Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production

Vol.84.6: Oh My City, Oh My Mayor, OMG!

V084-06_3dorksI really shouldn’t be weighing in on this for a couple of reasons (there probably are more than a couple), but things have been kind of quiet around here and that’s when I usually find ways to get myself into a little trouble. First of all, it’s too early to come to conclusions about the San Diego Mayor (sort of) sex scandal. Second, I could get clobbered for some of what I am about to write. But here goes anyway.

L’Affaire Filner, the San Diego Mayor’s admitted indiscretions with women has yet to form itself up into anything as raucous and divisive as L’Affaire Dreyfus did in France, although there is plenty of j’accuse going around town these days and, given that the final tally on the number of women who have been subjected to Hizzonner’s dizzonnerable overtures may not be complete, this one may not be over until (I can’t resist it) “the fat lady sings.”

KPBS, eager to become a full-fledged, legitimate, news organization in a town that desperately needs one, and which was well on its way to being that, clearly stumbled over the tempting prospect to go all bold headlines, and unleashed a phalanx of women reporters, one of which was close to setting her hair on fire as though she had uncovered that house in Ohio where three young women were kept and raped for a decade. Fortunately (for a couple of reasons), there weren’t any locations for them to do CNN-like standups in front of yellow crime tape. With several of the offended women coming forward to KPBS reporters, or on their air, there seemed almost a gleeful hand rubbing at the prospect of having something nice and salacious as New York’s L’Affaires Wiener and Spitzer.

Unfortunately (I gotta stop using that word), KPBS took the bait for the psychobabble on this one, bait that might’ve been set by the mayor himself in his public act of contrition when he said he would be seeking professional counseling and rehabilitation for whatever it is that makes him whatever he is. So the station jumped at the therapeutic model that this guy is “sick,” and phoned up some local counselor so that they could give some nice psychological terminology to it all. (Fortunately, a more neurologically–trained source stayed well behind the instant diagnosis temptation.)

In any case my local PBS affiliate has not acquitted itself very well thus far, but there’s plenty of time for them to go into a two-week journalistic rehab and get back in touch with the principles of objective reportage. It’s hard stay pure in the media business these days; but when your motto is “where news matters” you don’t want it to imply that it matters more to ratings than it does to objectivity. They are the best chance this town has for respectable journalism. I know it sounds like I’m picking on KPBS, but that is because PBS is where I get a good part of my news in a single newspaper town where the motto of the ultra-right wing/Christian Union Tribune should be “All the news that’s not even fit to wrap fish guts in.”*

So, without further ado let’s return to Hizzonner. First, a couple of caveats, not all the facts are in on this, although maybe the most important details already are. Second, I will admit that I was pleased at the election of Mr. Filner as the city’s mayor, since I am in accord with most of his political values, and I believe that he, more than any mayor of the recent past, understands and/or fits the function of a “strong mayor form of urban government.” I think he could, although he might never get the chance, lead the city in a positive direction. It can also be noted that He is regarded by many as arrogant, overbearing, and insensitive, but then again he is a politician and political power can both produce and require such characteristics.

Then again, such characteristics might also go along with a personality that is fundamentally insecure, and can even produce the need for attention and affection that may well lurk beneath the indiscretions of interest here—I am intentionately not using at this point the terms “harassment,” “assaults” and “predatory behavior” that have been employed elsewhere to describe them—that have brought us here. Rather, back in the days before political correctness Bob Filner probably would have been described by the people I hung out with as a social “dork,” that is, an awkward, rather unappealing, guy who probably couldn’t get a date to the prom with his own sister. There are a number of ways in which Hizzonner seems to fit this admittedly unscientific profile.

First, Bob Filner, whose photo on his own website gives him the appearance of a grimacing mad clown, will never be confused with George Clooney. Indeed, if he did look like Clooney, or even JFK, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion, since the default assumption would probably be that women were coming on to him rather than the other way around. Filner, as we would say, really has to work at it, and he apparently has neither the social skills nor the sense of discretion to do it well or inoffensively. And, in that he occupies a position of authority and power, such overtures he does make carry a level of coerciveness and perhaps entitlement that make them all the worse.

