Of all the restrooms in all the schools and bars and gas stations across this great land, rare is the stall inside of which someone has not paused to draw a penis. Erect, with tight scrotum on one end and a cartoon squirt at the other, it is characterized by a vigorous arcing line and a paucity of detail; no hairs or veins or rippled skin, no great variation in size or proportion, a Unipenis, really, the signal hieroglyph of our age. When we have blown or glutted or pummeled ourselves into extinction, alien archaeologists will find this symbol on crumbling viaducts and leeching scrap heaps, in the ruins of our cities and the overgrown remnants of our public libraries, and they will conclude, “Here was their god.”
Then they will find the cellphone of Andrew Breitbart with a close-up photo of a real penis, and they will say, “Here was His votary”… except if they dig any further and find a photo of that photo being offered like a two-bit peep attraction from Breitbart’s chubby hand; if they excavate a video clip from the Opie & Anthony radio show and witness the grown-ups’ little-boy glee upon passing the photo around (“Wowie!”); if they unearth a snippet of sound from a press conference, a reporter shouting, “Were you fully erect?” above the din; if they stumble upon a tranche of brittle headlines and scratchy TV clips, each one mixing the jokester’s fun and voyeur’s thrill with the bile of the moral disciplinarian; if they come upon a trove of the electronic currency of our time—an average porno site, an average episode of Jersey Shore, an average month of posts to guyswithiphones—and then discover, finally, the recorded spectacle of Representative Anthony Weiner’s tear-stained confession, a man brought low by a picture of a hard-on in boxer shorts.
Then the aliens will rub their antennas together and decide, “Here was an insane people.”
It is different for us. Social insanity may be our condition, but while we have a few brain cells left we have to try to make sense of the phenomena of the day. The Weiner scandal seems nuttier than most because, besides Weiner’s astounding recklessness, almost from the first report of sexting between the Congressman and a female fan the national media revealed themselves to have the sexual maturity of a seventh grader. That is probably a slur against seventh graders, who in many schools now range in age from 11 to 15, and at the older end are no doubt not only more nimble at fingering their cellphones and masking their identities than the Congressman but also more reasonable about the nature of sexual play in the era of instant messaging than the average reporter. The papers, the networks, the cable channels, the blogs, every news machine that led or almost led with the Weiner story for two weeks may not have used the words chosen by hollywoodlife.com to announce “New Naked Pictures of Anthony Weiner Emerge—Eww!” But in one way or another all betrayed the same giddy revulsion. Weiner was creepy, icky, weird, sick, a pervert—Eww!
The news machine deserves derision, but it’s too easy to wave off its adolescent obsession and Weiner’s as a distraction from really important politics: to say sex, panic, the tug of war between the private and public, the urge to take risks and the urge to punish, are trivial next to the stuff cooked up by the ghouls in Congress calling for Weiner’s head.