On the evening of Eliot Spitzer’s resignation, a friend of mine — a doctoral candidate in neurophysiology — asked a question point-blank: “So, he got hot girls. Isn’t that what rich and powerful guys are supposed to do?”
Despite the question’s scoffing delivery, the answer, scientifically at least, is “yes.”
Wherever hierarchy is found in nature, the most fit individuals traditionally exercise their dominance by commandeering their most desired mates. The precise image of desirability may fluctuate, but the ability of the powerful to acquire it has remained remarkably stable across species and throughout history.
While civilization attempts to filter out such base animal instincts, this one has slipped through the cracks. The right of dominant individuals to the most desirable mates is not just intact, but routinely glorified.
Pop culture offers several examples.
ABC’s reality show “The Bachelor” returned for its 12th season last week to celebrate, once again, the entitlement of anointed alphas to stay in rented mansions and drive Maseratis while simultaneously dating two dozen women. The show’s abysmal record of forging successful relationships suggests that these men are probably just flexing their status muscle before settling down later on. (The clearest evidence of this was offered last season by bachelor Brad Womack, the scruffy Texan who drank the champagne and absorbed the attention before rejecting all the women and leaving the program alone.) Though it is tough to take “The Bachelor” seriously, it does enact in puppet-show form the mate-choice ritual to which successful men are allegedly privy.
After these alphas mature, their next step is Bravo TV’s “Millionaire Matchmaker” — a program which answers the call of self-made men with rudimentary social skills who are drunk on one-nighters yet (mysteriously) unfulfilled. In this series, a relationship expert aims to break these wild horses and teach them the virtues of monogamy. In typical fashion, the goal is accomplished by presenting each with a room full of unfailingly beautiful women in cocktail gowns who have all expressed an interest in meeting a man of means. For these privileged men, marriage is merely the final course of the smorgasbord of “The Bachelor.”
The same game is rehearsed by countless college kids each spring, when short-lived flings with attractive partners are cast as exercises in confidence-building. Spring break is increasingly a time when students play sex-object — demonstrating their ability to win desirable mates, if only for a single, tequila-fueled night. Term-time book-learning is thus supplemented with the crucial real-world lesson that sex is a strong currency: Go long on hotness and you’ll reap tangible rewards.
So those at the top of the chain have their pick of the rest. But my colleague’s stark question remains: If society accepts, even endorses, the rights of the fittest to amass desirable partners, then why are we shocked when Eliot Spitzer does precisely that?
Our instinctive reply is that Spitzer is married, and as much as we may glamorize juvenile toe-dipping, mate choice is a one-shot gun. But while many would classify adultery as evidence of moral turpitude, and in many cases rightly so, for public figures the revelation of infidelity is simply another storm to be weathered. Spitzer’s successor and his wife both acknowledge straying in the past, evidently to no ill effect; Bill Clinton showed just how raunchy the oval office could get while Hillary slept next door. Whatever adultery may be to a politician, it is certainly not fatal.
The real sticking point is Spitzer’s hypocrisy — busting prostitution rings while secretly sampling their wares — and his sullying of a respected public office with illicit criminal activity. This suggests, however, that had he not paid for his trysts Spitzer might still be on the job. In other words, his appetite for seven-diamond women needs no explanation — just paying for them does.
We know where that leaves him. But where does it leave us?
The phenomenon of powerful public officials taking private sexual liberties is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Paying for sex may be illegal, but buying mates with status is an age-old transaction. Humans will always covet desirable partners, and those in power will often be best situated to get them.
Nonetheless, from a cultural standpoint, glamorizing this basic animal truth seems unnecessary and unhelpful. If we really care about discouraging philandering among our leaders, we should also stop cheering when televised beaus date a dozen models at once. Boycotting “The Bachelor” might not thwart future Spitzers, but when the time comes to condemn their transgressions, at least we won’t seem so insincere.
And Yalies take heed, lest we forget Spitzer’s academic pedigree. In the ongoing battle between Elihu Yale and John Harvard, this much is clear: Being an Eli still beats being a John.
Michael Seringhaus is a first-year student at Yale Law School. He is an occasional columnist for the News.