CYBERSPACE—He is probably not the first and he will not be the last, but in a long (and long-winded) screed on Huffington Post today, Rabbi Irwin Kula, author of Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life, takes the country to task for its own, as he sees is, sexual messiness, and in the process makes a direct connection between Anthony Weiner's weakness, our collective obsession with pornography and the country's "complicated relationship to sex."
"Weiner is the tip of the iceberg of our sexual issues," Kula writes, segueing immediately into, "Estimates are that the porn industry in this country is a fourteen billion dollar industry that reaches into our finest corporations."
The headline of the piece is, "The Public Roasting of Weiner and the Public Good." In a sense, the thoughtful rabbi is taking a similar line to the one Hustler founder Larry Flynt likes to own, having to do with the hypocrisy that surrounds so much sexual (and political) activity—or as Kula puts it, the "gap between our private face and public face."
For Flynt, the private is no cause for shame, which, ironically, is itself the cause of so much of the hypocrisy that precedes a Weiner-like outing. Obviously, Weiner's inability to cope with the first revelations of his sexting was the result of a profound sexual/moral panic that led to increasingly poor decision-making. It appeared as if his greatest fear was not any sort of personal humiliation (more or less) but the prospect of a right-wing and media witch hunt, which is precisely what ensued. Flynt's offer of a job to the now ex-congressman was very much a reflection of Flynt's belief that Weiner's roasting was uncalled for and, as he put it himself, "a prime example of unfounded political pressure and the hypocrisy that has invaded democracy in Washington, D.C.”
Kula would agree that not only Washington but everyone else within earshot, including "We the People," who "enjoyed one more Fall from Grace story," are hypocritical when it comes to public and private attitudes regarding sex, and goes out of his way to insist that he personally is "not at all interested in taking away anyone's freedom and I am on the sex is good side of religion," but in the end he can't help but assume a hostile position toward "desires we feel are shameful." If the currency of this story, meaning the story of sex (and porn, if you like), has two sides—and I am not sure it does only have two—then Kula and Flynt occupy opposite sides.
We are, says Kula, simply unable at this point in time to be grownups when it comes to sex. Our lesser, desire-seeking, shame-vulnerable, scandal-riveted, truth-avoiding selves simply can't face the music.
"It almost doesn't matter what the cause is as watching someone above us fall is thrilling and these days does not even need to be a secret thrill," he writes. "This trope is almost banal: We hate what we idealize—be it power, fame, wealth—because what we idealize we know deep down is not worth wanting and so we feel embarrassed and even dirty for wanting it so. How much easier it is to sacrifice Weiner on the public altar than for us to reflect on our own desires we feel are shameful. The pleasure of scapegoating Weiner is simply far easier than exposing our desires to examination or deliberating about the state of our own culture."
Lest one fall for the seemingly rational tone of that appraisal of our current situation, his main issue has to do with the fact that Weiner was pilloried by the nation so that it could continue to "avoid confronting something deeply wrong in contemporary America," namely the lies we tell "about the sexual eccentricities/pathologies of our own culture." What examples of that pathology does he raise? Why, the "fourteen billion dollar [porn] industry that reaches into our finest corporations."
But that's not all. "According to a CBS News 60 Minutes report, 89% of porn is created in the U.S. $2.84 billion in revenue was generated from U.S. Internet porn sites in 2006. $89/second is spent on porn," writes Kula. "72% of porn viewers are men and 260 new porn sites go online daily. And all this is in addition to what we know about the hyper-sexualizing of advertising and just about everything in the popular culture, to the increase in date-rape, to the myriad of illicit relationships that have become a normal part of the American sexual landscape."
So there you have it. It doesn't matter what side of the political spectrum one claims to hail from: At the end of the day if you associate yourself with the mainstream, porn, as a sort of gateway drug to all social ills and even criminality, is always to blame, even if you claim to see it as a "reflection" of society.
In terms of the adult industry's take on all of this, we, unlike the mainstream, would be remiss to take one company (or individual) comment as representative of Porn, but over at the Pink Visual blog, Q has expressed the opinion that in terms of teachable moments, the mainstream could use Weiner's (or any public figure's, for that matter) as an opportunity to "Leave porn to the pornographers, please!"
With customary bluntness (and humor), he beseeches "all you actors, musicians, athletes, political hacks and other misfits of renown who just can’t resist the urge to give self-made porn a shot" to "resist that urge. If you really can’t help yourself, though, and you have a deep, abiding need to share your naughty bits with the world, for Pete’s sake throw us pornographers a bone (so to speak) and work with us, rather than against us!"
It's a reasonable enough request, but doomed to fall on deaf ears, just as the rabbi fears his will as well, for as all of this proves, as it has proven through the millennia, when it comes to sex everyone's a porn star.
Photo: (l. to r.) David Vitter, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Anthony Weiner.