Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Groping Hillary: Obama should pardon Jon Favreau

Groping cardboard women is not a crime; even if it’s Hillary.

Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau sparked a minor scandal last week when the Washington Post published a picture of him groping a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton.

The unfortunate photo was taken at a party. A friend is offering cardboard Hillary a beer while Favreau appears to be cupping her right breast.

The National Organization for Women has declined comment on the incident, but another women’s group, The New Agenda has firmly condemned Favreau and called for his resignation:

These antics ought to be summarily condemned by president-elect Obama. He ought to fire Jon Favreau. If he does not fire Favreau, he risks fostering the perception that he condones Favreau’s disrespect toward Sen. Clinton. He also risks encouraging this sort of behavior in other young men toward women who are not merely cardboard cutouts.

When contacted for comment, Clinton senior adviser Philippe Reines provided the funniest response ever issued by that office. Reines said, “Senator Clinton is pleased to learn of Jon’s obvious interest in the State Department, and is currently reviewing his application.”

I understand the outrage, and I understand the impulse to condemn frat boy culture, but this issue deserves a closer look. There are bigger issues at stake here, and an important point is about to get lost in the shuffle.

Favreau’s Facebook antics are symptoms of a cultural shift — a phenomenon that has been damaging relationships and ruining careers since the first caveman carved out the first Myspace page on a wall of communal rock.

Generation Y really is the Internet generation. My generation discovered the Internet in college, but these kids grew up with it. Social networks are a fundamental part of their lives. The freewheeling, uncensored nature of Internet communication has altered their DNA.

Generation X started this trend, but Gen Y has perfected it. Oversharing comes naturally to them. For the Internet generation, demonstrating public vulnerability is actually a sign of strength.

It’s the ultimate irony, really. The wild, freewheeling Boomers of yesterday have become hypersensitive politically-correct guardians of proper behavior.

In the physical world, standards of proper behavior are determined by where you are and who you’re with. We have strict standards for the classroom and the workplace, but these standards are relaxed when you hit the bar.

On the Internet, every place is a workplace and every place is a bar. Intimate personal journals may be written in bedrooms at 1 a.m. and read by people in cubicles at noon.

In politics and the media, the line between public and private communication becomes hopelessly blurred. Every post is judged by the standards of the workplace, no matter when it’s written or who it’s written for.

Facebook became popular, not because of who it let in, but because of who it kept out. There’s nothing quite like the rush of adrenaline that comes from seeing your mom comment on your private blog, or the cold chill that runs down your spine the first time you get a friend request from your corporate VP.

There’s a sense of dislocation, a sense of invasion, as if your family or your boss is treading somewhere they don’t belong. The pages are public, of course, but human interaction is contextual. The rules of workplace propriety don’t apply when you’re knocking back a beer after work, and the standards of our hypersensitive culture should not apply on Facebook.

Employers need to learn that social networks establish a different social context, just as surely as a church or a bar does.

How should bosses react when they find an employee trolling the forums on a Creationist web site? What happens when they find their secretaries looking for a date on Craigslist?

The page is public, but the context is private. We need to stop obsessing over trivia like this and make a distinction between public and private lives.

Let’s start by granting a pardon to Jon Favreau.

Written by Michael B. Duff

December 9, 2008 at 11:17

Posted in Culture

14 Responses

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  1. This non-troversy will probably peter out in a few days.

    I’m willing to bet a buffalo nickel that Sen. Clinton is, on some level, flattered by the atention. After all, there’s no such thing as bad political press…unless you’re caught with a dead woman or a live boy.

    Proud American

    December 9, 2008 at 14:06

  2. Do you really not care that Obama, the next President, has rapist alcoholics working for him and most of the dinosaurs in this country think this is okay? Public and Private? Rape is wrong, fratboys are wrong, alcohol is wrong. We have real problems, how are these two monkeys (pictured slobbering and simulating gangbangs) helping anyone? They are laughing at the American people and our great experiment. Am I really the only one aware that our country is dying? Don’t you people care at all?

    Elizabeth Plumley

    December 9, 2008 at 19:58

  3. [cross posted from Corrente]
    1. Favreau’s post on his FaceBook page is exactly why the transition team demanded that all FaceBook material be disclosed. Surely he broke the spirit of the transition team’s rules, if not the letter.

