OFF THE GRID

Tiger Woods, Warren Beatty, and the American Man: Who Is Allowed to Do It?

Jan 6, 10 | 8:44 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Who's allowed to have a lot of sex and who isn’t is now a subject at the heart of American culture. The reason Tiger Woods shouldn’t be having copious sex is explained in great detail by my colleague, Buzz Bissinger, in this month’s Vanity Fair. Bissinger’s view is that Woods made himself into a non-sexual being and, thus, having sex—so much sex—exploded his image of ineffable remoteness. This cool specimen turned into a dirty bastard.

On the other hand, we learn from reports about a forthcoming biography of another cool guy, Warren Beatty, that, by biographer Peter Biskind’s math, Beatty has had sex with 13,000 women—a credit to his image, rather than a liability.

Beatty, a significant power in the Democratic Party, can sleep with an almost unimaginable number of women, and other guys in politics get in trouble for sleeping with one. There is, likewise, Beatty’s colleague, the present governor of California, who also has not suffered for his well-known hijinks. How is that fair?

This is, obviously, the old double standard, but it is no longer between men and women (who can have all the sex they want—though they don’t seem to have much), but between one sort of man and another. When Warren Beatty had sex it was hot; when Tiger has sex it is gross.

Before Bissinger’s critique, I would have said golf might be the issue. After all, football players and basketball players (Wilt Chamberlain claims to have slept with 20,000 women) and baseball players, cretins all, obviously have no limits on the amount of sex they can have.

Clearly, some politicians can have lots of sex, while it’s off limits for others. Bill Clinton had sex for years without it being much of an issue. The Kennedys, for sure. And Newt Gingrich. Actually it may be that all politicians have blatant and promiscuous sex lives. So why are some pilloried and others not? It may have to do with their enemies, as in the case of Eliot Spitzer. He himself was the issue, rather than his penchant for prostitutes. Or, Mark Sanford, who got dinged for seeming more girlish than boyish in his pursuit of sex. Or John Edwards.

Bissinger cites the issue of hypocrisy. We don’t like people who pretend to be something they are not. John Edwards was obviously a louche pretty boy, but played at not being one, but then turned out was one. On the other hand, it’s always been clear that Warren Beatty, Bill Clinton, and Arnold Schwarzenegger were dogs. The lesson here, then, could be one about more sexual openness: If you wear your desire on your sleeve at least you won’t surprise anybody.

But it may be too that there is a sexual class system. We allow some master-of-the-universe bulls to be sexually profligate, while we begrudge others—arriviste poodles like Edwards—satisfaction of their desires.

There is also a generational issue. If you are from the sixties, or at least remember them, you have some special cred. Katie Roiphe, in last Sunday’s Times Book Review, extolled the male novelists of the 1950s and ‘60s who made sex a great adventure, and pooh-poohed the panty-waist sexuality of fiction’s current boys.

It is, too, about shame. The New York Post, a hotbed of drunken vice itself, does not cover the antics of men who seem to be having fun (at least not for very long). What it likes are men who, caught in the act, wet themselves. That’s entertaining.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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