Entry from June 21, 2011

What next for Anthony D. Weiner? Today he ceases to be a congressman, and, apart from the therapy he has promised to seek and a job offer from Larry Flynt, he appears to have nothing much on his plate for the time being. Well, an idea struck me as I was reading a recent obituary in The Guardian, the amusingly left-wing British daily whose tendency to self-parody rarely disappoints. The obituary page, in particular, is dominated by tales from the lives of peace activists, communist union leaders, artists doubling as propagandists for favored leftie causes and so forth. Thus when one Lee Kemp popped his clogs he was a natural candidate to be memorialized among The Guardian’s obits by the delightfully named Havana Marking, herself a documentary producer whose acquaintance with Mr Kemp dated from a film she made in 2007 called The Crippendales.

Want to guess what that was about? Let’s let her tell the story of the brilliant career of Mr Kemp, described in the article’s headline as “Rights campaigner and member of the first disabled strip troupe.”

After becoming runner-up in the 2005 Sexiest Man in Yorkshire competition, he decided to form the Crippendales, the world”s first disabled strip troupe. The group of five men with varying disabilities took their name from a joke told by the actor and comedian Mat Fraser. People had no idea how to react to the joke, let alone the strippers. I met Lee when I started to film them for a Channel 4 documentary. I remember furious people ringing a Radio 5 call-in show in the run up to the film”s broadcast in 2007. One newspaper columnist declared the Crippendales obscene. Lee responded with grace, charm and humour. The critics usually changed their tune as he explained why he and the lads had the right to perform and why the sexuality was needed to make such a show worthwhile. The troupe worked hard, often through great pain and always with the threat that someone would not get either the joke or the seriousness of their mission. Everyone was aware that in the wrong hands, their act could be a humiliation. With the help of the Adonis Cabaret and the London stripper Jo King, Lee”s leadership and light touch got them through. The audiences loved it.

If she says the audiences loved it, I’m sure they did. But I think she rather takes it for granted that they should when most of us would wonder what, exactly there was to love? The answer, I take it, lies in the political subtext. For Mr Kemp and his fans, what used to be known as indecent exposure seems to be a sort of liberation and therefore a human right — one that Mr Kemp, as a certified member of the class of victims and therefore presumptively oppressed made it his avocation to claim. He did so, naturally with all the self-righteousness of the revolutionary, which is what was required if he was to avoid the lurking danger of the “humiliation” of which Ms Marking writes.

So, then: Lee Kemp, hero, Anthony Weiner, villain, although both performed what would seem to be morally comparable acts if not identical acts. What’s the difference between them? Only that Mr Kemp carries the stigmata of victimhood. Surely it is not beyond the wit of man to find the victim in Anthony Weiner as well — it’s what he himself is presumably attempting by submitting himself to therapy. The take on Mr Weiner of Nicolaus Mills, professor of American Studies at Sarah Lawrence College and also writing in The Guardian, even suggests that the congressman is now suffering for our sins, as he himself did when he was claiming that his Twitter account had been hacked and the whole business was a triviality compared to the important work that he was doing for the American people. “Small wonder that in this repressive, moralising atmosphere,” writes Mr Mills, the Republican party thinks it can win votes by doing its best to dry up public and private funding for an organisation like Planned Parenthood.”

It doesn’t surprise that his beef appears to be with “moralising” and perhaps morality itself, but is the left so reflexively anti-“moralism” that it can’t even see this is not about morality but about decency, a quite different (though of course not unrelated) thing? Decency and decorum, like honor, are no longer understood, particularly in the media, but this creates an opening for the likes of Mr Weiner to exploit, like Mr Kemp and his kind, his humiliation in order to portray himself as a victim. Anyway, he’s already a celebrity and will probably end up, like Eliot Spitzer, with his own talk show. And you thought we’d seen quite enough of Anthony Weiner before!

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