What Men Dare Do! "O, what men dare do! What men may do! What men daily do, not knowing what they do!"


“Weinergate,” Sexuality, and the Internet

So, another sex scandal, another politician, and time for another post. Andrew Sullivan (who I disagree with on many (most?) political positions, but I like his commentary) linked to this post on Andrew Weiner, discussing his sexuality and his Jewishness.  Sullivan's byline was "Tweeters of a Certain Age."  While the post he linked to was thought-provoking (some of the Jewish stuff was a bit "eh"), I think the byline was particularly interesting.

The main thrust of it was that this was a mistake that only a man of Weiner's age would make: early to mid-40's.  Young enough to try to want to be hip with new technology, social media, etc., etc., but old enough not quite to realize the full impact of what he's doing.  That is, the Internet is still sort of this dream world, where your actions are divorced from real self.  Now perhaps that isn't the case with Weiner, and he totally understands technology, but I wonder if his actions aren't a manifestation of that older view of the Internet, as something totally different than real life. That's not the case with the younger generation, born in, say, the mid-80's and later, who understand that the Internet is very much inextricably linked to real life.  And the Internet has had an effect on our sexuality.

A man of Weiner's age, however he learned about sexuality, through experience, magazines, whatever it was he learned about it from, wasn't the Internet.  From wherever he learned it is just not how a lot of young people are learning about sexuality.  We're not making the direct messaging versus tweeting at someone mistake, and we understand that actions online aren't separate from actions "IRL." Sex and porn isn't something in tawdry magazines like Playboy or Hustler.  It's ubiquitous, it's easily accessible, and it's not restricted to what a few "mainstream" porn outlets want us to have.  People can explore fetishes, find all sorts of different people online, and they can even produce their own porn pretty easily and upload it.  The Internet isn't some parallel world with no consequences, but one that we affect and that one that effects us in turn.

So what's interesting about Weinergate is that there's been a lot of discussion about his potential ignorance of Twitter, the Internet, how different generations deal with it, etc., etc., but not a whole lot about how the Internet affects us.  I've written a bit about how pornography specifically affects men's understanding of sexuality, but not the Internet generally.  I don't know that it's easy to describe or study it, but what does it mean that a lot of kids (and I say "kids" because we start doing it before our teens and continue through it) start their interactions with other boys and girls online.  For my generation, it was AIM, Hotmail, and ICQ, and for kids growing up today, it's Twitter, Gmail, and Facebook Chat.  Text as a medium is different than being face-to-face.  Not bad, not better, but certainly different.  It's a lot easier to use, which perhaps makes some face-to-face interactions that used to be more awkward as a kid a lot more accessible.  Accessibility is, ultimately, what killed Weiner in.  In a society as narcissistic as ours (and who more narcissistic than a politician?), it's so very easy to talk with your admirers, send them pictures of your junk, etc., etc., but just as easily, for those non-politicians among us, it's easy to find gratification (sexual and otherwise) within the narrow confines of whatever corner of the Internet we seek.