Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Toxic Culture for the Heart

Governor Mark Sanford's public meltdown and Americans' reaction to it are good evidence of a basic illness in our popular culture (and our political culture as well). Actually, let's just call it an illness in our culture as a whole.

I suppose that most of us (me included) have been somewhat amused by but also horrified at the totally inappropriate public performance of a guy who until now was a go-getting man of alleged principle. It's been both riveting and cringe-inducing.

But really, why do we have this reaction to him? Our outraged or amused or uncomfortable reaction to him is in total contrast to the kinds of movies and songs and stories we all make popular.

In "High Fidelity," Nick Hornby is on to this oddity:

People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss.
Think about this comment from the other side of "love." We don't worry about our kids (or us) watching movies or listening to songs that cajole us into "following our heart" and searching for true love, or looking for and finding our "soulmate." Disney and other studios churn this stuff out by the bushel, and we eat it up.

And yet when we are confronted by a guy who actually did this, the reaction is "What a loser!" or "How horrible!" or "What a hypocrite!" or "This is hilarious!" And we want to know all the details so we can stomp on the guy.

I'm not defending Sanford, and I know that this mess is having a terrible effect on his wife and children. Families and spouses and children are never the same after this kind of thing happens.

Sanford is a self-indulgent guy at this point in his life. His affair and then his shrink-session-style press conference are evidence of that. His abuse of the language of religion and faith is at least as unforgiveable as his infidelity is.

It's just that I think we all participate in some kind of bait-and-switch for the heart.

In Disney movies, we often cheer people who shun convention and "dull" long-term commitments to family and chase the whims of their hearts.

In political life or other important arenas, we give them the "tsk tsk" and a sneer, and we feel superior.


Sophmom said...

Great post. I think often about the emotionally unhealthy nature of much of the music I listened to growing up, and its profound effect, especially in the context of the rest of popular and family cultures. Hours of "I'm Your Puppet" (just the best example, one of too many) over and over accompanied by melodramatic heart-bursting pining can't lead to anything good. It cost me a fortune, in more ways than one, to escape this way of being.

Perhaps I've over-corrected, driven by a love for my children that requires me to put them first as the best way of insuring my own happiness; and maybe I'm lying to myself by insisting that the notion of "true love" as a goal or priority is self-indulgent drivel, or more importantly, icky.

When I see someone like Sanford doing this kind of damage to those they claim to love and citing "falling in love" as an excuse, it's repulsive. They put their own grandiose gratification above the well-being of their families. Gross and immature, this seems worse to me than Bill Clinton or even Larry Craig just wanting to get a little on the side. Detached sexual dalliance just seems more honest (not that I'm advocating that either).

Your description of it as "bait-and-switch" is exactly right. We've been taught wrong. What we should be seeking is a quieter, more day to day, way of living love.

What I find most telling about the whole Sanford mess is that the people closest to him hung his ass out to dry. His family and staff just let him have it. His Lieutenant Governor called attention to his absence. His staff had no safety net in place, no damage control deployed in his behalf. His wife, his former campaign manager, knew exactly what she was doing when she told the world she didn't have a clue where he'd gone. They must really hate this guy.

Editilla~New Orleans Ladder said...

Very nice post, well put.

I would like to point out that Sanford lied to everyone, his wife, staff, everyone, so they told the story they had been given as to the location of the Governor. But the fact is he wasn't even in the country and no one was running his state. He broke that law too.

He treated his Sacred Office with such callous disdain as to do this regularly on the tax-payers dime.
And now he would blame it on love. Suppose we discover that Maria works for the Argentine Intelligence service. Remember them?

I don't feel icky at all about the man's infidelity, it is his dangerous inefficacy that bothers me so deeply. He was already in a position to effect our own hurricane funding in Louisiana, and was on track to run for President. His entire philosophical, religious and political attitude in public looks down on the likes of us. He still thinks Katrina flooded New Orleans at God's will.

Further, it is His use of his Sacred Office when in Congress to vote to Impeach the President on the Very Same Grounds, quote: "moral imperatives" which Sanford violated with abandon here.
At least the Democrats usually admit they are doing if for sex. Sanford wants to say this was more than that. Well, he chose to say that to us, in press conference, before he said it to his own wife. Big ones there, eh? Though often connected, there is a difference between a Bastard and a Lover.

Thanks youz.

PS~btw your "Word Verification Thingy" for this comment today offers: "pylvomet"
Hmmmm, getting closer I'd say.