Al Franken, Lust, and Public Scrutiny
I was a guest at a “great man’s” home in Newport Beach years ago. The man, (we will call him “Charlie”), had just returned from a wedding, and he was amused by an awkward toast given by a friend.
“So there he is,” Charlie observed, laughing at his memory, “trying to laud marriage as a social institution–all of its benefits and so forth–and yet appearing all the while not quite certain it was really any better than just bending your secretary over a chair!” Charlie guffawed. “What a miss. What a terrible miss.”
In the spirit of Al Franken titling conventions, there is a big, fat, idiotic flaw in our discussion of the “current” sexual harassment crisis. Among those who celebrate a post Christian consensus, nobody in that set has written any “Idiot’s Guide to Male Desire,” much less any secular scripture on the subject. Men, even grown men, have an embarrassing 8th grade problem that more or less sticks with us until a few days before the kids go coffin shopping. We’re not mentally pawing every woman we see, by any means, but male desire is, by far, a lot less discriminating than female desire. It takes a very generous woman, indeed, to even attempt the task of understanding it, much less appreciating it.
And, yes, of course, that’s not your problem, ladies. Dress the way you want. Show off, or don’t show off. Flirt, or don’t flirt. Work among men at the office, or stay home. Enjoy your sexiness, or don’t. You aren’t responsible for how we act. We get that.
But we’ve walked into a cultural vacuum that hasn’t been filled with any reliable standard, as we now see. Our outrage is selective and a tad fickle. I’m guessing Ben Affleck will weather this crisis a little better than Al Franken or Roy Moore. Is it just because he’s better looking, or because the actress he was groping happened to be giggling at the time? What’s going on in this never, never land? Is it “sexual liberation” when it’s welcomed and “assault” when it’s not? A few months ago, if we collectively looked at Al Franken’s image, groping a sleeping Leeann Tweeden, I’m not altogether certain there would be such collective and focused outrage. I’m guessing there would be a “comedian” standard applied. (“He’s kidding; it’s just a joke.”) Those of us who hate his politics would call him a pig, but I’m fairly certain no one would seriously entertain the notion he might step down from the US Senate as a result. As some have pointed out, leftist outrage is as whimsical as it is furious. It moves around, from offense to offense, without any compass, because the “pinnacle offense” itself is always being redefined. Confederate monuments one month, Harvey Weinstein’s hands the next. As Jeffrey Varasano wrote, “the left are natural hysterics.”
This speaks to our disrespect for all the ancient standards, and in this instance the sexual standard: men feel erotic desire and they go looking for a mate. Women crave shelter, and safety, so they save their sexuality for a man willing to provide them with a nest. This was once a very objective, linear process, almost a business proposition.
“May I court your daughter?”
“We will call the girl and consult her wishes.”
Enter the pill, Hugh Hefner, and Gloria Steinem declaring that women need men like fish need bicycles.
But desire is still there. The need for shelter and emotional safety is still there. It’s just that the ancient solutions must now be considered fairy tales by properly educated people. You figure it all out, kids. Just go with it.
So off Al Franken goes to entertain the troops (hey, even Patriotism is still there), and like most men with the testosterone God gives a chipmunk, he finds Leeann Tweeden drop dead gorgeous. What does Al do with his desire? He writes a play, stages a kiss, gets rebuffed, and then acts like a pig. On the continuum between “chivalrous leading man” and “sexual criminal,” he’s “pathetic fish-lips.”
Wouldn’t we all more or less expect some range of similar failures in a world without defined standards of behavior? If you don’t think so, let me put it this way: Imagine Al’s advances were welcomed by Leeann and they had a USO fling? Suppose one of us Puritans, wondered, out loud: “aren’t they married to other people?” Guess how that would go over. Or imagine if pre-scandal Al Franken, when demanding that sexual harassment not be tolerated, concluded his remarks with a pastoral addendum: “find sexual satisfaction in your marriages, men, and wives, be submissive to your husbands so they won’t cause so many problems in the work place.”
Can’t you just hear the Banshee wailing from the Congressional women’s caucus five buildings away?
Weirdly, we have a world without standards and violent outrage when the non-existent standards are violated. The sexual desire that can’t be judged if two adults actually achieve consenting status in this jungle suddenly becomes disrespect for women if that desire culminates in rejection. Sanctimonious comics like Trevor Noah are the prophets of this generation, substituting laughter for consistency.
And then there’s just the matter of public scrutiny creating a mirage standard. If everyone is mad enough at one man, everything he does is wrong and society has a standard by virtue of having a victim, even if the offense can’t be precisely defined. Robert E. Lee can’t be both honorable soldier and flawed slave-holder. He simply must be Lucifer in the flesh because everyone’s mad at him right now. (A few years ago, we had some neighbors angry at our land use. Every agency in the county descended on us for inspection and review. When you’ve suddenly become unpopular, there are ways to make you illegal as well. In the absence of a greater standard, the Pharisees will make something up on your behalf.)
The standard is right there, right now, folks. Husbands go home and love your wives. Women, make red hot love to your husbands.
It will keep great men from having to hear silly toasts on solemn occasions.