Religion and Ethics
7 of 9 and the Paris Orgy
Science fiction is in the real-world news big time these days. The actress Jeri Ryan, former wife (1990-1998) of currently embattled Republican senate candidate Jack Ryan of Illinois, played the Borg babe 7 of 9 in Star Trek Voyager. For the uninitiated, the plot of Star Trek Voyager is that Captain Kathryn Janeway’s space vessel, Voyager, is accidentally thrown to the wrong side of the galaxy, and the crew spends seven years trying to get back to earth (Star Trek is based on the premise that somehow we will find a real-time way around Einstein’s finding that things with mass cannot go faster than the speed of light; this premise is unlikely). Among the species the Federation troops battle out there is the Borg, who are cyborgs or hybrids of human and machine. They have a collective mind and lack individuality, and are dedicated to incorporating forcibly all individuals they encounter from other species into their collective. This incorporation appears to be painful and unpleasant, and to involve high-powered buzz saws. When people come out of it they are robotic, lack individuality, and have chrome various places on their bodies.
The Star Trek Voyager creative team hit on the idea of casting Jeri Ryan as a former Borg who has somewhat reverted to being human (she had been born Annika Hansen; the Borg killed her parents). She is therefore the ultimate ice princess, though in hoary science fiction tradition (the genre after all appeals disproportionately to adolescent males), she was made to wear extemely revealing spandex. Viacom (owner of UPN and Paramount Pictures), Jack Ryan, everyone wanted her in leather or spandex or something that left little to the imagination.
Incredibly, Seven of Nine could help throw the Senate to the Democrats. Jeri Ryan was married to multi-millionnaire investment banker turned teacher Jack Ryan, but filed for divorce four years ago. In her filing, she alleged
On three trips, one to New Orleans, one to New York, and one to Paris, Respondent [Jack Ryan] insisted that I go to sex clubs with him. They were long weekends, supposed “romantic” getaways. … The clubs in New York and Paris were explicit sex clubs. Respondent had done research. Respondent took me to two clubs in New York during the day. One club I refused to go in. It had mattresses in cubicles. The other club he insisted I go to. … It was a bizarre club with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling. Respondent wanted me to have sex with him there, with another couple watching. I refused. Respondent asked me to perform a sexual activity upon him, and he specifically asked other people to watch. I was very upset. We left the club, and Respondent apologized, said that I was right and that he would never insist I go to a club again. He promised it was out of his system. Then during a trip to Paris, he took me to a sex club in Paris, without telling me where we were going. I told him I thought it was out of his system. I told him he had promised me we would never go. People were having sex everywhere. I cried, I was physically ill. Respondent became very upset with me, and said it was not a “turn on” for me to cry.
The unsealing of this filing, which Ryan fought, has created a huge political scandal in Illinois and has given a big boost to Ryan’s Democratic rival, Barack Obama. Most Republicans, who have increasingly tied their political fortunes to an alliance with the evangelical Christians, are defending Ryan, usually by implying that Jeri’s charges are untrue and are part of the junk that comes out in any divorce proceeding. Ryan admits, however, to having taken her to the Paris club. Some Republicans have said snippy things like that it was she who committed adultery, not he. The Phyllis Schlaflys should give up this implicit attack on Jeri’s credibility. Jeri is popular with the public, more of whom probably know her from a subsequent turn on David Kelly’s series about teaching in an urban high school, “Boston Public,” than through the niche Star Trek franchise. Ironically, Kelly may have modeled Jeri’s BP character, a lawyer who gives up practicing in order to teach, on Jack Ryan, who left Goldman Sachs (having gotten rich when the firm went public in the late 1990s), to teach school.
Obama has taken the high road, and is refusing to attack Jack Ryan on the sex clubs issue. Many Democrats, still boiling mad over what the hypocritical Republicans did to Bill Clinton, seem intent on making an object lesson of him.
