One of the most profound things I’ve ever heard was a warning issued before an episode of This American Life: “We’re going to acknowledge the existence of sex between adults.” It was an eye-opening moment for all the wrong reasons. What kind of cave-dweller is shocked by the very basic fact—the most basic fact of all, when you get down to biological imperatives—that adults have sex? And then the “scandals” over Gen. David Patreaus and—to a lesser extent—Supervisor Bruce Gibson broke, and I remembered. Oh yeah, American people.
And we don’t seem to be getting any smarter.
When I sat down to write this, the Tribune’s online story, “Bruce Gibson admits to affair with assistant, plans to divorce wife,” had garnered 524 comments. And counting. That’s 524 people who appear more concerned by the fact that one adult had consensual sex with another adult than by the fact that Israel and Palestine are having yet another go at destroying one another, and dragging as many other countries into the fray as possible. We live in a state that doesn’t feel the need to know whether its food is genetically modified, yet desperately wants to know what some middle-aged guy in a suit does with his dick. Great set of priorities you’ve got there.
I just don’t have the energy—or the skill, frankly—for eloquence right now. So I’m going to quote some journalist dude I found on the Internet, named David Simon. He’s essentially making the same point:
“I told myself that I wasn’t in journalism to chase something so ordinary, so adolescent as other people’s sexuality, that I wouldn’t play this game, that there were better reasons to be a reporter, and there were better things for readers to consume. I knew that one soldier opting out from such a lurid and exalted battlefield of the media wars meant nothing, but I did it anyway. Fuck Gingrich’s divorces. Fuck Lewinsky. Fuck where Anthony Weiner found some happy online moments. I’m not playing anymore. I long ago ceased to even pretend to care.”
So now the folks in Los Osos are using this affair as an excuse to blame Gibson for their sewer woes. Because everything that happens anywhere in the world must somehow tie back to the Los Osos sewer. Famine in Africa? Well, at least they don’t have to deal with the sewer. And that guy, Bashar al-Assad? Well, he might not be a great dictator, but at least he’s not trying to force an unwanted sewer on the Syrian people!
And everyone else is polishing up their pitchforks and calling for Gibson to resign. Check plus for angry mob instincts, check minus for logic. The fact that you pay an elected official’s salary doesn’t grant you the freedom to dictate and monitor his or her life 24 hours a day. And what’s so shocking about sex that we make a bigger deal about a president getting a blowjob than we do about the fact that we’re flying giant toy airplanes around the world blowing up civilians? Do we focus on the sex scandal so we can forget the dead children? Or do we honestly just not give a shit?
Some of you might argue that you would have voted differently had you known then what you know now. Which is probably the case, since statistically most of you will vote for the person who most reminds you of your grandfather. Which has nothing to do with political acumen. But, then again, neither does sex.
Martin Luther King, Jr. engaged in numerous extramarital affairs, and no one’s trying to scrape the phrase “I have a dream” out of our collective consciousness. Because maybe his contributions to civil rights outweigh his infidelities to his wife. Or maybe, just maybe, his public persona and efforts to further the civil rights movement can co-exist with his private life. People are complex.
John F. Kennedy. There. I don’t even really need to say anything more because Kennedy was known for two things: being an incredible president and having numerous extramarital affairs. And, somehow, the two are not mutually exclusive.
So stop acting so sanctimonious. The divorce rate in this country is approaching 50 percent. Gibson was not the first slimeball to cheat on his wife, and he won’t be the last. But as long as he didn’t violate any rules or laws, it doesn’t affect you or your grandma, or your third cousin, or your neighbor, or me, or my grandma, or my third cousin, or my neighbor.
Is this to say that I don’t sympathize with his wife? To suggest that, in her shoes, I wouldn’t be cutting the crotches out of his pants and chasing him around the backyard with a garden hoe? What? I’m into metaphor and wordplay. No, I do feel for her. And, in that position, I’d be livid.
But I’m not going to pretend that empathy requires that I stick my fat nose in everyone else’s business and spend my Thanksgiving weekend coming up with 10 synonyms for whore to call Gibson’s mistress. Because who could resist the opportunity to throw out a few (not terribly clever) lewd puns, and, just for the hell of it, demonstrate some good ol’ fashioned misogyny by throwing out some nasty terms for the women involved? Slut. Concubine. You know, the type of thing we call adult women who have sex with grown men.
Such self-righteousness is nothing more than thinly veiled glee at an opportunity to pounce on someone you don’t much care for politically. Or test your facility for dick jokes. And I’m willing to bet that Gibson’s wife would appreciate nothing more than peace and privacy rather than a leering, sneering mob pretending it isn’t enjoying the hell out of her misfortune.
Shredder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.