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An Uncomfortably Close Reading of Weiner's Eye-Worm Selfies

Having learned over the last few years that one must try to ride out, for sanity's sake, the all-consuming stimulus-reponse cycles fostered by 24-hour media, I gave myself an entire weekend to suppress, set aside, and generally forget about the Anthony Weiner pubic selfies that dominated the news last week. To put the pictures behind me, where they belong, because they should never have been in front of me, I lost myself in two days of hearty eating, bicycle riding, and conversations with loved ones, reminding myself the whole time that just because the Internet wants to saturate one's consciousness with images that are impossible to ignore at first (the "pregnant man" from People magazine, the leathery face of the "tanorexic" mother who tanning-boothed her little daughter) this doesn't mean that one can't ignore them eventually.

It is now Monday morning and, I hate to say it, my program of diversion didn't work. If anything, the alarming POV shots of Weiner's startlingly pink and primal unit have established themselves more firmly in my mind's eye. Their ugly, polluting power has only grown, suggesting to me that the only good way to deal with them is to zoom in towards them, not pan away from them. I need to perform an exorcism, that is. If I’m to annihilate this particular eye worm, I need to get up into its face.

What initially struck me about the photos was their alien, forlorn, inhuman quality, as though the photographer were unaware of all the conventions of amateur pornography—forgiving lighting, coherent framing—that ought to, by now, be second nature in all who own cell phones and are over sixteen. Take what I’ll call the “peeking from my briefs” shot, the one that shows only the far end of the trunk belonging to the unwelcome new elephant in our nation’s psychological living room. Not only does the picture look rushed and awkward, like a telephoto shot of Nessie in the instant between emergence and submergence, it features a famously risible undergarment—a pair of so-called "tighty whities"—that America has been laughing at for years now. Was Weiner conscious when he snapped this picture or was he in the same culture-forgetting trance state in which he devised his porn name, Carlos Danger? The latter, obviously. When the forbidden urge comes over him, Weiner floats free not only of social norms but of fundamental aesthetic norms.

The other photo, the one that’s shot straight down and freakishly elongates the proboscis—but not in an attractive way—is also troubling in its implications for the mental condition of the photographer. The shot gives a perspective on the monster that no second party could ever conceivably share and thus could not be expected to find alluring. The picture is purely solipsistic—as are most such pictures, some will say. But this one has a singular selfishness. Even in Weiner’s own imagination, his thingamajig can only be so long before it resembles another creature entirely, no longer a body part but a body apart. The shot suggests major detachment from the self, as though its taker regards the object which is, after all, inseparably attached to him, as a discreet and looming other—a kind of torpedo-shaped UFO. How his audience viewed the creature can’t be guessed, which tells me that, for Weiner, she wasn’t there. Indeed, maybe no one is there when Weiner gets itchy. Maybe he’s on a planet all his own.

Enough, though. More than enough. I think I’ve done it. I’ve broken on through to the other side of yuckiness. What’s more, when the Web dishes up its next weird eye worm I’ll know what to do:

Stare straight at it until it dies.