People are talking about Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s catastrophic implosion everywhere today – in the elevators, on the street, huddled around water coolers (it’s true, I witnessed one such water-vessel caucus). The media is frenzied. The blogosphere is crapping its pants. These are the kind of lurid, juicy scandals that we love so much because it offers an opportunity to chatter publicly about the taboo. A secretary in my office told me confidently, “That’s nothing special. There’s dozens of brothels uptown in all those fancy townhouses.” I can only imagine.
And that’s the point, isn’t it? I see two threads in the Spitzer narrative. First, the voyeuristic details that were front-and-center when the story broke; details like Spitzer’s code name, Client 9, and the eerily mundane phone conversation between the call girl and her handler (“I mean it’s kind of like…whatever…I’m here for a purpose…”) bring this story out of the stratosphere of power and into normal life. These are exactly the kind of minute particulars a fiction writer sweats blood to dream up.
Perhaps more compelling, however, is the familiar story of power that leads to hubris that leads to a fall. Spitzer was powerful, but also egotistical. He embraced the nickname Eliot Ness, no doubt for the theatrical value, but I got the sense from various profiles that he actually believed it. The unwashed masses, myself included, derive a small, hard packet of moral self-satisfaction from shaking our heads and thinking, Jeese, I’d never do that, all the white wondering I wonder what it’s like to have that kind of life.
In any case, Slate has some excellent advice for those of you licking your greedy, exploitive lips at the prospect of pimping $3,000-an-hour prostitutes.