Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Throwing Another Weiner On The BBQ

Celebrity-worship and hero-worship should not be confused. Yet we confuse them every day, and by doing so we come dangerously close to depriving ourselves of all real models. We lose sight of the men and women who do not simply seem great because they are famous but are famous because they are great. We come closer and closer to degrading all fame into notoriety.
Daniel J. Boorstin, American social historian & educator (1914)

It's a sad day for me because I have fond memories of Anthony Weiner articulating real solutions to our health care crisis back in the insane summer of 2009. While GOP pundits and their politicians harnessed fear and screamed "death panels" over "Obamacare," the Democratic Party promoted what was ultimately a backroom deal with the insurance & pharmaceutical industry. Weiner was a progressive voice of reason, advocating for a robust Medicare-For-All plan which would both control costs and cover everybody. He had the balls to stand up to the newly elected President, calling on him to follow through with his campaign pledge to promote effective health care reform that actually regulates profit-seeking industries that serve as a useless middle-man in our daily health care drama.

But now, Weiner will be forever (in)famous for having the balls to do something else entirely. His 9-day shame cycle ended yesterday with a confession to posting the photo of his junk and "connecting" with other young women on-line over the past few years. After almost a fortnight of pleading his innocence and blaming others, he finally gave in. But we're not interested in throwing stones at Weiner (we'll do that when we someday address his uber-biased stance on Israel). However, the Weiner Incident (referring to both the politician and the object of the photo) is important for 3 reasons:

1. Primarily, what this all boils down to is that Weiner's just another human being trying to cope with anxiety (both chronic and acute), unresolved pain and unrelenting pressure by attaching to something that simply cannot satiate the soul. Gabor Mate explains in his instant classic In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts (2009):

We may believe we’re anxious about this or that—-body image, the state of the world, relationship issues, the weather—-but no matter what story we weave around it, the anxiety just is. Like addiction itself, anxiety will always find a target but exists independently of its targets. Only when we become aware of it does it wrap itself in identifiable colors. More often we repress it, bury it under ideas, identifications, deeds, beliefs, and relationships. We build above it a mound of activities and attributes that we mistake for our true selves. We then expend our energies trying to convince the world that our self-made fiction is reality. As genuine as our strengths and achievements may be, they cannot but feel hollow until we acknowledge the anxiety they cover up.

Over the course of his life, Weiner learned how to escape and release in this particular way (in this technological age, a practice quite typical of--but certainly not limited to--men) which inevitably gets more progressive and more risky as time goes on. As it turns out, though, we all do something to cope with the chaos. There are plenty of coping mechanisms on offer to bring us a counterfeit form of soul relief: shopping, sports, food, fitness, gambling, fetishized relationships, beer, the quest for the perfect body image (according to Cosmo and GQ), prescription meds, porn, work, religion, etc. Most of these are gifts from God, but we've twisted them into obsessive-compulsive nightmares. Mate calls his readers (and patients up in Vancouver) to an attitude of compassionate curiosity that he calls the COAL principle: curiosity, openness, acceptance and love. In the aftermath of another shamed celebrity, we should extend COAL to Weiner...and, more importantly, ourselves.

2. This event should remind (or awaken) us to the power and privilege that are lavished upon political leaders, CEOs and other celebrities that is almost always abused in one way or another. Weiner's pursuit of women half his age on internet social networks is how gifted-yet-overly-hyped men roll (note Bill Clinton, Tiger and King David). The only way to stop the bleeding is for the rest of us to stop idolizing. But again, we often find ourselves living vicariously through them in order to give our lives meaning. This is the powerful pull of our media outlets who crown them and knight them and bless them and immortalize them...and then we find out they are just like us.

3. Lastly, the Weiner conveniently serves as a distraction for all the shit that really matters in our world. As the economy remains impotent and the US military pumps the Muslim world full of drone strikes, we're always looking for some news/entertainment to serve as an escape from making us feel even more anxious and hopeless. The latest from Weiner should remind us that we are far too prone to titilate ourselves with stories about body parts than critically think and analyze the uneven distribution of wealth and power that continues to haunt us.

This week, as we detox ourselves from an inundation of obscene twit pics, may we work and pray for curious, open, accepting and loving spaces where we might come to new awareness, experience deeper community...and realize the potential to change the world.

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