Congressman Eric Massa’s abrupt retirement and his ensuing talk show blitz consumed the media with tawdry details of his career’s implosion. The first and only term now former US Representative from New York went on Glenn Beck’s Fox News program with the promise of naming names and exposing the corruption of those who Beck suspects of nefarious deeds (i.e. social justice). He said that all Americans needed to hear Massa. “This is the moment that will decide the course of this nation possibly.” Beck told his audience as a teaser to the epic hour-long interview with the Democratic Congressman with an axe to grind. He continued, “This is the guy we’ve been looking for!”
The Massa interview on Beck’s show was a mess-a. He admitted to groping a male staffer, happily. He talked about his aggressive birthday-induced tickling and something about how that’s just a thing guys do in the Navy. The sentence “It looks like an orgy in Caligula,” was uttered. Then just to make it weird, he meandered around general Democratic talking points about getting involved and reforming campaign finance. It was yet another sensible claim Beck promised his audience that has yet to come true. Nazi communism, anyone?
But then Massa went on CNN’s Larry King Live revealing even more of his escapades. Stories have surfaced about the Catholic former Republican former Naval Officer and the term “snorkeling” was forced into the public discourse. It all seems pretty salacious. Very tabloid-esque. Very Hollywood drunken diva-like. Something you’d see right before a publicist announces their client has been checked into secluded non-specific rehab for “exhaustion. “
Has Hollywood corrupted the way we see our politicians?
Worshiping actors as idols is a relatively new practice. During the Dark Ages, before anyone figured out it was rats spreading the plague it was blamed on traveling actors, which were held in similar esteem. People who made their living acting onstage during the Victorian era were akin to how we view strippers today. Yes, people went to go see them…but ya know. Acting was a subculture of a lowly form for nearly all of its history. It wasn’t until Hollywood made stars out of celluloid and media made them alluring did we care about actors in a broad sense. Now we’re mindful about their opinions on everything from energy policy to which lip gloss is the glossiest. When they say stupid things it’s a scandal. When they do stupid things it’s a story. When they are stupid things it’s an obsession.
When actors were seen as vermin, the object of our affections and repugnance were people with actual power: politicians. They were the Lindsay Lohans of the early part of this country. Think of the Burr-Hamilton Duel between then former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and sitting Vice President Aaron Burr as the E! True Hollywood Story of the 19th century. There were no sports figures at the time. No recording artists. No mothers of multiples. The only icons were politicians, tycoons and criminals. Or Wyatt Earp who was really a bit of all three. And of those it was politicians were the most subjected to outrage for immoral behavior. They were the tabloid stars of the 19th century. Between the published rumors of President Thomas Jefferson fathering children with his slave Sally Hemmings to bachelor President Grover Cleveland paying child support, if you could read in the first-half part of this country’s history, politicians were going wild.
Then by the turn of the 20th century, starlets came along and usurped political figures from the lone wrath of public spectacle. Now because of reality shows and 24-hour news they have to share the limelight with a zillion other kids of notables. But Congressman Massa, impugning the conduct of the military and the House of Representatives in one non-denial denial brush stroke is a throwback to a better time. The good old days. The pre-cotton gin days.
Politicians in garish sex scandals like Eric Massa, former Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and Nevada Senator John Ensign are just taking back their country from Hollywood.