Documentary Sunday

Weiner

Every week, Megan Condis and a group of friends get together for Documentary Sunday, a chance to dive into the weird, the wacky, the hilarious and the heartbreaking corners of our culture.  This column chronicles all of the must-watch documentary films available for streaming.

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This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #93. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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It is said that anyone who manages to be successful in politics must harbor some delusions of grandeur. Of course, in the era of Donald Trump, this maxim has taken on a whole new level of resonance. But back in 2013, the poster child for sheer political chutzpah was Anthony Weiner, former Congressman and New York Mayor hopeful who fought his way back from one sexting scandal only to fall straight into another. Whenever we read the news about our current president’s most recent Twitter wars with morning news hosts or worry about what will happen to our health care under his watch, we would do well to remember that, if it weren’t for Weiner, we might not be in this mess. After all, if it weren’t for the FBI’s investigation into yet another set of Weiner’s sexts, this time with a 15-year-old girl, we would not have been treated to one last round of speculation about what kinds of materials might be lurking on Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Though the FBI ultimately cleared Secretary Clinton, some analysts think that this October surprise courtesy of Weiner’s . . . well . . . weiner . . . may well have cost her the election.

I imagine that Weiner (2016) was supposed to be a feel good come-back story.  Instead, it ended up being a front-row seat to a political derailment unlike any other as Weiner’s “impulsivity problem,” aka his inability to keep his namesake in his pants, made itself apparent once again.  As history repeated itself, everyone around Weiner, from the silently fuming Huma Abedin (a prominent Clinton aid who has now filed for divorce from he of the tighty whitey-clad dick pics) to his despondent campaign staff to the perplexed documentary crew who, at times, seemed stunned that they were still being allowed to film at all, settled into a depressed funk. But not Weiner. He remained almost bafflingly confident, certain that he was the best man to govern in spite of the antics perpetrated by his online alter ego Carlos Danger.

It would be funny, like the cringy-funny of an episode of The Office, if it weren’t so sad, for Weiner himself, for his family, for the city of New York and for our country.

And, unfortunately, it is that very confidence that made him an effective politician in the first place.  The film showcases some brilliant moments in what would ultimately become a doomed campaign. Weiner is a formidable presence and at times he positively drips with charisma and energy. He fairly glows with enthusiasm when talking to those he intends to represent and he runs circles around his primary opponents when they are out among the people. But as the film goes on, it becomes apparent that Weiner has become addicted to the feeling he gets when he is drinking in the adoration of a crowd and that he will go to absurd lengths to feel that high once again, even if it means risking everything that he holds dear.

It would be funny, like the cringy-funny of an episode of The Office, if it weren’t so sad, for Weiner himself, for his family, for the city of New York and for our country. It would be tragic if not so pathetic. And the saddest part is, we are becoming immune to it. Perhaps we are even becoming to expect it. So watch Weiner, if only to remind yourself that behavior like this from our political representatives isn’t normal. None of this is normal.

Like Huma, the film encourages us to step back and look at politicians like these with “a mixture of contempt and sadness.” And then, once we know who they are, we must look away. They are literally getting off on our attention; positive or negative, it doesn’t matter to them. Therefore, our only recourse is to recognize that they aren’t worth our time, separate ourselves from their mess and move on. Because we, the voting public, are also addicted to scandal, though we typically prefer to gossip about it from afar rather than wallow in it directly. For if Weiner is guilty of sacrificing his wife and child for a cheap thrill, then we may well be guilty or sacrificing the integrity of our government for the same.

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Megan Condis is an Assistant Professor of English at Stephen F. Austin State University. Her book project, Gaming Masculinity: Trolls, Fake Geeks, and the Gendered Battle for Online Culture, is under contract with the University of Iowa Press.

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