But how worse? Filner has been accused of grabbing women (and some men) “in headlocks” (although the duration and pressure has not been specified), making inappropriate and insensitive statements to women (in one case dorkishly joking to a worker who reputedly had “worked her ass off” that her ass was “still there”), asking women whether they were in relationships, telling another that her eyes bewitched him, cornering them, slobbering a kiss on another’s cheek, ambiguously touching a woman “beneath her bra,” and in one case at least allegedly kissing a woman and thrusting his “tongue down her throat.” Hizzonner seems attracted to, though not very attractive to, more mature, professional women, not kids or young girls. Thus far, and as far as we know, they all seem to have been able to escape anything more than insult and fright, although they have every right to have been offended and pissed off.

Unlike former Congressman Weiner, Filner, as far as we know, has not sent photos of his junk over the Internet and lied about it, or paid for prostitutes with public funds as Mr. Spitzer did—neither of which, by the way, I find as offensive as starting wars, killing innocents with drones, denying women the right to abortion, cutting food stamps, letting the likes of George Zimmerman back out on the streets armed, desecrating the environment . . . need I go on. Spitzer, Weiner, and Filner might be three dorky politicians from a Star Wars bar looking for love in all long places and in all the wrong ways and, but they haven’t raped, murdered, kidnapped, even molested anybody, so it seems we need to get a little perspective on what behaviors and personality quirks are a serious threat to women in this country and not get our thongs in a knot over everything that the media likes hyping for scandal value.

This may not be all there is this issue, or the end of it, but so far it appears that Mr. Filner might be more a circumstantial opportunist than an outright predator, a clumsy supplicant for affection and/or sex rather than one who demands or forces it (although he clearly needs to find another place for his hands). Although the term has been used, this does not seem to make Mr. Filner anymore of a “pervert” than thousands and thousands of awkward, needy dorks in frat houses and Hooters bars, and surfing lonelyhearts sites on the Internet. Is he a sexual monster from whom women staff members and women in general need to be protected, not left alone in a room with him? Do there need to be “Filner Alerts” appearing in our iPhones like “Amber Alerts”? Has mandatory castration been mentioned? Although there is considerable latitude of subjectivity to the term, I am not sure that some of his behavior rises to “sexual harassment.” In fact, some of the hyperbole that has been equivalent to lighting torches, grabbing our pitchforks and marching up to City Hall, seems risible.

One psychological counselor and several coffeehouse versions have described Filner’s behavior as “addictive” and therefore it is “unlikely” that he could kick that “horny hizzonner” addiction with a couple weeks in therapy. Bullshit. I’m not saying that he will, but as someone who “kicked” the extremely addictive behavior of cigarette smoking in one day, I know it can be done. Will he? I don’t know, neither do you, and neither probably does Filner. Even if he does, some say the damage is done and he should no longer be mayor, that he’s an embarrassment to our city.** Or, that his effectiveness as mayor will be severely abridged by the taint of his past behavior.

Some will read this as a Marc Antony brief for Bob Filner. It is not; what might be explicable is not tantamount to excusable. I cannot not look at the issue from the perspective of a woman (and I might hear about that) and I have never been put in a Filner headlock***; but looking at it as a man, and on the information to date, I have seen this sort of guy before. I might change that perspective as more facts come to light. Right now my leading hypothesis is: Hizzonner is a dork. But as they say in politics, at least he’s our dork.****
© 2013, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 8.10.2013)
*In the interests of full disclosure I should indicate that I was for a few years a community producer for KPBS-FM and produce my own show, Metropolitan Journal, as well as commentaries and interviews, and I also wrote articles for the San Diego Union, even winning for them a statewide journalism award.
**Apparently the administration that nearly bankrupted the city was not.
***Just as well, or I would probably be serving time for manslaughter.
****”Dork is also a slang synonym for penis. Yah, that sort of works for these guys, too.