Books for the News, Sociology

A World of Secrets, Sex, and Spectacle

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At the press conference he held yesterday to explain his now-infamous weekend jaunt to Argentina, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford seemed to be trying to say “that he screwed up, in the biggest possible way, because he lost his bearings. He lost his self-control. He was indulgent. He forgot that there were other humans in the world.” That, at least, is how Slate‘s John Dickerson tried to explain what others described as Sanford’s “rambling” and “strange” apology for the trip and the extramarital affair that prompted it.
Though the governor’s behavior may indeed be unorthodox, the scandal itself is, of course, not. A quick survey of news from Italy to Japan to the UK reconfirms that he shares indulgent behavior and loss of self-control with politicians the world over.
While these kinds of antics are mostly painful and costly, the silver lining to their global reach is that they can offer a singularly revealing means of comparing cultures. Mark D. West uses just such a method in Secrets, Sex, and Spectacle, in which he organizes the seemingly random worlds of Japanese and American scandal to explore well-ingrained similarities and contrasts in law and society.
His study of scandals ranging from corporate fraud and baseball cheaters to political corruption and celebrity sexcapades approaches this inherently fascinating phenomenon from an entirely fresh angle. And it will be, if history is any guide, perennially timely.