leaving the office, his reputation has recovered, but he hasn’t done it since and his relationship with Lewinsky was consensual and evidently she came on to him. Marital infidelity with someone who invites your approaches is not the same as offending strangers with your dick pics. Spitzer was likewise disgraced and his promising political career was destroyed. I haven’t heard a thing about him now for years.
Define “wrong.” Is social stigma enough to make an introvert an extrovert and vice versa? No, it’s not.
Good analysis. But who did Weiner piss off? Someone big, obviously.
So what you’re saying is that, because Weiner is Jewish, this sort of behaviour is normal and should be shrugged off as some sort of horny banter?
If I were you I would actually devote more time looking at why this sort of behaviour is so prevalent in this community that must be excused everything because, you know…actually I don’t.
I saw it yesterday and have to admit, I liked both of them. She especially seemed very human and likable. He has a great ability to take horrible situations and deal with them very calmly. As someone who has done fundraising, it was fun to watch them make calls and ask for money. Huma seems like someone with good judgment, probably the reason Clinton relies on her. On the other hand, each of them has done some bad stuff. Hard to reconcile with what I saw in the doc.
“Hats off to Anthony Weiner, by the way, for permitting the documentary to be made. He could have stopped its filming at any point, and he didn’t.”
Because of his bottomless need to feed his ego with people’s attention, even if it’s negative. I actually like the guy overall, but come on. I don’t think it’s all that admirable. Hell, we’re probably enablers just by watching it, ha.
You hit the nail on the head. Our current societal conception of mental illness is based on social desirability, rather than on any biological reality. Something so socially undesirable as to be condemned or otherwise frowned upon is a “illness.” No consideration is given as whether the trait in question is functioning normally as natural selection “intended.”
And of course, the reverse is also true. Something that is clearly pathological in the Darwinian sense can be deemed not a disorder if it is declared socially acceptable. See also my column on it:
Features and Bugs – The Unz Review
I don’t think he’s mentally ill, but he certainly has some destructive tendencies. He’s willing to risk his family and career to satisfy his id.
Also, that 15 year old girl he was texting with. I’m not that concerned with the moral implications, this girl seems like she will suffer no trauma from the experience, as is the case with most teenagers flirting with older people. But Weiner has to have known the legal and reputational implications, he just couldn’t help himself.
None of us can “help ourselves”. Free will does not exist.
I don’t want to get too far into the weeds on this (or at all into the weeds), so I’ll just say, OK, well then Weiner is not one of those people who “have greater ability to respond to externally imposed rules.”
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