Through the release of a video depicting the ugly spectacle of a sports celebrity beating his wife, suddenly our supposedly enlightened (and, woefully self-absorbed) nation is aware of a fact that has afflicted the human condition since the dawn of time: domestic violence exists. Gasp. 'Seems we got the memo about five thousand years late.
So, in the wake of this "shocking" revelation, the NFL has promised 30 days of domestic violence training for its management (seriously?) and celebrities are suddenly coming out with long-buried stories of domestic abuse, as though jumping on the bandwagon of some dark new fad. How long will this outpouring of moral indignation last? Tic-toc. Before you know it, we'll be dumping ice water over each other's heads again and will have forgotten the whole ugly subject ever came up.
So, what's going on, anyway? Were we as a nation truly surprised by the sight of domestic violence? It's certainly no surprise to anyone who's been paying attention the last few decades at least that a woman is abused in this country every few seconds, or that one in three women is abused by a male companion. The evening news and daytime talk shows were full of it (at least, back in the days when daytime talk shows dealt with something other than celebrity gossip and fashion tips.) Those of us old enough to remember Geraldo Rivera's heyday have heard the televised horror stories of abused wives who've had to go into hiding for fear of their lives. Bloody tales of children murdered by their abusive fathers while battered wives stayed passive. What, it just slipped our minds?
Or, do we simply prefer to picture our sports celebs as heroic manly men who can do no wrong; certainly who would never commit so cowardly an act as physically abusing a woman? Hmmm...I'm guessing that ship pretty much sailed with O.J. Simpson, so no. Especially not with this latest disgusting display coming on the heels of a college football rape scandal. So, why the supposed shock and weak promises of change? Are we as a nation trying to reassure ourselves that this was really just a momentary aberration of our national character, and that it won't happen again?
After an abuser beats his wife, he'll often simper and cry and ask for forgiveness, then issue an empty promise that it will never happen again. And, of course, it does. So, perhaps, it is with a nation that glorifies violence and equates it with maleness, that vilifies and demonizes female sexuality while simultaneously putting it on display and (if only subliminally) equates violence with sex and yes, even with love, quietly justifying spousal abuse. Subconsciously, this has been going on since day one, though on the surface of our outwardly frivolous, puff-piece-loving society, we simply ignore it, like Jekyll ignoring Hyde.
Now and again, we find the need to purge our souls when something like this hits our T.V. screens. Then, after the newness of it wears off, we settle back into our normal routine, blissfully unmindful of the fact that the violence is still going on. I guess, in a way, we're simply less honest about our deeply entrenched patters of male violence than older cultures in which fathers butcher their daughters for marrying the wrong guy or cut their daughters when they hit puberty so they can never enjoy sex. In western society, we aspire to be more than we are, perhaps, but we seem less and less willing to acknowledge the violence all around and within us.
As always, we make excuses for rapists by blaming the victim. We pretend to treasure life (at least in its unborn state) while bombing countless women and children to death. We seem to need the lie in order to avoid the pain and inconvenience of facing the truth. Just as the Roman Catholic church hid the ugly, abusive evil hiding in its midst (probably since the middle ages) for as long as it could in order to maintain the mystique on which its patriarchal religion is based, so our still essentially patriarchal society maintains its comforting illusion of enlightened modernity.
Ancient rituals and customs designed to cage the male beast by subjugating woman to man's will no longer apply in the west. (No doubt the comforting illusion of bygone ages, hiding still more violence than history is willing to reveal.) So, how are we to confront the ancient demon of male violence in the modern age? We've acknowledged its forms and patterns. But, are we willing to fundamentally change a culture which seems, at its very core, to embrace and depend on violence? As long as we revere and enable our modern-day gladiators, the spirit that fuels violence in all its forms will always be with us.