One of the things the ancient philosophers pondered was the impulse to look at a dead body near the city walls. Why are humans drawn to look at such a thing? What part of the self does that curiosity represent? Is it the need to confront our own mortality? Is it a morbid celebration of being alive? Is it even worse? A dark and violent impulse?

The need to look at the David Letterman mess seems to be a modern day equivalent of this ancient conundrum. What fascinates? Is it being surprised by the humanness of someone whose reclusive image runs counter to reports of connecting with co-workers? Is it that this is serious business and we think of him as someone who makes us laugh? Is it the revenge of wronged wives everywhere to want his head because he’s wronged his longtime partner and new wife?

Oh, wait, it’s none of these. It’s our sanctified right to call someone a hypocrite because he has made sport of others who have colored outside of the moral lines while all the while making a mess in his own playpen.

Don Imus called him a “creep” on the air recently. Give me a break.

In talking about this with a young friend, a 27-year-old woman, I was given a lesson. “It’s insulting,” she said. “To hear those women who worked with him might not have the judgment or self-respect to resist his advances — to hear they might have had sex with him because they worried about their jobs.” She went on, “They were most likely choosing to have sex with him because they wanted to. It doesn’t matter if it was out of ambition, or lust or boredom or because they had heard that was what other women had done. The point is women want sex and power too, and they are just as misguided in how they go about getting it as men are.”

That point of view is one worth looking at. We fought for our rights in the workplace, including the right to make the same stupid mistakes as men and to have the same bald ambitions. Why do we think, when a powerful man says he’s had sex with a number of women who work for him, that their part of that equation involves being somehow blinded by the man’s power?

So far we know that David Letterman was unfaithful to the mother of his son with a number of women who worked with him. Beyond that we know that he is a celebrity in a country where we love nothing more than celebrities. Maybe he thought that gave him a Get Out of Jail Free card. Maybe the women who didn’t think about the sisterhood when they partnered with him thought that card applied to them too. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we keep our heads on straight now. The man has apologized at length and in public, and the alleged blackmailer has been given the message that threat doesn’t trump the law.

This just may be a triumph for the Constitution, while it is an allegory about those who live under its protection. So far it’s Citizen’s Rights 1, Blackmail 0. Let’s remember what game we’re watching and how the score is kept.

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  • Lucy September 12, 2018 at 2:56 pm

    I would be interested to know how the author’s opinion has changed on this subject almost ten years later in the mist of the #MeToo movement.

  • alice cathrall October 7, 2009 at 9:24 am

    Thank you Pat.
    By the way,I went to Hahneman hospital last Friday for orientation for anatomical drawing.We went through the basic proceedures and how to carefully wrap and explore and close the cadavers.
    On the chalk board was written “go eagles” and perhaps the more enduring “mortui vitae docens(sic my latin is rusty ),which as you know,translates as the “dead will teach the living ‘and they certainly did.
    I was reminded of the universality of all our forms and how important it was to respect each creature.You could draw a landscape copying the spinal vertebre or voluptuos intestines or a ghostly desert following the folds of the skin and larger muscle groups.I was reminded that as the moon and stars waxe and wane in their orbits that those stellar forms and rhythms are embedded in our in our human codes as well.
    It was quite an evening.
    The human figure is beautiful.

  • Patricia Allen October 7, 2009 at 7:38 am

    As a gynecologist I can certainly report from the front lines that women have extra marital affairs and enjoy affairs with married men even if they are single. The sexual appetites of women are just as varied as are those of men. So there was only one person who was harmed here and we need to leave that in the bedroom of the Letterman household.

    Letterman is just another guy with power and fame and happens to be funny and probably a lot of fun as well. Work environments often produce faux closeness that can easily lead to both emotional and physical intimacy.

    It must be really hard to be in spotlight all the time and to be a target of stalking and kidnappying threats and blackmail.

    It took Indiana courage to refuse to be blackmailed and now Letterman needs to stop talking to us about this and buy that lovely wife a great piece of jewelry from Verdura. That would be a lovely piece of jewelry for a week for the next 52 weeks, Dave.