Rob Ford, Berlusconi, The Crystal Methodist: why do we love scandals so much?
Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto recently admitted smoking crack. There were exclamations of outrage, but moral disgust was not the overarching sentiment. Many people took delight in this public figure's transgressions. Whether its crack smoking, orgies or traditional fornication, there is no denying we love a good scandal. What is it about hedonistic public figures that so delights us?
The mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford unleashed a crack-fuelled flurry of witty headlines in November when he admitted smoking crack cocaine after ‘sincerely’ denying it for months. Disbelief was the unanimous reaction – how can a successful man in a position of power and responsibility be engaged in such shinanigans?
In some quarters, this disbelief was of course tinged with rage, but many people experienced disbelief steeped in hilarity and even jubilation. We love scandals and that sweet sense of schadenfreude. But why? Why do so many people smile and chuckle rather than outright condemning hedonistic public figures? Lets take a look at a few EU epicureans in our search for answers.
Silvio 'Bunga Bunga' Berlusconi
The names of epoch-making politicians are typically synonymous with the movement they defined. ‘Tony Blair’ shouts New Labour, ‘Charles de Gaulle’ shouts Gaullism, ‘Abraham Lincoln’ is equated with with the abolition of slavery. But what about Silvio Berlusconi, the ‘great’ man who has dominated Italian politics for the last twenty years? Berlusconi will be remembered first and foremost not for any ground-breaking policies or intellectual schools of thought. Oh no, Berlusconi’s name conjures up one thing and one thing only- the Bunga Bunga parties.
He may look like a wax work model who could melt at any moment, but Berlusconi’s stamina is truly remarkable. He rode out seven sex scandals, all of which would have ended a politician’s career in other countries. His Bunga Bunga parties are legendary. He directed hoards of prostitutes in nurse and police outfits round his mansion like a concupiscent conductor. His humour is accordingly libidinous. In April 2011 he joked, ‘When asked if they would like to have sex with me, 30% of women said, 'Yes', while the other 70% replied, 'What, again?' The man is a disgrace, but 29.1% still voted for him in the 2013 elections.
His name frequently inspires chuckles rather than rage. Why is he so scandelicious? Psychiatrist Massimo Fagioli tells CNN, ‘It's a Catholic mentality. Sin at night and confess in the morning.’ In other words, we love colossal scandals because they make our own misdemeanours appear rather minor, a perennial comfort to the sinner inside us. It is thus we may attain the moral high ground, at least in our mind.
The Crystal Methodist
Reverend Paul Flowers, 63, sounds like a character from some kind of Skins parody about hedonistic pensioners. After forty years working as a Methodist minister, Flowers was inexplicably appointed as chairman of the Co-op bank in Britain. In two years he single handedly brought the bank to its knees. He was called before MPs in the Commons to explain the havoc he wreaked, but this was only the beginning. In the few days that followed, holy father Flowers seems to have consumed his own body weight in cocaine and ketamine. And that is no mean feat considering he is massively overweight. Indeed, his age and his weight and the colossal quantities of drugs he hoovered up beg the question, ‘How did his heart survive the rampant gay orgies?’
The Reverend told MPs the Co-op bank had assets of £3 billion, when in fact the figure is £47 billion. Seen through the eyes of a ketamine fiend, it seems a bank’s assets appear distant and tiny. The icing on the cake of this exquisite scandal? For twelve years Father Flowers headed up an anti-drugs charity with the motto, ‘Telling the truth about drugs.’
What seems to be particularly scandelicious about Reverend Flowers is the sheer audacity of the man. Complete disdain for authority is something we often admire, even if we don’t agree with the manner of its manifestation. This Reverend exudes a certain anarchic appeal. Envy inspired schadenfreude is evidently important too. People love to see more successful people falter, and this 'humble' reverend with no banking qualifications had undoubtedly exceeded his calling. But above all, what seems to appeal is the fantastical aura of this scandal- you simply couldn't make this stuff up.
Javier Guerrero and the Cocaine Chauffeur
Andalucia’s former general director of work, Javier Guerrero was given huge EU subsidies to boost business and create jobs. However, his job creation scheme seems to have been focused on the coca fields of Colombia rather than the Spanish economy. Guerrero and his chauffeur, Juan Francisco Trujillo, reportedly spent €25, 000 a month on cocaine. One really has to wonder, how can that much cocaine fit up a human nose? The man must be some kind of human juggernaut.
Herein lies one possible (perhaps facetious) explanation for our infatuation with scandals – the sheer awe that certain exploits inspire. This scandal is perhaps as much a testament to the remarkable endurance of the human body as it is an aberration on Spain’s political landscape. However, outrage gives astonishment a run for its money here, for Spain’s economic woes are still an open sore and Guerrero has rubbed his naughty salt in the wound. Neuroscientist Dean Burnett suggests the ambiguity of scandals is one cause of our strange emotional reactions, “like a robot encountering a logical paradox.” Adverse to ambiguity, we illogically opt for strong opinions.
So distinctly robot like in our everyday behaviour and our largely unerring obeisance to superiors, the greatest delight we take in scandals must surely be the pleasure we experience at seeing another robot reject its programming and put its own idiosyncratic desires before the demands of the powers that be. These scandelous scoundrels serve as proxy outlets for our own repressed desire for pleasure.