Who would have thought there would ever be an issue in our modern lives that could possibly bring together the abundant talents of Bernard-Henri Levy and Ben Stein? The former is a louche French "public intellectual," the latter a Nixon speechwriter-turned-droning commercial pitchman, so up until recently, I wouldn't have imagined there were too many causes under whose banners the two would publicly unite.
But that was all before IMF head and would-be French presidential candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn was accused of raping a hotel maid. Now, Levy and Stein find themselves offering up the same response -- two of the World's Most Interesting Men, defending another Interesting Man, on the grounds that the privilege all enjoy makes the crime inconceivable on its face.
Ahh, the vita is always dolce when you are an Interesting Man. And rape? This is not a crime that Interesting Men dismiss out of hand, necessarily. But it's a tawdry and declasse sort of thing that happens to downmarket people. It's not supposed to rile up the lives of the world's elite. Game recognizes game, after all. And shame? That's for lesser people. And so while it can be acknowledged that the possibility exists that DSK is the perpetrator of a crime (Levy: "I do not know what actually happened." Stein: "...it's possible indeed, maybe even likely, that he is guilty as the prosecutors charge."), the important thing to do right now is remind the world that in this life, Interesting Men are never supposed to experience shame, let alone experience it publicly. Isn't that the greater indignity?
The good news for Interesting Men is that they need never again spend too much time wondering how to defend their fellows from such base charges, as Levy and Stein have discovered the formula by which such a defense can be mounted.
1. Always remember that a man's importance is a defense in itself.
Per Levy, DSK is "one of the most closely watched figures on the planet." Oh, you didn't know who he was until this week? Typical. He's actually a "champion" of (some of) the French people. One of that country's "most devoted and competent servants." And the world "is indebted to him for contributing, for the past four years at the head of the IMF, to avoiding the worst." So remember that as these accusations play out!
Per Stein: "This is a case about the hatred of the have-nots for the haves, and that's what it's all about. A man pays $3,000 a night for a hotel room? He's got to be guilty of something. Bring out the guillotine." Indeed, this is our fault, for scheming up a way to indict DSK the moment he flashed us his platinum card.
2. And remember, the greater outrage here isn't that a hotel maid may have been raped, it's that an Interesting Man is being treated as a common criminal!
Levy: "This morning, I hold it against the American judge who, by delivering him to the crowd of photo hounds, pretended to take him for a subject of justice like any other."
Stein: "Mr. Strauss-Kahn had surrendered his passport. He had offered to stay in New York City. He is one of the most recognizable people on the planet. Did he really have to be put in Riker's Island? Couldn't he have been given home detention with a guard? This is a man with a lifetime of public service, on a distinguished level, to put it mildly. Was Riker's Island really the place to put him on the allegations of one human being? Hadn't he earned slightly better treatment than that?"
3. On the other hand, the accuser is so common and ordinary!
Stein: "People accuse other people of crimes all of the time. What do we know about the complainant besides that she is a hotel maid? ... How do we know that this woman's word was good enough to put Mr. Strauss-Kahn straight into a horrific jail?"
4. Your privileged perch gives you vast knowledge of the world, bearing on this case, that smaller people can't possibly appreciate. This includes: stuff about high-priced hotels.
Levy: "I do not know -- but, on the other hand, it would be nice to know, and without delay -- how a chambermaid could have walked in alone, contrary to the habitual practice of most of New York's grand hotels of sending a 'cleaning brigade' of two people, into the room of one of the most closely watched figures on the planet."
Stein: "They were in a hotel with people passing by the room constantly, if it's anything like the many hotels I am in. How did he intimidate her in that situation?"
You people at the Days Inn couldn't possibly understand how exculpatory these anecdotes are!
5. No, you're not a criminologist, but you're important, and so your extra special thoughts on forensics should be given more weight that the people who actually perform those tasks and apply that knowledge, for mere five figure salaries.
Stein: "In life, events tend to follow patterns. People who commit crimes tend to be criminals, for example. Can anyone tell me any economists who have been convicted of violent sex crimes? Can anyone tell me of any heads of nonprofit international economic entities who have ever been charged and convicted of violent sexual crimes? Is it likely that just by chance this hotel maid found the only one in this category? Maybe Mr. Strauss-Kahn is guilty but if so, he is one of a kind, and criminals are not usually one of a kind."
