Friday, May 27, 2011

If Europe Is From Venus, Who's From Mars?

I've written before that straight men often find it difficult to distinguish between consensual sex and forced sex, and if you thought I was exaggerating, here's another example.

The Economist is a pro-business newsweekly from the UK, and of course the big news in its latest issue is what the cover calls "The damnation of Dominique Strauss-Kahn". There's an opinion piece on page 12 pleading, "Whatever the man did, do not forsake his ideas: they are more important," because Strauss-Kahn "was the candidate with the greatest chance of bringing the Paleolithic French Socialists into the modern age." If you detect some cognitive dissonance there, worry not, it's just concern trolling. The "modern age" the writer has in mind is the 19th century, the age of the robber barons. A longer article beginning on page 25, "The downfall of DSK", praises him for having "done more than any other recent manager to restore the IMF's reputation. ... His championing of the need to insulate the poor from the effects of fiscal austerity has, many believe, led the fund to become kinder and gentler." Many don't believe that, but I wouldn't expect the Economist to go there.

Then we have "Decoding DSK" on page 62 and online, by a columnist who calls himself Charlemagne.
When “DSK” moved to Washington, DC, in 2007 to take up his duties as the boss of the IMF, Mr Sarkozy is said to have told him to check his passions: he was going to a country that had come close to hounding Bill Clinton out of office for having an affair with a White House intern.

In matters of sex, as of war, Europeans are from Venus. They mock Americans’ puritanism about the sex lives of public figures. For a politician to cheat on his wife in America is a sign of dishonesty. Witness the opprobrium heaped on Arnold Schwarzenegger over the new revelation that he had fathered a child out of wedlock. In much of Europe, affairs can be a badge of virility. That is the insinuation of an interview given by none other than Mr Strauss-Kahn’s wife, Anne Sinclair. Asked in 2006 whether she minded her husband’s reputation, she replied: “No, I’m rather proud of it! It’s important for a politician to seduce. As long as he seduces me and I seduce him, that’s enough for me.”

... Americans (and, it is true, many Europeans) are mystified by Mr Berlusconi’s ability to survive the tales of his lurid “bunga-bunga” parties. Europeans are bemused by the uptightness of American public life, in which a blow job in the White House can lead to the impeachment of a president. But the case of Mr Strauss-Kahn is about more than sex. Dig deeper and you uncover a number of telling differences in transatlantic attitudes.
And so on. Never mind that the case of Mr Clinton was also "about more than sex", that the Republicans wanted to destroy him and used the only charge they could find that they thought would stick; payback for the impeachment of Richard Nixon was also probably a factor. Never mind that the impeachment failed to remove him from office, and that it was not "the country" but a cabal of hypocritically Puritanical (mostly) Republican politicians and corporate media that minded, or pretended to mind, about that "blow job in the White House." Never mind that politicians and other celebrities got away with a lot of illicit sex in the US, shielded by a corporate media that collaborated in keeping their escapades secret. John Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Lyndon B. Johnson, and many others were able to romp freely and almost openly, secure in the knowledge that they wouldn't make the headlines. There's an old American political joke about the damage to a politician's career if he's caught in bed with a live man or a dead woman, but until the tabloid mentality took over the media completely, being caught in bed with a live woman was only likely to damage the career of an evangelist.

If Strauss-Kahn had limited himself to willing partners, chances are he could have cavorted to his heart's content in the US as he did in France. But it seems that he preferred not to, and in the wake of his arrest renewed attention has been paid, even in France, to evidence that he had forced his attentions on women all along. Sarkozy's warning was dishonest, unless he knew that Strauss-Kahn was a rapist, which quite possibly he did. But the warning would still have been dishonest, just like the bulk of Charlemagne's column, for pretending that mere consensual "affairs" would get Strauss-Kahn in trouble.

At the very end of his column Charlemagne gets pious:
Beyond such differences in legal cultures, one fact is inescapable. In America a modest African immigrant has obtained a swift response from the police to her complaint of sexual assault. Mr Strauss-Kahn’s innocence or guilt will be determined in court. But New York’s authorities have not shirked from arresting the head of one of the world’s leading international bodies, nor from demanding that he be kept in jail on remand. It is worth asking: would this have happened in Paris or Rome?
That's very nice, but it feels more like a swerve for an upbeat, pro-American closing rather than a real glimmer of sympathy for the victim of a crime, especially after the columnist's determination to confuse the central issue through most of the piece.