Your Suspect Life
June 1, 2021
Your Suspect Life
I have something of a game for you this month, or perhaps it's more of a test, a bit of a trip, possibly scary, down memory lane. Let's begin at the beginning, however.
We know "the drill" by now. It begins as a news story with some notable (usually male) – actor, sports figure, politician, religionist, et al – suddenly exposed has having engaged in some nefarious deed/action/event, sometimes yesterday, often many years ago.
First we have the denials and then the sincere apologies, occasionally crocodile tears, then the rather lame confession, I should have realized that what I was doing was inappropriate. What puzzles me the most here are not those allegations of actual physical assault. Those don't need to be punished by public opinion. We have ample judicial tools for adjudicating those kinds of accusations.
What I find most perplexing are those accusations made against some public figure that are, well, benign? He put his hand on my shoulder. He said I was beautiful. He told raunchy jokes. He held my hand. I watched the recent interview with one of Governor Andrew Cuomo's accusers and also a staffer. While the woman certainly seemed sincere, the incident she recounted could only be interpreted as a lonely man (her quote of his words) trying to see if she might go out with him. An inappropriate moment between a boss and an underling? Certainly. A career-ending gaffe? Really? All she had to do was say no and leave the room. There was nothing in her recounting of the incident suggesting that he would derail her career if she didn't go out with him.
(While it's not my job to exonerate Governor Cuomo for his alleged misdeeds, I do find it astonishing that the Former Occupant of the White House had five times as many similar accusations leveled against him and the country basically just said, "Meh.")
As we all know, it's those kinds of he said/she said accusations that, simply by being leveled, assume the guilt of the accused and that make headlines in the papers. Too, again and again, for the average person, so many of these incidents just don't rise to the level of awful that the accusers are trying to present. By the way, I'm not trying to minimize our growing awareness of truly horrific things that have happened in various of the reports we get. I just think there's a big difference between being offended and being hurt, and if you can't take being offended in this hugely offensive world, you need to pick up your blankie and go hide somewhere.
This, and other incidents, got me thinking, however. Supposing, for whatever reason, that my own life was suddenly subject to intense scrutiny by the press or various investigative bodies or simply snoopy individuals. What might they find? How might I suddenly find myself publicly shamed for the _____ that I did _____ years ago?
In my own case such a situation is, if pretty unlikely, not totally hypothetical.
Because of my writing I've had my own brief brushes with fame (mature reflection makes me thankful that they were, indeed, modest), with well-intentioned people wanting to know all sorts of things about me: When do you write? Where do you get your ideas? Where were you born? Do you use a computer? Are you married? Since a lot of those questions come from people who want to be writers, the questions are often code for, What's your secret?
That kind of questioning, though, even from a friendly crew, still makes you feel very vulnerable, very exposed, as though you're standing in front of a group discussing your warts or your pimples. I can only imagine what it's like fielding questions from a hostile audience, especially one that has done its research and can hit you with some really personal questions.
Anyway, I did perform my own little test, pretended that someone had gotten into my secret trove of misdeeds and inappropriate behaviors. That trove was not without content but, in all honesty, it seemed a bit slim. Yes, there was that night in jail and, yes, many years later there was that speeding ticket. As is true of much human behavior, one hefty flaw could be viewed as both a vice and a virtue. But fodder for the tabloids? Alas, if I had anything to fear it would have more to do with embarrassment than prosecution. Couldn't even find anything that rose to the level of inappropriate malfeasance.
Maybe that's all to the good. I have the feeling that if I truly did find something evil in my past it would probably be in a story I'd written.
So you guessed it, of course – the game. Give it a shot. Go down there into all those dark corners where the misdeeds and secrets are kept and see if you've got a summer soldier there who would falter, perhaps fall, under intense scrutiny. Your suspect life is, no doubt, filled with innocence. Or is it?
G.K. Wuori ©2021
Photoillustration by the author