If Anthony Weiner’s last name wasn’t such an obvious target, discussing why it’s important to talk about him would be less complicated.
For the past few weeks his name has been thrown around with Elliot Spitzer and San Diego Mayor Bob Fliner – and even former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford – but the visceral reaction to Weiner’s online sexual antics feel very different. For good reason.
Most agree Weiner shouldn’t be the mayor of the most populous city in the US, but not everyone’s conclusions stem from the same reasoning. Weiner isn’t your average political comeback kid — and it’s not because he got caught, admitted to bad behavior, and then continued doing what he admitted was wrong in the first place. We’ve seen men admit to and apologize for repeated sexual transgressions all the time.
Anthony Weiner’s actions have touched on a perversion that goes beyond adultery, sexual harassment or addiction. He hasn’t demonstrated the level of understanding or remorse we expect of a mature man who fully comprehends the gravity of his actions. It isn’t as simple as saying sorry for texting and sexting young women, or recognizing he used his position of power to manipulate them. He lacks a more fundamental maturity of a man who is capable of apologizing for more than just his poor behavior.
In fact, a subtext of his apologies suggests he finds just a little blame in the women with whom he engaged online because of their reciprocity, and he continues to attempt to mitigate the impact of his behaviors by asserting he never made physical contact with anyone. He’s done nothing to demonstrate he truly understands there are victims beyond him and his wife, and as each day passes, he argues the people of New York will be the real victims if he steps out of the race for mayor.
To understand why Anthony Weiner’s story is so different from the others, it’s critical to consider the psyche of a selfie. Time magazine listed selfie among its “top ten buzzwords” of 2012, and earlier this year the word made it into the Oxford English Dictionary. A selfie is a self-portrait taken with a hand-held camera or cell phone, occasionally uploaded to the Internet. Weiner’s rising indignation — for being distracted from his political platform — convinces us his apology is baseless and he should see that. But Weiner can’t take his eyes off the image reflected in his own selfie.
Digital cameras and cell phones offer the convenience of uploading one picture after another with such ease the process offers the rest of us unique opportunities to glimpse into the mind of a person negotiating the camera. The pictures of Weiner’s manhood aren’t nearly as disturbing as the fact he took them himself and felt a need to distribute them. His pictures are not those of a man motivated by giving back to his community, but of one who’s rapt by the attention he gleans from one.
If Weiner’s story was simply another story about a man lurking around the ladies, it might not be much of a shock since we practically expect men in power to overstep their bounds. But what makes this New York Narcissus creepy is he honestly can’t see what everyone is so upset about, and he certainly doesn’t feel he owes a debt to society beyond an apology.
As Weiner rants that his opposition continues to fixate on his misdeeds in order to distract voters from real issues, he reinforces our observation that he still doesn’t think his actions are a real issue for New Yorkers, women in our country, and women around the world. At nearly 50 years of age, we expect him to be capable of making connections deeper than the ones he’s found on social media.
Sometime soon it’ll be time to see Weiner’s backside as he walks out of the political limelight. Hopefully he won’t have to take the pictures of himself as he goes. But as long as he’s incensed enough to be blinded by his pride and stay in the race, we should take the opportunity to learn how little we understand when all we see is our selfies reflected in the mirror.
Tony Plakas is the CEO of Compass Community Center in Lake Worth, FL. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @tonyplakas
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