David Weiss of Los Angeles (aka David Was) grew up in Oak Park and attended the University of Michigan. He formed a band in the 1980s with fellow Oak Parker Don Fagenson (aka Don Was) called Was (Not Was). His father, the late Rube Weiss, was Santa Claus in the Hudson's Thanksgiving Parade. This column first appeared in Newsweek and is being reposted with permission.
By David Weiss
"The reason the critics like Elvis Costello better than Van Halen is ‘cause they all look like Elvis Costello."
-- David Lee Roth
It's not often one can quote a colorful doofus like David Lee Roth to shed light on a subject that forbids levity or sarcasm: men with power lording it over women and girls to coerce sexual favors. In boardrooms and bathrooms, in the hallowed halls of Congress or anywhere the curtains are drawn tight, far too many men are at their atavistic worst, using physical and fiscal leverage to act unspeakably.
That self-aggrandizing Roth quote came to mind as I tried to fashion a pop-psych composite sketch of the growing list of predators hogging the headlines. From Roger Ailes to Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K. to Roy Moore and, yes, even Senator Al Franken. What we are looking at is a type of stunted boy/man whose outward bluster and surface machismo belie their root insecurity and impotence—men who prefer wham-bam self-gratification to anything resembling romance, much less true intimacy. (Not only that, but a less attractive gaggle of geezers one could not imagine. Even Elvis Costello is a catch compared to them.)
The aforementioned semi-sociopaths are, however, built for worldly conquest; their dopamine-ravenous gray matter doesn't register guilt nor shame, much less betray a shred of empathy for their traumatized victims. Add to that a secret-society code of see-no-evil omertà that has hidden these monsters from public view for far too long. (Shades of the Catholic Church and even our Armed Forces -- anywhere women's voices have been silenced by patriarchal privilege and an ingrained institutional habit of looking the other way.)
The biggest joke of all? That all of these deviants disappear from public view to heal themselves once they've been caught with their trousers athwart their ankles. Rehab? That’s a crisis manager’s go-to gambit, at best. In truth, they are trembling, jailhouse converts the squalid lot of them. They knew that they were acting criminally but didn't care -- and figured the system would tilt in their favor come crunch-time. Money buys everything -- but only up to a point -- right, Mr. O’Reilly? You couldn’t spin your way out of that $32 million payout, could ya now?
And being psychologically impaired or “sick” is hardly grounds for exoneration or even sympathy (the old “sex addict” dodge), even when it comes to a likably twisted comic like Louis C.K. His precipitous fall is somehow especially disappointing. The guy who made brilliant comedic hay out of unsparing self-deprecation and skin-crawling frankness somehow managed to act even more deplorably in real-life than onstage. It’s like finding out that the Dalai Lama cheats at cards or holds guests at gunpoint like Phil Spector.
And then there’s funnyman/senator Al Franken, who could neither resist fish-kissing the cheerleader-who-got away nor taking the mugging, cheap-laugh snapshot that earned him headlines and derision nationwide. Compared to the tawdry gallery of offenders listed above, he is comparatively chaste—though one wonders why he and George H.W. Bush (a.k.a., ex-President Cop-a-Feel) would risk their modest legacies for the sake of a covert handful of gimme.
The image-gone-meme of Franken mock-groping Leeann Tweeden during a USO tour was an eerie echo of U.S. Army PFC Lynndie England thumbs-upping and grinning over the corpse of an Iraqi soldier in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. She was perhaps the advance guard for this era of digital shamelessness, when people not only behave badly, but routinely document and too often even share their aberrations. As Susan Sontag wrote: “To photograph people turns them into objects.”
Our current Predator-in-Chief set a new national standard for male misbehavior when he privately bragged -- albeit into an open mic -- that you can "do anything" when you’re a "star," including forcing kisses (and worse) on women whom he has just met. That such a coarse bully was elected to the nation’s highest office is either a testimony to how inured we’ve become to the grotesque, or more proof that "our guy" -- no matter his faults and foibles -- is infinitely preferable to whomever the other side is running. Ditto for Judge Roy Moore, whose acolytes prefer an alleged child molester to an accursed Democrat.
But the endlessly quotable Mr. D. Lee Roth may have rightly prophesied the fate of those presently under the media microscope -- who wrongly reckoned that power and privilege would render them immune to the laws of karma and the State of New York alike: "The light you see at the end of the tunnel," Roth forewarns, "is the front of an oncoming train."
Until very, very recently, I might have looked forward to a thoughtful, hour-long exegesis of the above topic on The Charlie Rose Show. But the ubiquitous Mr. Rose is no longer a newsman, he’s now making news—and for all the wrong reasons. As our monosyllabic President often has often Tweeted: Sad.