I’m not one to follow news about celebrities, but certain court cases, I think, capture social currents bubbling just under the surface that affect those of us outside of Hollywood-land.
Case in point is the Brinkley-Cook divorce. The forty-nine-year-old Peter Cook has admitted to being a porn “addict” and to having an affair with an eighteen-year-old girl. Christie Brinkley has rightfully been awarded custody in a case that has put Cook in the proverbial stocks of cable news. I was heartened to hear the court-appointed psychiatrist blame Cook, saying he “destroyed his family.”
This is a rare statement among our mental health professionals, who seem to adopt an oath of relativism. There is no pointing of fingers. Rather, the focus is directed to the problems in the relationship, to determine why he — or, but more rarely, she — strays.
Brinkley had to take things into her own hands — much easier when one holds a fortune — and use our courts and national media to humiliate the lying, cheating scoundrel. But once upon a time, the men in a woman’s life did it for her. A friend who grew up in rural Georgia comments that her father and the other men in their town would socially shun a man who was having an affair and stop doing business with him. At one time, male relatives served as screeners of potential mates for daughters and sisters who had their judgment clouded by the charms of a Lothario or a Ted Bundy.
The sexual revolution changed all that, with women presumably able to take care of themselves and enjoy the same sexual “freedoms” men did. This of course gave the Lotharios carte blanche to abuse and use women.
Brinkley has been roundly condemned for bringing her child custody case into the public spotlight. Such public exposure, whether through national media or talk among one’s social network, is considered a display of poor manners and weakness, an admission that she has been harmed by the man she let wheedle and lie his way into her heart. “Get on with your life!” is the message. “We don’t want to hear about what he did.” And on he goes to ask his next unsuspecting victim for a date.
In fact, friends and counselors are likely to ask such a woman to look at her role: What did she do to get into the situation? This is what Norman Sheresky, Cook’s attorney, implied when he told the court, “For goodness sake: She’s on her fourth husband.” Well, yes, fourth husband — it is a bit harder to find a good man these days.
The focus is often aimed at the woman for attracting such a man by presumably sending out signals about her vulnerability. This is the stuff of advice books, with titles that diagnose “codependence” and encourage toughness, like Think Like a Guy: How to Get a Guy by Thinking Like One, Date Like a Man, and Why Men Love Bitches. A shield of toughness will repel the next wolf and send him in search of easier prey, the advice goes. But this has a Wonder Woman quality about it; it’s a theory based on the assumption that the right attitude can act like a bracelet repelling bullets. Most harmful, though, is the message that remains out there hanging: it’s you, not him.
Thus is the wronged woman pressured to remain silent.
But this silence can sometimes have harmful, even deadly, effects. Consider producer Phil Spector, who was tried for murder, a case which ended, shamefully, in a mistrial. The prosecution presented four women — and a fifth who never took the stand — from previous relationships; all testified that he had held them hostage with a gun to their heads when they tried to leave his mansion. And that was how his employee, forty-year-old actress Lana Clarkson, was found dead — from a gunshot to her head, sitting on a chair holding a purse, as if ready to leave. A chauffeur also testified that Spector had told him, “I think I just killed her.”
What struck me about the testimony of all these women is that it showed a pattern. Yet each of these women did not know about the other women’s similar experiences. We need to ask: Would Lana Clarkson have been so trusting of Phil Spector if one of these women had been able to tell her about her experience? Would Phil Spector have continued in this pattern if his business associates and clients had shunned him?
Even though Peter Cook has thus proven himself an unfit father, the chorus of commentators from the airwaves has sung out against Brinkley, “But the children! Think about what all this publicity is doing to them!”
This is the same chorus that sings that hit single, “Yes, the guy was abusive to his wife, but he can still be a good father.”
This is moral relativism based on the faith in compartmentalization. But experts on abusers tell us that a person who is abusive in one aspect of his life is likely to be abusive in another. The sick sex play of pointing a gun at a woman’s head and the fantasy of multiple barely legal partners are the stuff of pornography. Spector who got his jollies by holding women hostage in his mansion also liked to lock his adopted sons into their bedrooms after dinner, according to their testimony. Clearly, the guy seems to have some control issues.
So think about Cook’s teenage daughter bringing her friends with her to Dad’s house for a sleepover. (Would you want your daughter there?) And what kind of message is sent to a son — who will inevitably learn about Dad’s behavior — when his father suffers no opprobrium? It tells him: You can do anything you like and you can just tell your kids that you didn’t “get along” with their mom. Then on to the next “date.”
Peter Cook has rightfully been exposed and shamed, as such cheating, conniving creeps were in days of yore. His attorney may claim that Brinkley displays the “self-indulgent wrath of a woman scorned,” but women have been suffering from the silence that comes from the pressure of such accusations for too long.