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.
I've written about what I perceive to be some of the problems of sexual assault and the law before, but I haven't talked a whole lot about the media. Now we've got a trio of stories to discuss: the acquittal of two NYPD cops charged with sexual assault, the alleged sexual assault by Dominique Strass-Kahn, the Director of the IMF, and the news that my former Guhvahna, Arnold Schwarzenegger had an affair with a member of his household staff.
First, the acquittal. As I'm sure some readers of my this blog, two police officers allegedly, while bringing a drunk woman back to her apartment, sexually assaulted her while she was incapacitated. They were acquitted last Thursday. I don't think I need to rehash the story, except to note a few things: there was videotaped surveillance of the officers returning to her apartment after leaving and there wasn't any DNA evidence. I think those two facts speak to an interesting intersection of the difficulties of prosecuting a sexual assault case where the victim was drunk (in this to incapacitation) and what is called in legal circles the "CSI effect." In a sentence, the CSI effect is the tendency of criminal juries to demand high-tech forensic evidence and analyses in prosecution criminal cases. While the actual effects of the "CSI effect" are hotly debated within the legal and academic community, I wonder if this isn't anecdotal evidence of it. Here we have a sexual assault victim who is unable to remember much of the encounter, which is obviously not uncommon in sexual assault cases where the victim has been drinking are/or using other substances. We also have a perpetrator (according to the secretly taped phone call) using a condom, which if used effectively, would prevent the collection of semen samples using a SAFE kit (popularly called "rape kits"). So we have juries that are disinclined to believe circumstantial evidence such as the surveillance videos (even though as a legal matter, circumstantial evidence is equal to eyewitness evidence), no CSI type evidence, and a victim who in all likelihood does not remember everything.
Now scoot on over to the alleged assault by Dominique Strauss-Kahn of a maid in his hotel room in New York City. Legally, I don't think this is as interesting a case, as it more closely conforms to traditional expectations of sexual assault: a man assaulting a woman, with DNA evidence. No alcohol involved, which would lead to victim-blaming or a more clear "defense," such as in the NYC cop case. Something that I should be added are the racial issues involved, which don't seem to have been brought up in US media as much: the victim is reportedly Guinean and obviously Mr. Strauss-Kahn is white.
I'd like to contrast this to the Schwarzenegger news we've heard and note again the ethnicities involved. The woman with whom Mr. Schwarzenegger had an affair with was also of color and also a woman under his employ. I bring this up because both these two men engaged in relationships with people with whom they had an unequal power relationship, and though Arnold's relationship has been reported as consensual, I think, as a general matter, that things become much more murky when it involves relationships between employers and employees. But the coverage of Schwarzenegger's story is mostly centering on the affair, the divorce, the effect it would have had on politics, etc., etc., and not the sexual dynamics inherent in an unequal relationship like that.
I think crimes involving sex remain some of the most strangely covered events in our media. If there's a mugging, you don't blame the victims for have the audacity to be mugged. If there's a murder, you don't blame the victim for what they were wearing, doing, or where they were at night. If there's a murder and it involves people of different races/ethnicities, you bet it will be discussed heavily in the popular media, but if there's a sexual assault, the likelihood is much less, such as in the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Is it because of our society's inability to accept sexuality and yet be fascinated by sex in the popular consciousness? Is it our unwillingness to accept a lot of the racialized aspects of crime and sex crimes in general? I don't know, but it's all food for thought.