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Meghan Daum: Anthony Weiner's inner geekdom

Op-Ed

It would appear the New York congressman is not addicted to sex as much as he's simply addicted to himself.

June 16, 2011|Meghan Daum
(Jin Lee / Bloomberg )

Anthony Weiner, the disgraced New York congressman whose sins certainly don't need to be spelled out again, has, we are told, checked himself into rehab. We can't be sure exactly what kind, since his spokeswoman said only that he was seeking "professional treatment to focus on being a better husband and a healthier person." That's code, in a lot of people's minds, for a sex-addiction program, like the ones attended by Tiger Woods and David Duchovny, both of whom got in trouble for actually having sex.

But is Weiner really a sex addict? He's clearly preoccupied with his genitals and the usage thereof, but all evidence suggests that his indiscretions had less to do with sexual relationships (at least the old-fashioned, in-person kind) than his relationship to his own masculinity. Based on what we know of his exchanges, it appears he had far more interest in his own chiseled chest than in anyone else's body parts. It would appear he's not addicted to sex as much as he's simply addicted to himself.

We knew well before the scandal broke that Weiner didn't shy away from exposure. In March, he apparently "killed" (that's comedian-speak for bringing the house down) when he spoke at the congressional correspondents' dinner in Washington. After a few perfunctory jabs at his Republican colleagues, he turned the knife on himself, making fun of his "Jewfro" (which he illustrated with a photo from his adolescence) to various instances of on-screen belligerence during cable news interviews.

He proudly referred to his legions of Twitter followers but allowed that they might have him confused with other public personalities, especially Arnold Horshack from "Welcome Back, Kotter."

"Please follow me," Weiner said. "I don't care who you think I am."

The conventional wisdom is that self-deprecating humor, at least in reasonable doses, is a hallmark of an authentically confident person, which is perhaps why politicians display it so infrequently. But to watch Weiner draw his own blood at the correspondents' dinner is to wonder whether his penchant for erotic self-portraiture reveals not confidence or excessive vanity but an ingrained self-loathing.

Is it possible to think you look like Horshack and a male model at the same time? Maybe for someone who's graduated from the highest levels of therapy, but for the average man — and certainly for most politicians, whose strivings are generally commensurate with their insecurities — the answer's got to be a resounding no. Much has been made of Weiner's good looks (Cosmopolitan magazine once named him one of their "most gorgeous bachelors," and apparently a number of ladies on Facebook found him at least as compelling as Justin Bieber). But who are we kidding? Weiner is attractive for a politician.

Tall and sleek and chiseled though he may be, Weiner's still the high school geek in the photo he uses to make fun of himself so no one else will. No matter how many reps he does in the gym, no matter how advantageous the angle immortalizing certain body parts, no matter how many followers he has on Twitter, Weiner is still that scrawny, nerdy kid with the frizzy hair and the embarrassing name. And nobody knows that better than Weiner himself.

When you consider the context for Weiner's indiscretions — the slam-book-cum-mosh pit that is Twitter, the way Facebook has turned exhibitionism into "sharing" and voyeurism into a pastime as quotidian as checking the weather forecast — one thing seems clear: Weiner was using social networking less as a means of communication than as a mirror. Apparently unable to rely on his own judgment when gazing at his reflection, he sought outside appraisers who were guaranteed to issue the approval he couldn't muster for himself.

It's tough to imagine Weiner emerging from "professional treatment" without rebranding himself a recovering addict of some sort. As meager a defense as it is, it's about the only one he has left, and it might help him score a book deal while he looks for work outside politics. It's kind of sad, though, that what most plagues Weiner — the thing that not even career success, a gym body or a stunningly beautiful wife can cure — isn't the province of rehab facilities or 12-step programs. The problem is inveterate geekdom.

If you or someone you love suffers from it, at least opt for boxers and not briefs.

mdaum@latimescolumnists.com

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