I have been agonizing for weeks whether to write about Rielle Hunter. The notion of a single additional millisecond consumed by the public on this media danse macabre peels the skin from my typing fingers. Still I need to share a few words, less about what’s happened, more about how troubled I am with our inability to look away from the body.
Rielle Hunter is not a celebrity, except that she is. She had a sexual relationship with a married man. She got pregnant. She chose to have a baby. In all sanity, it ends there. Give the child the slimmest chance at a sane life. Be with the child’s father, don’t be with the child’s father, just go away quietly and be a good mom. How hard is that?
Apparently it’s hard because there’s money at stake. As fate would have it, the father of her child was once a party primary candidate for President of the United States, and then the ticket’s Vice Presidential candidate in a national election. How about that. His wife happened to have cancer at the time of both the election and the affair. Now she has passed away. He happened to try to hide the affair from his wife and may have crossed a few lines in doing so, enough to get him hauled into court and tried, although not convicted. Okay, it has to end there. Give the child a shot at any kind of normal life. Preserve any fragment of dignity left for mom and dad. Separate your private life from public spectacle, at least so the public does not have to disgrace itself.
Nope, there’s real money at stake. She cannot help herself, she is cashing in. We are letting her cash in. She didn’t take her fifteen minutes of fame, we are giving it to her. We cannot seem to help ourselves any more than she can.
I am not reading the book. I am not watching the television interviews. Ms. Hunter has nothing important to say, not a word of value will cross her lips. Yet I can’t miss her, she’s everywhere. Why does anyone care? Why do we feed Piers Morgan’s hunger for this flavor of anesthesia by subscribing to it?
It’s supply and demand, free-market capitalism, 100% free speech, no law against it. Nope, don’t want to regulate it. Nope, don’t want to restrict it. Completely agree.
It’s still icky.
Criticize me if you wish for condemning a book I have not read, but if this is a book, we have forgotten what it means to read. There are an infinite number of interesting topics to ponder and curious events to discuss — the mending of our nation’s polarization, Europe’s seesaw economic outlook, interest rate fixing scandals, Wall Street arbitrage incinerating millions of dollars on derivative trades, heartening private sector innovation at wondrous new companies like SpaceX, lower gas prices for summer, a new Aaron Sorkin show on HBO, and a new novel by Kurt Andersen.
In 1992 Roger Waters produced his last solo album called Amused to Death, inspired by Neil Postman’s 1985 landmark book about the grinding impact of media on our critical thinking abilities. It was dark, even for Roger, and it didn’t do too well. It was about a monkey watching TV, just changing the channels on the TV, over and over, through an invasion of our planet by other-worldly creatures observing our demise, until the apocalyptic concluding refrain, “This species has amused itself to death.” Both Postman’s book and Waters’ album preceded the commercial internet, and their observations were anything but unique. But when I saw Rielle Hunter on her book cover staring at me from a display shelf, suggesting there could be any reason for me to buy and read her transcribed words, all I could hear was that refrain: This Species Has Amused Itself to Death.
Well, we’re still here, so not yet, right? We can pay attention to more important things if we want, no shortage of free will to be entertained. We all have our own ideas about what’s relevant. News. Politics. Music. Family. Sports. Pets. Who’s to judge? Does it matter that Entertainment Tonight fills a full hour following every 23 with fluff we used to dismiss as tabloid? Is there any way that hour could be better used, perhaps to learn the name of a local candidate running for State Assembly or why Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice? Maybe not, but it’s bugging me, mostly because I once campaigned for John Edwards and believed he could have been a decent Vice President and/or President of the United States. Now I feel ashamed — ashamed that I was ever on this bandwagon, ashamed that I was duped by lies, ashamed that he denied a child he fathered and can’t take that back, ashamed that we are still paying attention to the mother of that child. I don’t like the way this feels, and I want it somehow, at some level, to stop. That’s my problem.
This one notches beyond tabloid, because the clever maestro Ms. Hunter has made an active choice to compose opportunistically despite the requisite price. She is fully aware of the stakes, the trade, the auction, and the orchestrated bait. Still this compromise of judgment is not Rielle Hunter’s problem. It’s not John Edwards’ problem. This is our problem. I am picking on them to make a point, an egregious case that is emblematic of serial apathy. If we can’t help ourselves and just keep gobbling up this gunk, then in an amiable daze we hand wealth to those who least deserve it, financial reward for nothing earned, nourishing amusement an abandoned aspiration. Our thoughts turn to mush, and there we sit on the cold floor tile, trapped again in a Waters’ refrain, banging our hearts against The Wall until we are Comfortably Numb.
This species can do so much better than that. Really, we can.