Thursday, October 05, 2006

David Brooks: Foleygate Is Eve Ensler's Fault

With his usual gift for analogies that obfuscate and distract rather than illuminate, David Brooks in today's New York Times (behind the firewall, of course), draws the following comparison:
This is a tale of two predators. The first is a congressman who befriended teenage pages. He sent them cajoling instant messages asking them to describe their sexual habits, so he could get his jollies.

The second is a secretary, who invited a 13-year-old girl from her neighborhood into her car and kissed her. Then she invited the girl up to her apartment, gave her some vodka, took off her underwear and gave her a satin teddy to wear.

Then she had sex with the girl, which was interrupted when the girl's mother called. Then she made the girl masturbate in front of her and taught her some new techniques.

The first predator, of course, is Mark Foley, the Florida congressman. The second predator is a character in Eve Ensler's play, "The Vagina Monologues." . . . But why is one sexual predator despised and the other celebrated?
Brooks devotes the rest of his column to a pretentious response to this question, claiming that two moral visions are at war for control of our society. One, "expressive individualism," exonerates sexual predation, while an older code, which emphasizes "social roles," condemns it.

Hey, David, I know you've been working hard lately to burnish your credentials as a Deep Thinker, researching all those pseudo-scientific columns about how brain chemistry explains why you and your friends make so much more money than most of the rest of us. But answering your question is a lot easier than you seem to think. Just consider two fairly obvious facts:

1. Mark Foley is a real person. The characters in Eve Ensler's play are not. The power of drama often leads us to temporarily suspend our moral beliefs, as you know if you've ever found yourself rooting for the criminals while watching a caper movie. Would an audience member who applauds the fictional seductress in the play be equally tolerant if a real-life seductress behaved the same with the audience member's own daughter? I doubt it. That's the difference between fiction and reality, which most people instinctively understand.

2. If you nonetheless insist on comparing the real Congressman Foley with the fictitious Ensler character, then consider this: Foley works for us. He was elected by American voters who pay his salary and whose interests he is supposed to represent. Foley used the opportunities available through his office to make sexual advances to young men over whom he exercised professional and personal power. This makes his behavior ipso facto exploitative. None of these factors apply to the Ensler character.

Which is why we care about Mark Foley's depradations--and not those of the make-believe figure whom Brooks apparently regards as such a significant emblem of cultural decay.

It all seems pretty obvious to me. Unfortunately, the obvious explanation puts the emphasis on Foley's hypocrisy and abuse of power--which is exactly what Brooks and his fellow conservatives would rather have us forget about. Instead, he'd prefer we think about some portentous "threat" to the "wider ecology" of "the shared moral order" represented by a character in an off-Broadway play.

Hence the necessity for Brooks' attitudinizing. Thankfully, only a handful of intellectuals will be dumb enough to take it seriously.

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