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The Scandal Rules


We don’t all like to admit it but we love our celebrities. Examples might be as varied as Princess Diana (We just celebrated the tenth anniversary of her death), Halle Berry (Did you know she was pregnant?) or Lindsay Lohan (After copping a guilty plea that has earned her a day in jail, she has admitted to a drug & alcohol problem).

It’s difficult for me to adequately explain the motivation for the phenomenon, but we sure do seem to get enjoyment out of following the activities of people in the public arena. When things go wrong for these figures, there are factors that determine how we will react. It’s not science but the different treatment that two well-known men, Larry Craig and Owen Wilson, have received may help explain the differences.

Bad news is always newsworthy, but there’s something about a really juicy scandal – as opposed to a merely ugly one – that excites the senses. A scandal may involve the possession of cocaine, the presence of a Hollywood prostitute or driving while intoxicated. These are acts that ordinary citizens may commit at any time, but if you’re at all well known, such acts will catapult you straight to the gossip heights (or ensure your continued presence there). You may be familiar with schadenfreude, a marvelous German word which describes the pleasure obtained from another’s misfortune.

If you’ve somehow missed the case, Senator Craig was arrested this past June for lewd conduct in a Minneapolis airport men’s restroom. The incident became news in August when Craig pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. I don’t know about you, but I not only enjoyed every moment of his predicament last week, especially when he insisted repeatedly that he was not gay, that it had been mistake to plead guilty (on account of being not gay) and, but the way, did he mention he’s not gay? This scandal might generally not offer the same pleasures of Paris or Britney – keeping in mind Paul Begala’s observation that politics is show business for ugly people – but it does have its delights.

Also recently in the news is actor Owen Wilson. The star of such films as Wedding Crashers and the upcoming The Darjeeling Limited reportedly attempted to commit suicide. Wilson has always had a goofy, affable presence, on and off-screen. He’s not only popular, but very likeable. This is clearly a very personal and painful time for him and his family. There’s no joy to be found in his suffering and the celebrity machine has been taking it very easy on him this past week.

The Craig and Wilson episodes provide some guidelines for scandal-mongering and appreciation. After all, there are rules for almost any sort of human behavior.

The incident should play into our expectations. Charlie Sheen caught with a hooker is a fun story; Tom Hanks caught with a hooker is kind of sad. But there’s also the irony factor. You might not expect a conservative politician to be caught cruising in a men’s room, but if you’re a liberal, you probably suspect that a lot of conservative politicians are secret hypocrites. Sen. Craig had fought against gay rights and had derided President Clinton as a “naughty boy.” From that perspective, Craig’s arrest makes as much sense as the extramarital affairs of Bob Livingston, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, and on and on. Owen Wilson has a breezy nature to him and while he may have a dark side, that’s not how we prefer to see him.

Nobody gets hurt. Britney Spears has been acting out for years, and it was all good, clean fun. But now she has young kids and she’s caught up in a custody battle with her husband Kevin “K-Fed” Federline. The joy has slowly leeched out of Britney gossip. But Craig was simply caught doing some sort of mating ritual dance in a bathroom stall. You might feel bad for his wife, but that’s about it. In contrast, suicide is about as painful as it gets; the Wilson family has withdrawn into private healing and has been afforded that privacy.

Some celebrities are fun to tear down. Celebrities come in all shapes, sizes and flavors. As many fans as Paris Hilton has, she also has a large number of detractors. Seeing her go to jail is like a dream come true. Craig’s cruising antics and possible hidden homosexuality is a two-fer: two sins that he has fought against, but has apparently committed himself. Pro-sin voters can rejoice in his discomfort. Owen Wilson’s public persona is fun personified. We want him to be bubbly and eccentric; it’s integral to his appeal.

Bottom line: Larry Craig = Hilarious! How high can they hang him? Owen Wilson = Very sad. Get well soon, buddy!

Editor’s Note: The Larry Craig scandal has caught the attention of other Spot-on writers. Scott Olin Schmidt’s comments are here. Christopher Brauchli’s are here.

Share  Posted by P.J. Rodriguez at 2:25 AM | Permalink

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