Weinergate: What we can learn about the congressman—and about human sexuality—from his ill-advised photographs.

Arts, entertainment, and more.
June 9 2011 10:28 AM

Why Did Weiner Do It?

What we can learn about the congressman—and about human sexuality—from his ill-advised photographs.

(Continued from Page 1)

And so now we have. Or sort of—what no one understands are Weiner's motives, such intense stupidity from such a very smart guy. But perhaps the motives, too, are hiding in plain sight? "When you're named Weiner, it goes with the territory." As USA Today reiterated in an article about the name jokes, "With a name like Weiner, it was just a matter of time before the adolescent humor got out of hand." You can't help wondering what it was like growing up with that name, what sort of playground mockery was involved. If the recent media coverage is any indication, it must have been damaging in all sorts of ways—names are our identities. Then why set himself up for a reprise of adolescent humiliation?

According to Stoller, the experience of humiliation plays a larger role in erotic life than we like to think. What looks like risk-taking sexual behavior—exhibitionism is the example he uses—is a way of attempting, unconsciously, to transform those early humiliations into triumphs. The risk taker seeks out dangerous situations as a proving ground, to measure his success in avoiding an even greater risk: humiliation. But what's concealed is far more crucial: the mark that humiliation has left on erotic life. It's a treacherous strategy: The real-life consequences can be devastating. In Weiner's case, rather than converting humiliation into any sort of triumph, he's succeeded only in reliving it, and quite possibly worse.

Still, I'm going to make a sweeping claim: The dialectic between exposure and concealment in the Weiner scandal offers us a way of conceptualizing the ever-growing archive of politician sex scandals—the nonstop parade of highly accomplished men performing acts of breathtaking self-destructiveness in public. Just as it was impossible that a congressman sending lewd pictures under his own name wouldn't soon be exposed, it was impossible that any of the crop of recently humiliated politicians wouldn't be exposed, from Clinton, to Edwards, to Vitter, to Spitzer, and so on. Punishment was inevitable. What we're looking at, in other words, is a species of male masochism.

Advertisement

But this isn't an individual diagnosis; it's a cultural one. Men being flailed in public has become a dominant trope in our political sphere, with excruciatingly real-life spectacles of self-destruction playing out in the headlines, courtesy of a scandal-hungry media in collaboration with individual propensities for risk-taking and humiliation. And there seems to be no end in sight.

What is it with these guys? Or to put it another way: What does it mean to be a white male in power at this moment in history? In one of the photos Weiner sent to an online pal, he's pointing to himself while holding up a handwritten sign with an arrow pointing to himself, labeled "Me." It's as if he's picking himself out of a lineup.

For what crime? There are so many to choose from. The story of male power has been under revision for some time now. Watching men in power use their positions of power to take themselves down is just the latest twist in a still-unfolding story. Will trauma finally be converted to triumph? It seems not.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy

Even if You Don’t Like Batman, You Might Like Gotham

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Nicolas Sarkozy, Thrice Married, Says Gay Marriage Humiliates the Family

  News & Politics
Over There
Sept. 22 2014 1:29 PM “That’s Called Jim Crow” Philip Gourevitch on America’s hypocritical interventions in Africa.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 1:37 PM Subprime Loans Are Back! And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 22 2014 4:06 PM No, Women’s Soccer Does Not Have a Domestic Violence Problem Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 3:16 PM Watch the Best Part of Beyoncé and Jay Z’s On the Run Tour
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 12:14 PM Family Court Rules That You Can Serve Someone With Legal Papers Over Facebook
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.