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214. Pushing upward (V)

Anthony Weiner was once an up-and-coming American politician, yet he managed to bungle his career so that he is now out of the political world forever—quite a feat. He had a weakness for sext messages to women—even when married, even below the age of consent. He was caught out once, but that—given the current state of American politics—was survivable, in a Clintonesque way; he might have made it in politics, if he had not done it again with a Las Vegas floozy and produced n00ds, as we say in current Internet parlance, of himself. It was a case of nominative determinism, given that “weiner”, by analogy to a hotdog “wiener”, means “penis” in American slang; and New York tabloid journalists enjoyed the opportunity presented. Beyond tabloid hackery, it is true: your name is your destiny.

Weiner is an example of a man with an entirely fragile public persona. He was like most politicians—a liar. The politician lives by their reputation, especially the professional politician who has done little else with their life. As with the journalist, the PR professional, and the salesman they do not have much more than their “act”; and they want everyone to like the act. The problem for people like this is that their act is fragile, it is usually confected in order to manipulate the electorate and the media—if the act is exposed, it deflates.

Weiner’s unrealness was connected to his liberal politics; after his first scandal he entered a Jewish deli and was harangued by a customer who said Weiner was a sex pervert—Weiner fought back, lamely. The liberal media was, at first, on the side of the customer; but, as Weiner left, the microphone caught the customer as he criticised Weiner for his marriage to Huma Abedin, a senior Arab aide to Hillary Clinton. At this, the media flipped back to Weiner: the customer was “racist”—a much greater crime than sexts to women and children.

The Arabs and the Jews have been at knife point for decades, if not centuries, and for a Jewish man and an Arab woman to marry is a significant event. Yet Abedin and Weiner, true to their liberal act, were allied as “human beings”—just like their professional act as career politicians, they were unreal in their personal lives. Liberalism tells you that you are an atom; but you are more than that, whether you like it or not. Just as the marriage of a Catholic and a Protestant is freighted with significance in Northern Ireland, history claims people. “What kind of atheist are you, Catholic or Protestant?” as the joke goes in Northern Ireland.

By contrast, the novelist Gore Vidal was an antifragile personality; he cultivated a persona close to his nature, a catty queer and unflappable patrician. Vidal relished public engagement and the ridiculous fights the media inspires; he threw himself into every absurd literary spat. His sometime antagonist, Norman Mailer, did the same; although, being very heterosexual, he imagined his encounters to be akin to a boxer in the ring, an art he practised as a hobby. These men could do anything and survive; if there were sexts in 1975, they may well have been caught in a scandal—Mailer, for example, once stabbed his wife; these were men of extreme behaviours. Yet such behaviour would be written off as “Gore being Gore” and then turned into fertiliser, into bon mots and legend.

The introverted do better to retreat entirely—as Thomas Pynchon and T.E. Lawrence did—to cultivate a reputation for mystery, a mystery that adds to their legend in the media. There are no scandals for these men because they deny all opportunities to the media, and so draw attention like a great void. If they do something scandalous, their absence turns it into a mystery: “Not a word in 30 years and now…a dick pick? What does it mean?” In short, be constant to your nature and drop the act.


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