Another irony is that Ryan pulled the stunt early in the campaign of having a cameraman follow Obama around everywhere, documenting all his moves. Obama could not even speak to his wife on his cellphone in privacy. Ryan tried to create what French philosopher Michel Foucault called a “panopticon,” as a way of intimidating his opponent. This move was despicable, an invasion of privacy, and a form of stalking, and should be illegal. (I think it would be in California, which has proper privacy laws). Now Jack Ryan is going to be the one followed around by cameras, into whose private life strangers are going to poke relentlessly. In that sense, the whole thing serves him right.
But I think Obama is making the right choice in letting the tabloids and the schlock television shows run with this story and keeping it out of his own campaign, which is about issues. For instance, Obama wants to give more tax breaks to companies that keep jobs in Illinois.
The lesson for the Republicans of all this is that the wages of Puritanism are hypocrisy. Henry Hyde, Newt Gingrich, and many other Republicans who tried to nail Clinton had also tried to nail women not their spouses and were no better than Clinton morally. In fact, no one is better morally than anyone else as a matter of ontology or being. Some deeds are better than others, and some people achieve better deeds more often than others. Some people are capable of higher ethical standards than others. But human beings are not in the nature of the case morally perfect beings. Since that is so, it is crazy for the American public to want its politicians to be saints (they aren’t), and the desire merely produces hypocrisy, which in turn corrodes ideals and the moral order.
I therefore agree with Jack Ryan that the visits to those clubs should not in themselves disqualify him from public office. Why should we care where he takes his wife? Note that business travelers who stay in nice hotels are known to rent enormous amounts of porn. The travelers, the hotels, and the cable companies involved are all heavily Republican. What is the difference between watching it on celluloid and watching it at a club in Paris? Isn’t this the same public that yawned at Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and complained it was only shocking to a 1950s sensibility? Are we going to get to the point where every guy who has ever been to a strip club is disqualified from public service? Are we doomed to have the French and other Europeans laugh at us hysterically yet again?
Journalists keep asking me if the US can prevent Iraq from becoming a “theocracy.” Why are the Americans so worried about Iraqis insisting on strict religious standards in their politics, if in fact that is the public platform of the dominant Republican Party in the United States? I think politicians should be permitted wide lattitude in their private lives, as long as they are good at their jobs– i.e. use their positions to empower the people, to create jobs and wealth, and improve their states or districts. Jack Kennedy did lots of things that make a married couple’s visits to some clubs rather tame in comparison. No one I know holds it against him.
The troubling issue here seems to be that Jeri alleges that Jack tricked her into going to the clubs, so this was a compulsion he had that she did not share. (Star Trek fans will not forgive him for this, especially for making her weep. Everyone remembers how brittle 7 of 9 was about sex and romance, what with being a former automaton and all. Starfleet Ensign Harry Kim tried to romance her, and found he had to go very slow.). If Jack Ryan would trick her that way, he might trick the public. So if what she alleged is true (and the Borg are incapable of subterfuge, it should be remembered), that would be the key issue. On the other hand, this all happened some years ago; he clearly had some sort of sex addiction at the time, which he may have kicked by now, and addictions compel people to do things they would not otherwise do. People change.
The one counter-indication I know of is the dirty trick Jack Ryan pulled of having Obama followed around by cameramen. That sounds coercive and manipulative, and falls within his earlier pattern of enjoying forcing others to exhibit themselves (the postmodernists might call it sado-alter-exhibitionism). In essence, he treated Obama just the way he treated Jeri. That is not a good sign.
Bottom line, the question for the good people of Illinois should not be whether Ryan is kinkier than Obama, but a) whether Ryan still uses people instrumentally to get his rocks off and b) whether Ryan could accomplish something for their state that Obama cannot. Even before the club scandal broke, the increasingly Democratic-leaning Illinois voters had seemed to discount Ryan, who after all doesn’t exactly have a thick portfolio to be senator. The club scandal probably finishes off his candidacy (perhaps for the wrong reasons), but he was unlikely to have won anyway.
If Bush gets reelected but does not have the Senate, the Democratic Senators will finally be in a position to establish some investigatory commissions into Bush administration actions of questionable probity. If that happens, the country will have Jeri Ryan, ex-cyborg, to thank for it.