    2. Favreau’s actions undermine the authority of Obama’s Secretary of State. If Obama won’t discipline those who disrespect her, how can the leaders of other countries be expected to respect her?

    3. Favreau’s actions create workplace issues for the Obama administration. Can women staffers be confident they’ll be given equal treatment in the Obama administration? Why? What if the cutout had been an image of a woman staffer, instead of Hillary? Should Favreau be disciplined in that case?

    Finally, there’s the issue of Favreau’s buddy, who wore an Obama branded shirt. People in the corporate world have been fired for trashing the brand in an inappropriate social setting. Why doesn’t that standard apply here?

    lambert strether

    December 9, 2008 at 23:28

  4. Jon Favreau is very talented and has done and is doing an amazing job for President Elect Barack Obama.

    I find it so pitiful that one small error has caused such an uncalled for response from a few. All the serious problems we have in the world such as Zambia and the World Financial Crisis and we get a petty attack like this.

    John Sheffield

    December 10, 2008 at 01:42

  5. We’ve become so perfectionist we sound like fundamentalists. Life is too short to do drop dead analyses over every mistake. Everyone sounds so damn puritanical. Let’s be a bit more understanding: life happens.


    December 10, 2008 at 02:00

  6. What if the roles/situation were reversed…..If the cardboard cut-out would have been of Obama and a woman from the Hillary Administration was jesturing like cutting off Obama’s balls. Would it still be considered a non-issue…I think not.

    That’s another reason why it is wrong.

    For those who say we have bigger problems in this world, let me remind you they were once small problems that were ignore…like this.

    All I know is that this election has shown for all the progress of the womens movement… we haven’t gone very far…


    December 10, 2008 at 02:46

  7. Of course the gesture is wrong, and it comes from someone of importance who should know better than to allow it to be published. Obama should simply (privately) demand that Favreau apologize. That would end this non-scandal very quickly and well.


    December 10, 2008 at 03:41

  8. I believe Favreau has apologized to Hillary.

    I had a long discussion about this with a friend of mine on the Livejournal feed version of this post and tried to refine my position a bit.

    It would take an army of lawyers to draw up legal protection for bloggers and navigate the maze of workplace issues involved here.

    If Hillary was not a public figure — if this was an ordinary person in Favreau’s office, a reprimand of some kind would be in order (hopefully something far short of termination.)

    But I hate the fact that this has to be a legal issue. My point is really more of a call for leniency and a warning that there are a lot more of these incidents coming, as Gen Y folks get promoted to positions of authority in our culture.

    We’re reaching a point where everybody under the age of 30 is going to have a network of embarrassing posts, photographs or forum comments somewhere on the Internet.

    If I criticize General Electric in a forum post in 1998, should that really bar me from working for General Electric for the rest of my life?

    If we start imposing workplace behavior standards on everyone who has a Facebook, pretty soon there won’t be anyone under 30 left to hire.


    December 10, 2008 at 04:33

  9. I think Elizabeth Plumley is mad. I mean British English mad. Just completely stark staring bonkers. Either that or very very stupid.

    Andrew Carey

    December 10, 2008 at 11:46

  10. i can’t believe the hysterical tone of some of the comments here. a rapist? you are nuts. and michael i didn’t see this on your livejournal


    December 10, 2008 at 21:11

  11. It doesn’t even look like he’s really intending to grab her breast. It just looks like he’s hugging her, and it’s obviously supposed to be a joke because he was working for Obama. I’d be a lot more offended if he were making a violent gesture, such as strangling, hitting or kicking her. To me, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this picture. Lighten up!


    December 11, 2008 at 03:10

  12. peeps be overlooking the real beauty of this post: morally equating creationist considerations (lock the doors and call the police, obviously) with the solicitation of degenerate Craigsex.

    Buddy Holy

    December 11, 2008 at 06:08

  13. that is probably the only way she will ever be touched by a man. Ha


    December 11, 2008 at 15:09

  14. […] Favreau learned a lesson about posting pictures of him fondling a cardboard cutout model of his possible new boss on Facebook, some very scandalous stuff from the […]

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