IF you're like me, you probably regret that the pace of modern life keeps you from staying absolutely current on our nation's sordid, tabloid-trash fascination with what other people do with their pee-pees and wee-wees, and so possibly even missed altogether the fact that some Columbia professor managed to get arrested for performing unspecified (and, reportedly, consensual) sexual acts with his adult daughter, acts we can only imagine, over and over and over again while the very fabric of the Republic is rent, tearing, perhaps, like a cheap chemise, with an audible gasp and the sudden exposure of an inviting fecund fullness, the slightly chill air arousing our ardor in these climactic times, energizing our efforts, plunging us repeatedly into the precious honeypot of Liberty, faster, now, and yet faster still, our singular purpose distilled now to a hot white point of light like a thousand suns before it bursts forth, and we roll over and go to sleep.
Thankfully, this is another problem the internets can, and are eager to, solve, as apparently now the slightest juvenile attraction for any issue which can suggest S-E-X, but from a clean, respectable, metaphysical distance, is like Batman's Kleig Light for Slate's Bill Saletan, the man who recently solved the abortion controversy. This thing was the Most Emailed and Second Most Read story on all of Slate, which should have been enough to warn me off if "By William Saletan" wasn't. I clicked anyway, and damned if Woody Allen wasn't there to help get the Potentially Emailing Slate Reader in the mood.
Now, I have no idea what you think of Allen. I'm old enough to remember him as a sort of Steven Wright punctuation mark to a generation of standups (Bob Newhart, Shelly Berman, Mort Sahl) who were surfing the considerable wake of Lenny Bruce, except that, as a ten-year-old Midwestern teevee aficionado, I didn't know Bruce from Rusty Warren or Redd Foxx; he'd written a dirty book, was all I knew. Like Wright's, Woody's standup seemed to make the ordinary hallucinatory, excepting the hallucinations were from Miltown, not, well, hallucinogens.
I was never that big a fan of his movies. I sat through Bananas twice in a row, but I think that had something to do 1) the mescaline, and 2) the virginal and raven-tressed seventeen-year-old who was rather joyously allowing me to paw her in the dark, although that may've had something to do with 3) the mescaline. All I know is I never got to do it again. I liked Annie Hall a lot, and later Zelig and Broadway Danny Rose. Like much of America I could have done without his Bergman impressions just fine, although, unlike most of that much of America, I enjoy Bergman's Bergman impressions.
So The Great Woody Allen Scandal removed no skin from my nose, but it is the first instance I remember where puncturing my own eardrums with a couple of pencils suggested itself as a reasonable response. Had I known this was to be the template for all news coverage in the succeeding years I might have considered it more fully.
What.The.Fuck. I mean, whatever you think, or thought, of Allen's morals, being convicted in the Press of incestuous child molestation when it is indisputably the case that 1) they were not related, even in the broadest, legal-not-genetic sense; 2) she was a "child" of twenty; and 3) the molestation was consensual and, apparently, mutually satisfactory--they're still together twenty years later, which unquestionably beats the hell out of the romantic track record of at least 60% of Allen's teevee denouncers--was the real abomination. As a scandal, fine, if that's your bowl of soup. As an opportunity to simply make the law, and common understanding, over in your own image for the sake of a few ratings points it had few peers since the heyday of Hearst.
Cue Mr. Saletan:
Incest is for hicks. That's the stereotype among educated liberals: Homosexuality is urbane, polygamy is for Mormons, and incest is for hayseeds. So when David Epstein, a Columbia University political scientist, was charged last week with third-degree incest for allegedly shagging his adult daughter, the blogosphere erupted. Conservatives called it another sign of moral chaos. Liberals said it was gross but shouldn't be prosecuted. One side defends the privacy of all consensual sex; the other side sees an inexorable descent from homosexuality to incest.
Now, first, we might consider whether the fact that your hard news link takes us to a New York Daily News story doesn't tell us all we need to know, even before we note the ham-fisted incitement to outrage that follows. We might then notice that the link to the official Liberal response takes us to the straight news story in Columbia's student daily; perhaps we are to scan its comments section until we find the Liberal position we know must be there. (Maybe the link is screwy; the same page is linked twice, but Christ, you're a professional journalist on a commercial website, and the link's two days old now.) Maybe this would be an excuse if the rest of the 1300 words contained something like, uh, a direct quote from anyone who could be described as a Liberal.
And this is the first paragraph, where "educated liberals" not only believe incest is the exclusive province of toothless provincials, they apparently originated the idea, little realizing that one day they'd be hoist on that particular petard, and forced to reply, hypocritically and by rote, that If It Feels Good Do It still applies to everyone else.
Is there such a thing as an editor at Slate? Is there any reason to care?
At this point, liberals tend to throw up their hands. If both parties are consenting adults and the genetic rationale is bogus, why should the law get involved? Incest may seem icky, but that's what people said about homosexuality, too. It's all private conduct. To which conservatives reply: We told you so. We warned you that if laws against homosexuality were struck down, laws against polygamy and incest would follow. And now you're proving us right.
Okay, look: so Mr. Saletan, for whatever reason, has something I'm sure someone imagines as a "career" here to protect, but is there some rule which says he can't do so without being intellectually dishonest? What distinction is there, really, between calling all "conservatives" social Troglodytes, and calling all hicks inbred? Isn't the new Republican party beyond the Culture Wars, and strictly a grassroots libertarian economic enterprise these days? Did the "liberal" party put NAMBLA on a stamp while I wasn't looking? Who's having this argument, and where?
Or is it possibly made up on the spot for the sake of Saletan's ability to Declare Himself A Tolerant Man who wouldn't dream of actually criminalizing behavior, but has just stopped by to point out that his sharp, objective analysis just happens to show that anti-sex religious opprobrium neatly coincides with the Truth about the matter. Just sayin'. Not that we should take note of any religious objections when we justify throwing people in jail anyway. Because that would be wrong. And it would make Mr. Saletan seem illiberal. Which he isn't. It's just objective analysis.
Which just happens to be identical to his abortion solution.