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Jewish World Review March 22, 2001 / 27 Adar, 5761

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly
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Consumer Reports

Not Guilty by Reason of Notoriety -- THE acquittal of the incredibly innocent Sean "Puffy" Combs, following the acquittal of the incredibly innocent O. J. "Juice" Simpson and the acquittal of the incredibly innocent Bill "Stain" Clinton, reminds us of a duty that so many of us irresponsibly neglect -- the duty to protect our loved ones by getting famous.

But, you protest, I do protect my loved ones: I watch my health, I carry insurance, I drive defensively, I do not swim for an hour after eating, I use sun block even at night, I avoid mad cows. That is all fine and good, but what about jail? In America these days, it is very, very easy, for most people, to go to jail. It used to be much harder. One reason for that was a matter of political balance. Conservatives, for conservative reasons, liked to send people to jail, but liberals, for liberal reasons, liked to keep people out of jail. The result was a country where you could reasonably count on not going to jail unless you did something really quite horrible, and even then you probably would get off, or get out early, especially if you gave large amounts of money to Hugh Rodham.

But then, liberals decided that they liked to send people to jail too, for liberal reasons. Jail, it occurred to them, was just the ticket for certain people -- corporate polluters and drunk drivers and deadbeat dads and gun owners and people who hate other people. After all the liberal reasons for going to jail were added to all the conservative reasons, it turned out that pretty much everything you could think of to do in America could land you in jail.

It could land you in jail, that is, unless you had taken the precaution of getting famous. Social scientists are not sure precisely when we, as a people, decided that we would simply no longer incarcerate famous people. Some believe it was at about the same time that we decided that Roseanne Barr was in acceptable taste, and indeed it has been suggested that a causal relationship exists between the two. This may be so, or it may not.

Nor do scientists know precisely why we decided this. There are differing theories. One, put forward by the remaining Duke deconstructionists, has to do with clothes. We respect nice clothes, although we ourselves wear hideous purple artificial-textile leisure suits even to church, and (the theory goes) it seemed to us just plain not right that someone who had invested a lot of money in his appearance should be put away for years and forced to wear orange jumpsuits while his entire wardrobe inexorably fell out of fashion. This theory certainly explains the Combs case, in which the defendant essentially was a wardrobe. But it does not satisfy in the case of Clinton, a man who routinely wore nylon running shorts that exposed very large amounts of white thigh-flesh.

A more complete explanation probably lies in a profound but gradual and still not fully appreciated change in the national character. At some point in a century that saw the country's most important industry shift from steel to entertainment, we came to accept the idea that famous people -- vital profit centers in the new entertainment economy -- constituted a special class: an exempt class. They were just too important to be held to the same standards to which we held ourselves.

Those standards are the standards of what used to be called Decent People, and they are, if anything, more exacting than ever before. We are much less tolerant of a much wider range of social sins (bigotry, adultery, drunkeness, sloth) than we were 30 years ago. But, we have decided, the Decent People standards do not apply to famous people. Famous people get a pass. They are our betters -- they have, after all, been proven so; they are famous -- and it is not our place to judge them. It is as if we are all living in a national, American version of "Upstairs, Downstairs." Downstairs, we are appalled if the chauffeur is caught tickling the parlor maid. Upstairs, meanwhile, his Lordship and Lady are playing naked Twister with three members of Parliament, two choirboys, their cocaine dealer and a large Rottweiler -- but that is different, because they are different.

And this is good. It is good that Puffy and Juice and Stain walked. It is good because the business of America is business, and Puffy and Juice and Stain (and Martha and Madonna and the Donald and everyone on "Survivor") are the business. The nation can't put the business out of business; it can't put the business in jail. That's for the rest of us -- and the sentences are getting longer all the time. Protect yourself. Protect your loved ones. Cut that disc today.

Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


03/15/01: A fine foreign policy mess
03/08/01: Dubya's savvy: OOPS! I was wrong
03/01/01: Engagement's unseeing eye
02/22/01: The Pardoner's false brief
02/08/01: Oops, they almost converted
02/01/01: Exit the abusers
01/25/01: The monster and the minority
01/11/01: Master money-grubber
01/11/01: Re Bipartisanship: From: The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy To: The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy
01/04/01: Faux Commotion
12/21/00: The next Martha Stewart
12/14/00: Democracy rescued
12/06/00: Gore's next task: Face reality
11/15/00: The Great Defender
11/02/00: The Democrats' delusion
10/26/00: Phony Truce
10/19/00: The Talking Cure
10/12/00: Doves' Day of Reckoning
10/05/00: Conan the veep
09/28/00: Dumb vs. Dishonest
09/21/00: Flapping furiously
09/14/00: Down AlGore's Memory Hole
08/24/00: AlGore's Flex-O-Joe
08/17/00: The Joyful Clinton Nation
08/09/00: A Calculated Risk
08/03/00: New Hope for Nice Guys
07/27/00: But What About Dad?
07/20/00: U.S. Handiwork In Sierra Leone
07/13/00: President With a Porpoise
07/06/00: The Importance of Being Earnest
06/29/00: A Press Obsession With the Death Penalty
06/21/00: Gore and the Goodies
06/15/00: Network Snooze
06/01/00: Sunshine on My Shoulders
05/24/00: Last Chance for a Hardened Prevaricator
05/17/00: Cuomo's Thought Police
05/10/00: Hammering DeLay
05/04/00: Some Closing Thoughts
04/28/00: Endangering Elian
04/19/00: Imitation Activism
04/12/00: Why they hate Bubba
04/05/00: Census and nonesense
03/29/00: The Stiffs and Their Statuettes
03/15/00: Anarchy in Kosovo
03/08/00: Reform joke
03/01/00:The Pinhead Factor
03/01/00: The Christian Right: Past Its Prime . . .
02/24/00: McCain's Majority
02/16/00: Sharpton's Supplicants
02/09/00: The GOP Pilgrims' Sad Tale
02/02/00: Fodder For the GOP
01/26/00: Million-Dollar Mediocrity
01/19/00: Campaign Reform: Let's Pretend
01/12/00: Never Again? Oh, Never Mind
01/05/00: Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop In
12/22/99: Gore's TV Gambit
12/15/99: Campaigns Do Clarify
12/08/99: Kosovo's Killers
12/01/99: Not Ready for Prime Time?
11/24/99: The Company He Keeps
11/17/99: Republican Illusion
11/10/99: The Know-Nothing Media
11/03/99: Necessary Partisanship
10/27/99: Buchanan's Gift to George W. Bush
10/21/99: Who are the real friends of the poor?
10/14/99: Gore's 'courage'!?
10/08/99: Republican Stunts
09/23/99: Buchanan's folly
09/16/99: Beatty and Buchanan: That's Entertainment!
09/09/99: Puerto Rico Surprise (Cont'd)
09/02/99: Puerto Rico Surprise
08/12/99:The Age of No Class
08/05/99: Assessing Welfare Reform
07/29/99: On the Wrong Side
07/21/99: Mass Sentimentality
07/15/99: Blame Hillary
07/08/99: Guide to the Arts: For Your Summer Reading . . .
06/30/99: A Perfectly Clintonian Doctrine
06/25/99:Smorgasbord by the Sea
06/16/99: A National Calamity
06/09/99: Stumbling Forward
06/02/99: Commencement '90s-Style
05/26/99: Will we ever learn? Clintochio is a lying ...
05/19/99: Comforting Milosevic
05/13/99: Short-Order Strategists
05/06/99: Four Revolting Spectacles

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