Weiner: More Than a Punchline

Remember that politician guy you hated back in 2011? I know, there are so many it’s hard to keep them all organized. His addition to the laundry list of fill-in-the-blank “-gates” rocked the nation and provided ammunition to hard-hitting journalists and comedians alike. I am referring, of course, to Anthony Weiner, the politician whose surname is inseparable from the scandal that ended his congressional career.

On May 27, 2011, Anthony Weiner tweeted a link to a lewd photo of his bulging underwear. This photo was one of several that eventually surfaced, all of which connected the dots to numerous extra-marital affairs he was engaged in. I’d like to think his public Tweet was an accident, a “butt-tweet” as they’re called. Who hasn’t been the victim of some sort of butt-communication?

As a senior in college, I accidentally butt-texted this photo to a potential employer, a successful Hollywood producer that was on the verge of hiring me as her assistant.

I didn’t get the job.

Perhaps this fine line of relatability I share with Weiner is what compelled me to deliberately seek out this political documentary in a year where politics – more than any other subject – have dominated every aspect of my waking life. And not just the expected areas like reading the Wall Street Journal and YouTubing late show monologues. I had an Uber driver ask me point-blank if I thought America should have dropped the atomic bomb in WWII. Easy man, buy me a drink first.

Filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg begin Weiner with the congressman’s rise within the Democratic Party. The media praises Weiner as a rising star, saluting his passionate fight to provide medical care for rescue workers who became sick from toxic fumes, dust, and smoke after the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. His passion would have made Jimmy Stewart’s filibuster in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington look tame by comparison. It’s clear that Weiner is tough, unrelenting, and smart.

Despite these esteemed qualities that have helped New York City’s citizens – that 9/11 medical bill eventually passed – the Weiner-Gate scandal erodes his reputation and political achievements overnight. Everybody forgot about his skill in maneuvering Congress and his passion for helping the middle class and called for his resignation. He eventually acquiesced.

Two years later Weiner launches a comeback by running for Mayor of NYC. His “Weiner for Mayor” campaign is where this documentary spends most of its time. Parades, press conferences, and fundraisers give the audience glimpses into just how hard it is to run for office, and how exponentially more difficult it becomes after your penis has been on Twitter.

The documentary is often paced for laughs by cutting in sound bites of humorous jabs taken at Weiner, including one of Donald Trump saying “we don’t want perverts elected in NYC” (the auditorium I was in laughed out loud). Amidst the ironic moments, the filmmakers also take their role seriously by giving Anthony and Huma Weiner perhaps the longest uninterrupted opportunity to share their hearts regarding this time in their lives. In this brief 90 minutes I learned just how unrelenting we can be towards those who have betrayed our trust, even after those personally hurt by the situation have forgiven him or her. It makes we wonder how many laughs I get watching late night talk shows that are ultimately at the expense of a teary-eyed spouse whose loved ones are being dragged through the mud.

As much as Weiner is about one candidate’s mayoral run, it is easily transferable to the many politicians who dishonorably resigned over personal problems that were made public. This is not poor film-making, but rather the point of the movie. Kriegman and Steinberg seem to be making the case that each and every public figure caught in a scandal is actually just the supporting character in their own story. The lead role goes to the media, also credited as the writer/director.

Time and again we see voters taking click-bait opinions as their own, rather than sifting through the facts of a story to come to a conclusion. Beyond printed media, Weiner is accosted by TV anchors who talk at Weiner more than with him. We all tend to make snap judgments regarding those entangled in sex crimes, sex addictions, or those simply living a different sexual lifestyle than our own.

Regardless of whose scandal is on the news, and what he or she was caught doing, the question at hand is the same. Can a personal comment or action disqualify you from a job you earned on professional merit? Is there even such a thing as one’s personal versus professional life? In the spirit of not headlining the answer to you, Weiner does not answer these questions. It shows you how Anthony Weiner would answer them, but Anthony Weiner is not you, or your congressman, or your mayor. The film asks each of us to wrestle with questions, people, and scandals for more than the length of a Snapchat or a Tweet because everything is more nuanced than the headlines makes it seem.

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