A real-life political tragedy unfolds before the camera in the funny-sad documentary ‘Weiner’
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
What is it about the heroes of progressive Democrats that they can’t keep their junk in their boxer-briefs? Bill Clinton’s horndoggery is legendary; Gary Hart’s literally signaled a sea-change in how the political press covers politicians’ private lives.
And then there was Anthony Weiner.
Clinton and Hart were “victims” of investigative journalists and chatty conquests, surprised that their secrets were revealed. Weiner’s downfall resulted from him own thumb, when he tweeted his erect… ummm… wiener to a woman he was flirting with online. There’s no evidence the then- congressman from New York ever physically cheated on his wife Huma Abedin (remarkably, one of Hillary Clinton’s closest advisors) but he botched the handling of the scandal — claiming he was hacked, then quibbling about what really happened, and how much, and with whom. It cost him his congressional seat. But he thought he could ride it out, and two years later looked to be the frontrunner in the race for mayor of New York City. He even allowed two documentarians to make a film of his comeback campaign.
And then he fucked up again.
Weiner — the tightly-focused, virtually all-access chronicle of Weiner’s fall-rise-fall in American politics — feels slightly obscene due to its insiders’ look at a man coming apart. We see Anthony Weiner as the firebrand representative, excoriating Republicans in vituperative screeds on the floor of the House, fearlessly taking on opponents in pundit-filled talk shows, gladhanding his constituents during cheer-filled gay Pride marches. He is a Noo Yawkuh, through and through, the kind who brings a gun to a knife fight, who isn’t afraid of a little dirt. You wanna root for the guy. And you wanna throttle him.
Weiner could be screened for those practicing crisis management, although I’m not sure if it’s best seen as a case study or an abject lesson. It’s never fully clear to viewers when Weiner lapsed and sent more incriminating tweets (apparently after the congressional scandal, but how long before the mayoral campaign?).
That’s when his supporters turned on him. A second chance is one thing… but a third? (I think most of us lost our respect for Weiner when we learned his online screenname was “Carlos Danger.”) Yet what, exactly, had changed in the intervening years? The gay community — long ardent fans — would probably be the most forgiving; after all, we are probably, well… more “familiar” with the concept of sending dick pix to strangers and not thinking much of it. (Don’t judge.) But how has such provincialism survived from the Mayflower, when universal marriage is now the norm.
There’s a lot of armchair psychologizing (“Do you have a sex addiction?” an aide queries, although considering he never even meets his online paramours, it makes you Clintonize “It depends on what the definition of ‘sex’ is”) and we get to read it all on the faces of Anthony and Huma, who takes a backseat for most of the campaign as well as the movie, but emerges, in a strange way, as its protagonist. But a large part of you wants to rewrite history: Yes, Anthony Weiner ended up being a flawed narcissistic jackass … are we shocked? He’s a politician … the same politician, by the way, who believes in raising the minimum wage, in securing abortion rights, in expanding Medicare and advocating on behalf of LGBT issues. Weiner suggests that despite his shortcomings, his public shaming — even if earned — shouldn’t be a bar to good works. Twenty-five years after Clarence Thomas coined the phrase, we may finally have proof of what a high-tech lynching looks like. And it’s not pretty.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 10, 2016.