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Voyeurism Isn't Good for the Soul (or Politics)
The scandal of the week involving Susanna Gibson is an indictment of our politics. Shame on us all for participating in it.
HAMLET Get thee ⟨to⟩ a nunnery. Why wouldst thou be
a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest,
but yet I could accuse me of such things that it
were better my mother had not borne me: I am
very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offenses
at my beck than I have thoughts to put them
in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act
them in. What should such fellows as I do crawling
between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves
⟨all;⟩ believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery.
— William Shakespeare, “Hamlet” Act 3, Scene 1 (1601)
Ophelia has given herself to Hamlet. Yet having placed her trust totally in men — her father, her brother, her lover — she is told by her beloved to remove herself to a nunnery. Or in the context of the Elizabethan age? A brothel — thus exchanging the ideas of nobility and love for pure utility and momentary pleasure.
Realizing the world for what it is — or at least, the world of Hamlet, Laertes, and Polonius — drives Ophelia insane. Having relied upon a branch made of willow, she drowns in a shallow pool, able yet unwilling to save herself and face such a world.
The world of men.
What started out as a hit piece in the Richmond Times-Dispatch — a pure opposition file drop from Democrats dropped in the lap of a cub reporter against Republican David Owen — received its comeuppance at the Washington Post detailing the avocations of Democrat Susanna Gibson.
Of course, Virginia Democrats are doubling down for
tips donations calling the publicly available videos revenge porn and misogyny in an effort to rescue the narrative (HINT: the qualities of public and available remove the possibility of revenge) while national tabloids are reveling as Democrats attempt to salvage the open seat.
Senator Tim Kaine is already distancing himself from the fracas, though that means ultimately little. Kaine probably has no idea who Gibson is. Besides, if Virginia Democrats can salvage an open racist, they can surely salvage the campaign of one lowly candidate for House of Delegates for her peccadilloes.
And did we mention that the UK Daily Mail had an exclusive on the peccadilloes of South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and former Trump aide Corey Lewandowski — among other trysts?
Open Question: Why Do Republicans Want to Win in 2023?
Of course, these distractions are precisely that — distractions.
That such things seem to have the power to distract us probably has more to say about us as individuals than we care to recognize.
If utilitarianism is the enemy of tradition — and I believe this to be the case — then there is a certain willingness in society to use other people for some other end rather than treating people as an end unto themselves. Rather, they use themselves to some other purpose: money, advantage, legislation, power.
So allow me to ask this question: What are the top 3 policy initiatives we will pass if Republicans take hold of the General Assembly?
. . .
. . .
. . .
We don’t know. None of us know.
Now put the shoe on the other foot. What will Democrats do if they get control of both the House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate in 2023? What will they push Governor Youngkin to do in the name of compromise?
Abortion up to the point of birth.
Critical Race Theory and transgenderism.
Defunding the police, firearm confiscations, and other 2A restrictions.
Virginia Democrats aren’t running from their issues. Hiding them? Most certainly. Yet despite how unpopular these questions are, Democrats understand two things which Republicans never have — that politics can indeed push culture, and that polls are meaningless after an election.
The most we have to run on at present is that Republicans aren’t Democrats. Which has the convenience of being true, but entirely lacking in testicular fortitude.
To which I would submit the following. That if our politics is going to be reduced from nobility to utility, if we are trading that Periclean love of the city for momentary rhetorical gain — are we in our politics simply working for tips? Not even metaphorically — but actually?
Perhaps Susanna Gibson is not the p-word of ten letters the world is imposing upon her. Prophetess might be a better choice, although this is one hell of a way to do it and most certainly not her intention. Perhaps her husband — who is curiously omitted from these critiques, mostly because his name is not on the ballot — deserves a four-letter word starting and ending with p of his own.
Yet perhaps it should noted that the Gibsons effectively sold out. After all, isn’t this what the world rewards? Only Fans and TikTok and influencers and smut and pornography and the degeneracy of utility over the things which ought to matter? Ask the harder question — is this the world we have created and want for our daughters? Our sisters? Our lovers and beloved? How many Ophelias? Do we blame the victims or the culture? Is base utility the only measure of the good?
Moreover, if this is the way we behave in our politics, then what precisely should we expect from our laws much less society?
The Nunnery of Politics (and Whether We Deserve Better)
We probably shouldn’t be surprised that world which rewards using people should either both reward Gibson or enjoy scolding her. After all, it doesn’t have to be sexual to be either voyeurism or pornographic, to be sure.
I am also beyond certain that Democrats will enjoy normalizing her behavior while cashing in, while Republicans will enjoy castigating her behavior — also while cashing in. No one will actually give a damn about Susanna Gibson (or her husband) as a person, mind you. Only what she can do for others — and that’s an indictment indeed.
All will ask for donations. Or in this week’s parlance — tips.
One wonders whether that says more about our politics today than it ever could of the Gibsons? After all — we invite what we cultivate.
Here is what we were distracted from: Does one soul breathe easier on this planet because we are having this discussion? Is a child fed or educated? Does a mother feel safer? Are the elderly cared for? Name one Beatitude we are advancing, and I could concede the wider point.
Not sure that we can.
Which frankly means something rather simple. So long as we indulge in the politics of utility over nobility, then we truly do invite the qualities we cultivate.
Therein lies a warning for the rest of us. The things we value in this world will drown unless we do something more than wallow in indignation, but rather start standing up for a world where more than tips make it go ‘round. We ought to think more of ourselves and each other than this.
Certainly, I am not praising or dimming the Gibsons’ avocational pursuits as non-consequential, but one suspects this wasn’t Virginia’s best week.
After all, politics ain’t beanbag — I get it — but does it have to be tabloid?
Shaun Kenney is the editor of The Republican Standard, former chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Fluvanna County, and a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.