How is it that someone who knows that he or she will be scrutinized only slightly more than animalcules on a petrie dish still believes that past assignations and improprieties will never be exposed? Herman Cain. Jerry Sandusky. Bernie Fine. Bernie Madoff. Eliot Spitzer. Martha Stewart. Michael Vick.
We are all tempted by the fiction that we will be able to “get away with it.” No doubt some have. The perfect crime is a human obsession. We know that John Kennedy’s peccadillos were known and not reported by an adoring press in another age. Even today, we have no idea of the criminal and unethical behavior that has been concealed behind kryptonite barriers.
But the media feed on imperfection (despite their own—which is why Murdoch’s collapsing, hacking empire is so enormously satisfying) and will turn spitting on the sidewalk into an environmental catastrophe. What type of hubris defies this?
It’s the hubris of the inordinately successful. Business people, athletes, entertainers, those stretching their Warholian 15 minutes, begin to feel Teflon-coated, somehow immunized against prying eyes and inquiring minds.
Even when larger institutions provide protection—a Penn State or a public office—the odds are that the transgressor will be found out, especially as higher rank and more altitude are sought. We have a tendency to eat our young and tarnish our heroes. (A Medal of Honor winner was recently branded a drunk with personality disorders because he opposed his British-owned new employer’s move to sell sniper scopes to Pakistan.)
The fall can be precipitous, but also rife with rebound. Michael Vick is once again a highly paid, praised quarterback. Eliot Spitzer got a talk show (for which he had no talent). Barney Frank announced his voluntary retirement after 20 years in the House and after several sordid scandals. Pee Wee Herman is entertaining again.
I’m all for forgiveness. Most religions certainly advocate it. But I’m not for stupidity. Teflon prevents food from sticking, but it’s only useful when there’s heat applied. And most people can’t stand the heat and hop into the fire.
© Alan Weiss 2011. All rights reserved.