Kathleen Parker: Teacher, teacher, I declare

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 3, 2011

WASHINGTON ó MSNBCís Lawrence OíDonnell says heíd own up if it were his. Jon Stewart says he doesnít remember his old friend being quite all that!
And Anthony Weiner, the in-your-face New York congressman whose alleged waist-down photograph has become the talk of the political parlor, shrank from questions about how said photo happened to be sent from his Twitter account to a 21-year-old college student in Seattle.
To think, the long hot summer has just begun.
For those who have missed the tawdry travails of poor Weiner, whose name will never be quite the same, welcome to the planet. If youíre an adult, you may be wondering how we arrived at this point in our civic discourse, not that menís underwear is new to Washingtonís conversation.
But tweeting is new-ish ó and dangerous as a loaded pistol at a brawl. Our ability to snap a picture and flash it to the world in a nanosecond has taken instant gratification to new, unimagined levels and enabled the twin temptations of exhibitionism and voyeurism, first cousins to narcissism.
Familiarity hasnít created only contempt; it has created a monster. And Narcissus was a punk.
As tempting as it is to not ěgo there,î the fact of a congressmanís involvement in a possible hacking incident (never mind the inappropriateness of sending lewd photos to a young woman, as suggested) makes it unavoidable. The trick is to keep a straight face and dodge the obvious puns. As Weiner himself said, ěThe jokes kind of write themselves.î
Perhaps one remedy is to create a new word to replace, among other things, Weinergate, as the event has been dubbed. Must we ěgateî every political scandal? The free-associative mind produces many unattractive alternatives, but one that seems both decent and broadly applicable is ěschnitzel.î A fine word that can be used to substitute for any other one wishes to avoid.
As in: ěI donít give a schnitzel.î Or, ěWhat the schnitzel!î Or, ěWeiner has twisted himself into a schnitzelî by deflecting probing questions such as this one from CNNís Wolf Blitzer: ěYou would know if this is your underpants?î
Apparently not. Weiner said there are photos ěout there.î He canít say ěwith certitudeî whether this one is of him.
In fairness, letís stipulate that the photograph in question could be of someone else and that a person other than the congressman could have sent the photo from his account as a prank. Any judgment is at this point is speculation, aka gossip, though the congressmanís evasiveness isnít helping his case.
Leaving his problems aside, we might take the opportunity to consider our own. How many such photos, or worse, are in cellphones at this moment? Thousands? Millions? ěSextingî apparently is still popular among the young and firm, whereby one sends a sexually explicit message or photo by mobile phone. (And by the way, kids, no one cares about your tongue. Please put it back in your mouth.)
Like everyone else, I have no idea what happened with Weinerís Twitter account or whose schnitzel is causing OíDonnell to ponder envy and Stewart to wax nostalgic about those halcyon days he shared with Weiner in the Atlantic surf. I do know that this is not a random problem. Such embarrassing public exposures could happen to anyone who snaps, tweets or texts, especially to young people who have grown up in this share-all world of Facebook, for whom ěfriendî is a verb and relationships are often anonymous and virtual.
Weiner will have to sort out his problems, but the more compelling issue of how to balance our animal urgency with the human decency required by civilization remains. The technology that enables our animal appetites has far outpaced our human capacity or willingness to control those appetites. It is simply too easy to do in private that which feeds our natural exhibitionist-voyeuristic curiosity ó and far too easy for that private moment to go public.
If I may be preachy for a moment, addressing the young and foolish ó a redundancy weíve all enjoyed ó donít touch that send button. Instead, consider hitting ěminimizeî until morning.
None of this is to excuse the congressmanís behavior, should the gossip prove to be true. For everyoneís sake, I hope it isnít. But weíd do well to hit the pause button on schadenfreude and consider the larger message of this media frenzy: Delete, delete, delete.

Kathleen Parker writes for The Washington Post. Contact her at kathleenparker@washpost.com.