So apparently there are all these people out there exposing themselves on cell phones. If "everyone's doing it," one is tempted to suppose it's the new normal. And if people are "uncomfortable" with it, then perhaps they should "get over it." This is the 21st century and the digital age, after all.
Or so one might have thought. Then along come U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner and his photos sent via Twitter, which brought out what we really think about electronic self-exposure.
Admittedly, the media coverage of the congressman's textcapades has been no help to the nation's moral sensibilities. As in Bill Clinton's scandal with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, the public disclosure of these private indiscretions has infused words and images into daily reporting, comedy routines, and conversation that has likely made us more (shall we say) French about the intimate and the perverse. In that respect, this exposé has been a loss for us culturally.
But in a way, the Weiner scandal is an "I told you so" for moral conservatism, a vindication of the moral order. The public reaction in almost every quarter has not been to say, "What's the big deal?"
Steny Hoyer, the Democratic House Minority Whip, called Weiner's behavior "bizarre and unacceptable." Weiner himself called his behavior "unhealthy" when he announced his leave of absence and intention to seek treatment.
But politicians say things to sound like the swing voters they want to attract. More telling is what we have heard from late night comedians and liberal commentators.
Stephen Colbert, in discussing one of Weiner's text conversations with a Las Vegas blackjack dealer, resorted to hand sanitizer to express his disgust. In Jon Stewart's news conference sketch on The Daily Show, Weiner was labeled Stewart's "perv friend" in banner text at the bottom of the screen.
Message to young people: Normal people don't do this. It's disgusting and perverted. It will get you ridiculed, even mortified, not admired.
Chris Matthews, the liberal MSNBC talking head, called Weiner's text life not only "indiscrete" and "embarrassing," but also "immoral." But to top it off he added that it was "gross behavior":
"It's getting very, very hard to defend the behavior politically of the [Democratic] party. Now you throw on top of that immoral behavior [the speaker's emphasis], indiscrete behavior, embarrassing behavior, gross behavior like this, and you still have him in your midst."
Designating something as immoral can make a practice seem actually more attractive to many young people. But if the word gets around that something is gross and repulsive, like not keeping your nose clean or cleaning it in the wrong way, people receive the moral lesson at a visceral level and it sticks. Practically speaking, that's how people form their moral judgments. They respond most deeply to the moral beauty or ugliness of behavior, not its philosophic incoherence, departure from tradition, or inconsistency with biblical teaching, though ultimately those may be more important standards. Even in the Bible, we learn that saving grace gives us eyes to see "the beauty of holiness" (Psalm 29:2).
Knowing what not to do-the "shalt nots," if you will-is a good place to start for a people in need of recovering their moral bearings.