Only in America

June 25, 2009: The Today Show’s lead story was South Carolina’s governor, Mark Sanford, admitting to having had an affair with a woman from Argentina–and the story not only led the news line-up, it dominated it. And the finger wagging and judgments started flowing from those who apparently consider themselves above it all.

June 26, 2009: The Today Show devoted its first two hours exclusively to the previous day’s death of Michael Jackson, with a few polite nods to Farrah Fawcett’s departure from this life on the same day. What had been the lead story on the 25th wasn’t even mentioned until after 9:00 a.m., the virtual graveyard shift of the morning news shows.

What a difference a day makes. Mark Sanford must feel that Michael Jackson’s last earthy act was a gift meant expressly for him. Little else could have so swiftly, efficiently, and completely deflected that most unwanted spotlight glare. Mark who??? That’s exactly the point.

Before Michael Jackson’s last act, I was going to go on here about the absurdity of the obsession that we as a culture have with the sex lives of the rich and famous…and blame it on the Puritans. It is most bizarre, and that is the only explanation for it that I can come up with. Other cultures–the French for example–couldn’t care less about what their political figures, especially, are doing in the bedroom–or in whose bedroom it happens to be.

The French have a healthy hands-off policy when it comes to policing their politicians’ private lives. For the five years that I lived there, Mitterrand was prime minister. I never knew what his wife even looked like–she never appeared on TV or in newspapers or magazines because she wasn’t the one making news. When he died his mistress–and their daughter–stood next to the official Mrs. Mitterrand at the funeral–after all, they had been nextdoor neighbors for years. Totally logical, as well as civilized, and the French love logic as well as civilization.

Why we Americans think that if a man or woman has a love affair, and they also happen to hold some elected office, we have the right to both the knowledge of that, as well as all the details, including the previously private love letters (e-mails), is way, way beyond me. What happened to our dignity and sense of decency, assuming we once had those? Maybe those were prohibited by the Puritans too?

And I know that in these scandals of the sexual sort, and in thinking of others of our fallen former hero political types, speicifically Bill and Eliot, there’s not always love involved, but still, unless laws are broken, as they were with the downfall of Mr. Spitzer, how much do we need to know? Again, I blame the Puritans–the original hypocrite closet voyeurs. Remember the Scarlett Letter? That’s what we were in the process of branding Mark Sanford with, until Michael Jackson came to the rescue.

The first thing that really strikes me in all of this is the fickleness and shallowness of our news. The media flits from one salacious story to the next, leaving yesterday’s scandal to be tossed out–or deleted–like a once juicy plum that has shriveled and dried up overnight, and is now suitable only for the garbage…forgetting the fact that it was only a piece of fruit in the first place and hardly worthy of an all-out news blitz.

Meanwhile, while we are consumed with Mark’s illicit and doomed affair of the heart as well as Michael’s and Farrah’s untimely transitions–read, mostly Michael’s–the world’s environment, economy, and peace continue to be threatened, to say nothing of destroyed, as thousands of people lose their jobs, die daily of starvation, disease, and in wars, all while the earth’s natural resources are poised on the brink of extinction. If the world does continue past the end forecast in Nostradamus’s predictions, what will be said about us in history? “A society so absorbed with the superficial and meaningless that it was annihilated while it was engrossed in pointing fingers at politicians in love and watching 40 year-old music videos of a child performer?” Is that our legacy?

In the meantime, Mark Sanford, count your blessings and remember to thank Michael in your prayers.

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