The farcical furor over Anthony Weiner’s candidacy for the mayor of New York has opened up another Pandora’s box containing the tortured narrative of American sexuality, as well as the problematic world of machismo and Latino masculinity, my tenuous relation to them, and the way sexism and racism keep vying to remain at the top of our world of crap.
Weiner is a puzzling figure, clearly a narcissist of the highest order, yet insisting on a kind of self-deprecating seriousness that he seems to think makes him the best candidate. He has strong parallels to Woody Allen–sharing a predilection for corrupting much-younger women through the use of the visual image–but his swarthy appearance suggests he feels closer to the Carlos Danger identity than most observers allow. If you check this rather facile attempt at satire by Jimmy Fallon, you’ll notice he used dark makeup for his portrayal as Weiner, something that didn’t change when he reappeared as Carlos Danger.
Fallon’s half-baked Spanish accent is not, I think, what Weiner intended to project when he began his communication with his virtual concubines across the endless internets. The Latin Lover may have originated as a crudely formed stereotype in the silent movie era of Hollywood and the Good Neighbor policy era of Ricardo Montalbán, but the more important half of Weiner’s nom de sexe is of course, Danger, as in sexual transgression, something pathologically resurgent in the Puritanical world of American politics. Weiner seems much more interested in the way Latino men are seen as “dangerous”–sexually free and uninhibited and perhaps reckless political vanguardists–not in the wearing of mustaches, the rolling of “rs”, or their penchant for tequila, tamales, and rice and beans.
Erick Salgado, Pentecostal minister and the only Latino running as a Democrat, was insulted, and loudly complained, in keeping with his central campaign plank: stand-up comedy. Being freed from the rigid repression characteristic of America’s sexual dysfunction is a positive aspect of such a stereotype–I don’t take offense to being perceived as such. However we all know that the idea of benign machismo is a sinister fantasy, one that for centuries has covered up the systematic abuse of Latinas for centuries. And not only is the virgin/whore Hollywood stereotype for Latinas a much worse cross to bear, it is only a counterpoint to the endless stories I still hear from friends about the horrendous things male bosses, politicians, police, priests, self-styled leftist revolutionaries, and 21st century conquistador wannabes have visited upon them with impunity.
President Obama recently brought up the empathy he felt for African-Americans who were followed around in stores, who weren’t able to hail a taxi, who were pulled over in a new expensive car. But I wonder how many Latin@s out there have been confronted at their offices for being “flirty,” “provocative,” “sexy,” when they were just trying to get a drink at the water cooler. Just as I have been stopped and frisked, I’ve also been sexually profiled. There are times I’ve felt ambivalent about such insinuations, since being granted the perception of sexual power can vary from insulting to, well, somewhat of a relief for not being lumped in with the sexless norm of what passes for American eros. A mythical Carlos persona might have the power to affect a self-serving aura of difference, a mysterious rebellious other unbound by the relentless flat-lining of Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush.
But I think I can tell you with some certainty that “Carlos” is a narcissist phony, and the promise of that dark difference was always dead on arrival. Because Carlos is just a twisted fantasy made from the mind of people like Weiner, people who can’t face themselves and can’t seem to shake the sexual dysfunction they project onto others. Carlos is not an ordinary Latino, he is a double-sided Frankenstein carrying the stigma and shame of colonialism projected onto a colonized host body. It’s no wonder his first impulse is self-destruction.
I remember Weiner standing at the mayoral forums in the Bronx and Hunter College as the rest of the candidates sat, trying to ignore him as he waved his arms like a problem child, ranting about what was actually a good idea, single-payer health insurance for New York, but unable to escape the oppressive burden of his self-obsession. Stories began to appear about his rapidly declining weight, perhaps the sign of an eating disorder. Despite his marriage to Hillary-attached Huma Abedin, he physically seemed to be becoming the inverse of America’s “first black president.” But his Monica Lewinsky, the porn-star in the making known as Sydney Leathers, was deconstructed into photos of feet in high-heeled shoes, a pink thong in the shower, the promise of a virtual climax. Welcome to American Danger.
Now we are left with a mayoral race featuring two irrelevant Latinos, Salgado and Carrión, and Christine Quinn, who infamously paved the way for Bloomberg’s neoliberal third term, ironically taking the moral high ground. The rest of the candidates, for the most part well-intentioned, grapple uncertainly with the reality of rapidly accelerating income inequality: real estate interests crushing neighborhoods, acute housing crises, crumbling public education and transportation infrastructure. There is talk of reforming stop and frisk, but the main remedies for what ails us are still pushing tourism and creating high-tech and finance industry jobs for a small elite and hoping the generation of illusory wealth trickles down to the rest of us.
Anthony Weiner insists he wants to focus on the issues, but his unleashing of Carlos Danger only assures yet another convenient distraction from business as usual and the slow death of the American dream.