When Congressman Anthony Weiner resigned on camera – flags to his right and left and pinned to his lapel, his wife still nowhere in sight – he became the ultimate example of how the reality-TV and web-driven assumption of no-privacy dominates the culture. Shows like Jersey Shore, all the Real Housewives, and Big Brother – with its night-vision cameras in the bedrooms – have created the expectation that any private moment deserves to be on screen. No matter that the producers of Real Housewives and other shows dream up scenarios to create maximum conflict; the more we see cameras supposedly chronicling “real life” the more normal it seems to jump in and share intimate scenes.
Social media and the web have obviously made it easier than ever to do that. And if Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian and other minor celebs can survive their leaked sex tapes, it becomes even more commonplace to think of too-much shared intimacy as a blip in a career.
But Weiner is a politician, not a show-biz celeb or an anonymous private citizen. And in the long string of recent political sex scandals, his was the least personal but most public, as if he bought into the culture of no-privacy. Bill Clinton’s affair was never meant to leave the Oval office; Eliot Spitzer’s visits to prostitutes were tempting fate, but not overtly public.
Weiner’s was the most innocuous of political scandals in some ways – at least no secret children, like Edwards and Schwarzenegger – but in other ways it was worse, with creepy behavior compounded by incredibly bad judgment about privacy. Weiner should have known that no photo posted on the web is really safe from the rest of the world. His survival in Congress became impossible after this week’s release of the near-naked photos he took of himself in the Congressional gym and the revelation that he had tweeted a porn actress. (She quickly hired publicity-seeking attorney Gloria Allred to hold a press conference saying Weiner had coached her to lie; some people just deserve each other, so Ughs! all around to her and Allred and Weiner.)
Of course if someone like Charlie Sheen had tweeted a porn actress no one would have thought it was weird at all. We’ve all observed how the line between politics and show business has all-but-vanished, but the Weiner episode tells us that some distinction is still there.
The last bit of proof? The all-purpose celeb redemption strategy – going to rehab – did him no good at all. Before resigning, when he took a leave from Congress so he could seek treatment, the attempt to save his career was greeted with derision. David Letterman may have captured the absurdity best when he said that Weiner was entering a “taking pictures of your junk rehab center.” (The rehab strategy hasn’t helped Sheen or Lindsay Lohan’s reputations lately, so maybe the often-sham tactic has run its course for both show-biz stars and politicians,) As Weiner tumbled into the culture of no-privacy, one of his major miscalculations might have been thinking that he could play by celebrity rules.