We have seen no shortage of apologies for sexual misconduct of every sort from public figures recently; parsing the semiotics of these public statements has become a subfield of opinion journalism (months later, the theatrical mea culpas spawn academic papers and books, too: remember this one?) . The Globe's Joanna Weiss's ambivalent reaction to David Letterman's two-part (so far) apology more or less captures my own.
Over at Slate's Brow Beat, Josh Levin and John Swansburg also say things I agree with, both about the interderminacy regarding how much irony the host is deploying at any given moment and about what appears to be structural sexism within the late-night TV fraternity. The writers are all men, Letterman's "special assistants" all comely women. Swansburg: "Here's one way to atone for your hinky behavior, Dave: Put your eye for female talent to better use"--i.e., hire some women writers.
But what's up with Gawker, supposed arbiter of the metropolitan-cool reaction to media events like this one? The consensus there seems to be that you would have to be repressed or naive about the ways of the world to have qualms about a powerful boss who repeatedly selects his sexual partners from the small pool of people who work for him:
Scandalous Evidence Mounts: Letterman Had Human Emotions, Relationships (The lead: "Will David Letterman ever live down the shame of being the first American to sleep with someone at work?")
The Gawker comments section is not usually a repository of earnestness, but one female commenter has a problem with the idea that only tabloids or scolds might object to Letterman's behavior:
Darling, we women of (ahem) a certain age have some perspective on the situation that apparently escapes you. Screwing the boss to get ahead seems like a great strategy in your 20s and 30s. Believe me, I've seen both men and women do it.
But it has a depressingly bad effect on the rest of the workforce, who must constantly deal with the side effects . Resentment builds, as hard-working people begin to suspect that their own careers are lagooned while sweetie-of-the-month gets the good assignments, promotions and undivided boss attention.
Look, it's difficult enough to traverse the emotional terrain when two colleagues are romancin'. When it's the boss-man (and it usually IS a man), that terrain is littered with landmines, son.
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.