Jessica Helfand | Essays

The Public Face of Disgrace

Clockwise, from top left: Jim McGreevey, former Governor of New Jersey; Eliot Spitzer, former Governor of New York; Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Governor of California; Mark Sanford, former Governor of South Carolina; Anthony Weiner, former U.S. Representative for New York's 9th Congressional District, and former President Bill Clinton. Missing: John Edwards

The funny thing about deceit is that it's the opposite of truth, which is one of those things, for some reason, that we've come to expect from our government. And along with deceit comes denial, which becomes an utter travesty in the wake of eventual confession: together, these things result in the lip-biting, mouth-stretching and inimitable frowning that have become the public face of disgrace.

Today's resignation by New York Congressman Anthony Weiner is just another chapter in an ongoing series of visibly contrite politicians, who oddly appear to share precisely the same facial expression. It all may well have begun with Bill Clinton (a man who denied any inappropriate activity with "that woman" but later recanted) but he is only one of what's turned out to be a hefty line of philandering politicos. From prostitution rings to sexting on the campaign trail, demonstrations of lewd behavior to discoveries of love children, American public figures — all of them, for the record, male — have repeatedly engaged in covert activities that have resulted in an almost comic type of public confession, branded with the proverbial furrowed brow and locked jaw. The frowning has become a a kind of secret handshake for the members of this inauspicious club: bite your lip, say you're sorry, endure the ridicule of late-night talk show hosts and the media in general, and go climb back in your hole for awhile.

True, Americans know full well that many of our European colleagues frequently laugh at American outrage over all this extramarital activity: after all, does a dalliance here or there actually compromise leadership? Why, just look at Silvio Berlusconi: bunga bunga, indeed! Nevertheless, puritanical cockeyed optimists that we are, we argue that lying is lying, and our expectations remain high and mighty, if unrealistic.

It's a sad day for Weiner, but then again, Americans have short memories: disgrace, as infractions go, tends to be fleeting. So fleeting, in fact, that even a career suicide move like Larry Craig's (he of footsie-playing beneath a bathroom stall fame) is not forever. Craig was spotted earlier this spring back in Washington, where he was patrolling the hallways on Capitol Hill  — but not, let us hope, the bathroom — as a lobbyist. And where, one can only imagine, he could be found sporting the telltale expression:

Former Idaho Senator Larry Craig

Posted in: Politics

Comments [2]

Et tu = a2 = a a
"The frowning has become a a kind of secret . . ." emoticon?
: (
What would Rob Walker say about this kind of thing?
Is it just a typo?

Carl W. Smith

Can't believe you only got one comment on this piece... I come back again ready to see the sad face of "defeat" or "shame" What a pinnacle of shame! and arrogance!! While women are so very often judged on their physic and physiognomy, men gets away with red faced blubbering. posturing with unverified facts, i.e. lies. Loudness counts. Heavy posturing too.

Since the time that I have read and come back to this post... I have to claim that "women" have also joined the "red faced blubbering fools" and entered the field with their high heeled, lipstick bearing, gun toting self. Image!


Jobs | June 14