How can you argue with this tautological reasoning? People who commit crimes tend to be criminals. But people who run the International Monetary Fund? THEY TEND TO BE THE HEAD OF THE IMF. And the whole idea of economists committing rape is just insane! The grand debate between Keynes and Hayek permit you no time for such pursuits.
Stein continues: "The prosecutors say that Mr. Strauss-Kahn 'forced' the complainant to have oral and other sex with him. How? Did he have a gun? Did he have a knife? He's a short fat old man."
As everyone knows, in the history of the world, men have always needed knives and guns to intimidate women.
6. What's more, as an Important Man who can alone Divine the Mysteries of the Universe, you have special insight into the character of other Important Men, which is, in and of itself, exculpatory.
Levy: "And what I know even more is that the Strauss-Kahn I know, who has been my friend for 20 years and who will remain my friend, bears no resemblance to this monster, this caveman, this insatiable and malevolent beast now being described nearly everywhere. Charming, seductive, yes, certainly; a friend to women and, first of all, to his own woman, naturally, but this brutal and violent individual, this wild animal, this primate, obviously no, it's absurd."
Stein: "If he is such a womanizer and violent guy with women, why didn't he ever get charged until now? If he has a long history of sexual abuse, how can it have remained no more than gossip this long?"
SPOILER ALERT: It's because women accused of rape often face such a steep climb in the criminal justice system that many rape surivivors are too intimidated by the long odds. Combined with the pain of reliving such a traumatic event, many can't bear the burden. In this way, rape is a crime of double-intimidation, with the legal system providing the second blow.
7. The American legal system is something that ordinary people have no real trouble understanding, but if it suits your purposes, just say a whole bunch of things about it that aren't anywhere near being true!
Stein: "Did the prosecutors really convince a judge that he was a flight risk when he was getting on a flight he had booked long beforehand? What kind of high-pressure escape plan is that? How is it a sudden flight move to get on a flight booked maybe months ago?"
The fact that someone once booked a flight in the past isn't what people mean by the term "flight risk." Someone is a "flight risk" if they have the ready means to flee the country. But never mind!
Levy: "I am troubled by a system of justice modestly termed 'accusatory,' meaning that anyone can come along and accuse another fellow of any crime -- and it will be up to the accused to prove that the accusation is false and without basis in fact."
Actually, the American system of justice is adversarial and typically, the burden of proof is on the accuser, but whatever!
The unique thing about rape is that, like no other crime, the actions of victim go on trial as well. Did you get assaulted because you took, perhaps, an ill-advised shortcut home? You may lament that decision, sure, but no one in their right mind is going to suggest that your actions provided the criminal the right to commit the crime. Rape, on the other hand, is much different -- there, the actions of the victim are often deemed fair game, with the implication being that the victim accorded the attacker the right to commit rape.
8. Which reminds me, don't forget to blame the victim!
Stein: "I love and admire hotel maids. They have incredibly hard jobs and they do them uncomplainingly. I am sure she is a fine woman. On the other hand, I have had hotel maids that were complete lunatics, stealing airline tickets from me, stealing money from me, throwing away important papers, stealing medications from me."
That's just the way hotel maids are!
You don't have to limit your victim blaming to just this one victim, either.
Levy: "I hold it against all those who complacently accept the account of this other young woman, this one French, who pretends to have been the victim of the same kind of attempted rape, who has shut up for eight years but, sensing the golden opportunity, whips out her old dossier and comes to flog it on television."
Yes, what a golden opportunity, to relive a traumatic time in one's life, and get pilloried. It's like winning the lottery!
Depending on your taste, you can season the piece with talk of grand political conspiracies. And there's always room to blame the media, for daring to report the story. But that's basically how you do it. Heck, you Interesting Men no longer have to write these defenses yourselves anymore -- just hand this guide to an underling and they can write it up for you.
One final note: at some point, someone might tell you that every time one of these rape apologias makes it into print, it has the net effect of stealing away one more portion of courage from women the world over who have survived rape, who might ordinarily confront their attackers in an attempt to bring them to justice. You'll be told that every time a victim gets smeared or discounted, it makes it that much more clear to rape survivors that this is acceptable public treatment. A simple application of logic might inform you that enabling -- indeed, ennobling -- rapists helps clear the way for more rapes to be committed. But surely such concerns are well beyond the purview of Interesting Men.