How much time did you spend following the Robert Pattinson/Kristen Stewart sex scandal? Pattinson and Stewart are the vampire lovers from the Twilight series, and Forbes magazine ranks Stewart as one of Hollywood’s highest paid actresses. At age 22, she earned about $34M last year.
Pattinson and Stewart were living together in real life until Stewart cheated on him with Rupert Sanders, her director in Snow White and the Huntsman. A very public breakup followed by a very public reconciliation put the two vampires—Bella and Edward in the Twilight movies—back together again.
Did you spend as much time following Pattinson/Stewart as you did the General Petraeus scandal? Most likely not. The Petraeus scandal dominated the media for over a week with millions of people watching the story unfold.
So what made the coverage of Petraeus/Broadwell hugely different from Pattinson/Stewart?
We can’t blame this difference on what the media chose to follow since the media covers what people are interested in. And we can’t dismiss our lack of interest in Pattinson/Stewart because of their youth. We probably didn’t spend much time following last fall’s Hulk Hogan sex tape scandal either.
Bottom line, a political sex scandal is a unique kind of event, and one of the most interesting things is that it’s not really about sex. If we wanted to follow sex scandals alone, we could look to Hollywood and the many websites devoted almost solely to scandal-mongering among the stars. There’s something strangely seductive about a political sex scandal that draws the public’s attention in a different way.
I think part of the reason why we’re attracted to political sex scandals lies with another kind of scandal that people find interesting, and that’s the family values minister caught in his own extramarital affair. What’s similar between the minister and the politician is hypocrisy. Like ministers, politicians present themselves as role models for the rest of us, which is something that Hollywood people don’t do. So when we find out our politicians are phoneys when it comes to the images they present to the public, that brings two reactions.
First, we’re angry that we’ve been lied to by someone we trusted. The campaign literature with a picture of the politician’s family and identifying the church they attend doesn’t depict what’s really going on in that family. “Family” is perhaps not the politician’s most important value after all.
But maybe more significantly, a political sex scandal also makes us feel a little bit better about ourselves. If people at the top—Clinton, Spitzer, Petraeus—can so publicly disgrace themselves, then maybe our own shortcomings aren’t so important after all.
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