Does Anthony Weiner's mayoral announcement indicate a fundamental shift in how we view sexting?
Last night, Anthony Weiner officially announced that he will be running for mayor of NYC. His official video includes the usual inspiration instrumental background music, narrative about coming from a humble family that worked its way up to the middle class, and promises to make New York City a safe and affordable place to live again. As usual, it also included him talking to “the common man”- a sweaty pizza server, an ethnic optometrist- to reinforce his image as a man of the people. “Look, I know I’ve made some big mistakes, and I know I let a lot of people down,” he says with a surprisingly sultry gleam in his eyes, “But I’ve learned some tough lessons. I’m running for mayor because I’ve been fighting for the middle class and those struggling to make it my entire life, and I hope I get a second chance to work for you.”
The speech is a gold mine of taglines that the American public loves: “tough lessons” “fighting for the middle class” “struggling” “hope” “second chance” “you.” If Oscar-winning dramas have taught us anything, it’s that America loves nothing quite as much as an underdog who overcomes adversity and personal foibles to get his day, and judging from today’s headline of “Can ‘National Punchline’ Anthony Weiner Be the Next Comeback?” it seems like sending pictures of his genitialia to college girls might be one of the better political strategies of Weiner’s career, presenting him as both an “average Joe” and as a classic inspirational story of one man’s rise from penis jokes to political power. Whatever your stance on the matter, you can’t help but look at his promo video and think, “Man, this guy’s got balls.”
What you have to admire about the guy, and what might work most in his favor, is his relatively unapologetic stance on the whole matter. When Bill Clinton was caught getting a blowie in the '90s, he at first responded with outright denial, and then with the obligatory hanging head of perpetual shame. In comparison you have to somewhat admire Weiner’s loosey goosey attitude; even in the initial videos following the scandal, his mouth says “I’m sorry,” but his eyes says, “Yea, OK, so I sexted a few pictures of my penis. Like you haven’t done it.” And, the truth is, most of us have.
Long gone are the days when the emergence of nude photos created a front-page splash in national newspapers. A decade of easily accessible nudie apps have made unwanted naked shots virtually omnipresent, and as a result, we’ve become somewhat desensitized to yet another crotch-shot. Even Weiner himself seems to blame technology for his indiscretion, speaking of it almost as though it were some innovative feat, “It was just something that technology made possible and it became possible for me to do stupid things. I mean, the thing I did, and the damage that I did, not only hadn’t it been done before, but it wasn’t possible to do before.” The implicit message in that incredibly eloquent statement is It’s all Twitter’s fault, he’s just the victim to this technological pandora’s box and its perverted whispers.
In Notting Hill, the romantic comedy darling of 1999, Julia Roberts tearfully bursts into Hugh Grants’ London flat to find a bunker in which to hide from the paparazzi that was swarming around her following a leak of naked pictures. “I was young and I was poor…” she says, weeping, recounting a familiar story. Twelve years, and hundreds of similar leaks later, Scarlett Johansson responded to her bare-chested selfies with a careless shrug and a simple, “They were sent to my husband. I know my best angles,” as though the scandal was a question of photograph finesse as opposed to bodily shame. To call the event a “scandal” is, in fact, a bit of a misnomer, as there is little to no shock value attributed at this point (a “passing flurry of attention” would be more apt).
Of course, to some extent, it’s unfair to compare celebrities to politicians, since the prevalence of nudity in pornography and mainstream media makes the breasts of actresses less of a rare gem than the bulging groin of politicians. But if Weiner’s wife, and the American public, are willing to forgive him for his moment in the selfie spotlight, then perhaps it’s a sign that the future of sexting is going to be virtually scandal-free.