I just had the most wonderful conversation. I don’t know the guy’s name or anything about his story (though I do know I’ll probably never see him again). No matter. He was the person the Universe sent to help me make some sense out of a completely nonsensical matter: our obsession with Arnold Schwarzenegger having an affair…and child…with a member of his staff.
We both were waiting sitting at a Marigny bar, watching the TV as we waited for our lunch. He was enjoying a bottle of chilled Sake, me a glass of ice water (I swear, it was just water).
The “news”, of course, was all Arnold and Maria, all the time. One reporter was standing in front of the Bakersfield house where Arnold’s mistress and child live while saying what a tragedy it was that the boy had lost his privacy. ”He’s become collateral damage in a sea of prying eyes,” she said. While she stood, cameras blazing, eyes prying. In front of the boy’s house. (Irony. It’s a word she might want to look up. As should the million of Americans who no doubt were watching and knodding their heads in unisom about that “collateral damage” who lives inside).
“The world is ending on Saturday and THIS is how we’re going to spend our remaining days,” my friend asked (revealing Sake’s ability to make one both clear and succinct).
We then went on to talk about David Self, Bradley Melton, Lamoral Tucker, and Cheziray Pressley. They’re the four American soldiers who were killed in Zabul the day the Arnold/Maria story broke.
“Why do we care about one kind of collateral damage and not others,” I asked.
“Because we’re used to war. People die every day,” Sake answered, pouring another chilled glass.
“True ‘dat,” I said, ”but…surely the faithful have been unfaithful, the powerful have abused their power for as long as there’s been war. In fact, you can argue we have war precisely because the faithful are unfaithful, and the powerful abuse their power. It’s more than that.”
“It’s because Americans love to feel morally superior,” he said, by now a hollow bone for Sake.
He was right. There is an indignation fueling each and every snide comment and sanctimonious column written about the Schwarzenegger saga. And fueling that indignation is an even deeper feeling of superiority. Of knowing better than any of the poor cast of characters in this sad little tale (“What was Maria thinking? She should have left him years ago!”). No. Of being better than any of these characters.
And why is that? Sake and I agreed the reason is that it’s easier to feel superior over someone else’s mistakes than face our own. If we huff and puff and harrumph and point fingers at the other guy, maybe no one will look at us and poke and prod and leak our own failures. At least we won’t look at our own. You know, the ones we actually could do something about. The ones we actually have a responsibility to do something about.
By “our own”, I mean we the people of America: Better to talk about the 12-year old who’s collateral damage in a relationship we have no control of or responsibility to than the fact that there are 3.8 million…yes..MILLION more kids living in poverty in America today than in 2000).
And I mean we as individuals: Better to shine a spotlight on someone else’s failed marriage or abuse of power than turn it around to illuminate our own. Failures. And abuses. Because others might see. Because we might see. Ourselves.
And we might have to do what Arnold Schwarzenegger did: Take responsibility. Or what Maria Shriver did: Take control of our own lives. Our own destiny.
Now, doing so certainly is not as fun or easy as moral superiority. But it’s a lot better for your soul. And that’s a lot better for our country.
Just act quick…the world ends on Saturday!!