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.