1. Make sure this doesn’t happen to you. Having exhausted the news out of the Spitzers’ troubles but impelled to sustain the morning talk-talk, television producers turned their attention to the lessons the sex scandal might hold for the prols. Fidelity experts, infidelity experts, relationship experts, psychologists, all trooped into the studios to coach women at home in their bedroom slippers on how to keep their man. “Work,” they say. Work at your makeup (and for God’s sake, close the bathroom door!), your cooking, your clothes, your sexual performance. Work to avoid “getting too comfortable.” Work to have “a new mental experience.” A high-end call girl on the Today show tells wives to “put more effort into having a good relationship.” The notion that one might play at a relationship, at intimacy, sex, conversation, is nowhere broached. Play, or at least its illusion, has been relinquished to the realm of the actual working girl, the prostitute, while the wife–whose only claim to uniqueness lies in marriage’s relative freedom from commerce, from the exchange value of worker to boss, servant to client–is urged to labor at love. She is given no useful tips on, say, skull fucking (relax that throat and just keep telling yourself, “I am not going to die”), an effort that might chip into the call girl’s business. Rather, the most detailed advice nudges her toward police work. An expert in body language suggests that a wife gauge her spouse’s “base-line behavior” early on: what is his normal blink rate? his sweat rate? how often in conversation does he shift from foot to foot? Armed with those innocent numbers and comparative measurements, she later will be able to discern–as he tells some preposterous story while standing there a blinking, sweaty, fidgety heap–when he is lying, when he is cheating. “Is it OK to wiretap?” the host of a local New York Fox TV show jocularly asks the panel of experts assembled for a quick lesson in “Relationship 101.” Certainly check the e-mails, scan the phone records, monitor the credit card bills, check where he’s going on the Internet. “You can’t wait for something to turn up,” one of them warns. See something, say something. No longer shelter from the storm, marriage equips itself for surveillance.
2. The bed is bugged. For a country awash in sex scandals, it is rare that anyone admits the scandal is actually about sex. “It’s not the sex, it’s the lying,” people would say in explaining what upset them so about Bill Clinton’s romp with Monica. It’s always something else: the cover-up or the hypocrisy or the outrage upon the taxpayer. Because Eliot Spitzer had run stings on prostitution outfits when he was New York’s Attorney General, the hypocrisy claim had more heft than it had when Pastor Ted Haggard was discovered to have been a friend, no a Samaritan, no a drug buyer, no a massage client, no a regular john to a male prostitute. His preachments against homosexuality notwithstanding, Haggard’s dalliances were so richly detailed, his church so bedecked in homoerotic art, his Christianity so engorged with brotherhood and temptation and every man’s battle against lustfulness that it was absurd not to regard his life story, much less his fall, within the thick weave of sex. In different colorations the same was true for Clinton. But Spitzer was caught in an entrapment scandal, and the twist was that within twenty-four hours virtually everyone was crying, “It’s the sex!” as the initial details of wiretaps and search warrants; bank monitoring and wire transfers; 5,000-plus intercepted phone calls and text messages; 6,000-plus seized e-mails; travel records; hotel records; $4,300; the undercover officer; the confidential informant; the IRS, FBI, US Attorney; and an opportune disclosure–that is, the full fetish bag of the public dick–gave way to more primitive obsessions. Whereas on Monday, March 10, we knew only vaguely of a transaction with “Kristen” in Room 871 of the Mayflower Hotel, by week’s end we knew Kristen’s face, her breasts, her tattoos; we knew her name, Ashley Alexandra Dupre, her singing voice and ghetto pose (“Whatever doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger”), the competing narratives of tough stuff and cozy privilege between which the truth of her life probably falls; we knew that her Client No. 9 would have had other numbers on different occasions with her and other women for whose services he had paid a total of $80,000. After five days, FBI agent Kenneth Hosey was less well-known than he had been when his leaked affidavit formed the basis of the scandal. Newspaper columns and letters to the editor now flick at expectations of privacy with a sneer: Spitzer should have known better, and so should the rest of us low-rollers. How quaint to assume that one’s life isn’t in some respects a peep show for the state.
3. Forbede us thing, and that desiren we. No one was a victim on Friday, March 7. Not Silda Wall Spitzer. Not her daughters. Not Ashley Dupre. That’s the day Eliot Spitzer learned the whip would be coming down on Monday. He told his family on Sunday. The next day the women were instant victims, humiliated in varying degrees, degraded, ashamed, pitied, scorned. What was more titillating in those initial hours of the scandal: the frisson imagining the apparatus of surveillance, or the spectacle of a public shaming? Those who took to the airwaves or the keyboard justified gorging on the pain or anxiety of the women by fabricating histories of exploitation for them. Silda had been a victim all along, the many testimonies to her bubbly relationship with Eliot aside, because her marriage was “a lie.” By one remove, the daughters had also been victims without knowing it, imprisoned in a girlish love that their Daddy betrayed with every furtive text message. Ashley was a victim, naturally, because every woman in the sex business is. Her spectacular wage scale, substantial negotiating power and fast track to a seven-diamond pussy were all incidental to the cut-out of likely drug-user, abuse survivor, low-self-esteem sex slave into which the various experts sought to press the then-unknown Kristen. We are meant to believe that nonstop mortification by media chatter is good for all these women. The truth shall set them free–and make a nice little egg for the therapists that the Spitzer girls are predicted to have to see for years. That the Spitzers might truly have had the happy marriage they displayed to the world, and that Kristen and her co-workers at Emperors Club might have had something to do with that, is unthinkable. “He had a double life”; he had secrets. We seem incapable of accommodating a practical upside to secrets. Maybe he actually needed something sexually and emotionally, something he didn’t want to ask of his wife, a fantasy achievable only with a stranger, a release valve that would stabilize the rest of his intimate life and be safer, simpler, less threatening than a girlfriend. That he himself had scant generosity toward others who are drawn to the forbidden need not compel us all to be prosecutors.