One of the most troubling aspects of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest for a criminal sexual act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment has been the impact of the subsequent tangents that have emerged as “important” in the aftermath. Today, we have seen the political ramifications for the French socialists, analysis of his history of “skirt-chasing”, and what the IMF and world markets will do next in his absence. Strauss-Kahn has been described as a serial seducer, a man who has problems with women, and the victim of a plot.
These lines of inquiry serve to detract from the crime that is alleged to have been committed on Saturday afternoon, and whether or not he was responsible for these offences is actually immaterial to the narrative left behind and the way in which it has been presented in the media firestorm that followed.
By focusing on politics, economics, or personality, we can see an alleged assault as just another stumbling block in the life of a great man, like a minor health problem or a troublesome son or daughter. The profound disconnect between the sociopathic reality of a person capable of this kind of crime and its representation as a sensational but ultimately plausible story is disturbing, but at the same time entirely predictable.
This is how:
The only mention of his accuser is an anonymous victim, a badly paid chambermaid in a New York hotel who is African (I have seen three different nationalities mentioned today), 32 years old, and has a teenager to support at home. The victim will no doubt have encountered men like her abuser before, but is normally forced to stay quiet so as not to lose her job. Compare this with the white, blonde, beautiful Tristane Banon, who speaks in her own words, asserting herself and her story to the watchful eye of the media. The anonymous immigrant chambermaid, however, is simply an accessory to the overall story of the powerful male figure; a vessel for his epic downfall.
If Strauss-Kahn is guilty, his attack on the anonymous woman will not be excused by the fact that he “lost it” as he is alleged to have said of another attack on Banon in 2002. The truth would be that, like many politicians, a sense of power comes with a sense of entitlement.
The same phenomenon can be observed in the behaviour of top bankers, as documented in the film Inside Job. Sex, expensive suits, and the finest champagne are all interchangeable versions of one another, and if you are paying then you have the absolute authority and right to complete control over whatever product or experience you are purchasing. Beyond a certain level of accountability, it seems that many people are able to lose a sense of perspective of what is allowable and acceptable to the majority of society due to the narrowing of their social group to those with similar views and attitudes. This occurs only most obviously at the very top of elite institutions.
We can forget the human being who may have been treated like little more than meat because ultimately she doesn’t matter to the narrative. She has no power, so her impact will only ever be by implication or relation to Strauss-Kahn’s career, however positive or negative.
What, then, if he isn’t guilty? If he was trapped and set up? That would reflect on our appetite and expectation for this type of behaviour. We are so willing to believe that figures in power are capable of such actions (in part due to legions of evidence from past cases over millennia), that even if the incident never occurred, there would still never be a full exoneration of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. We seem to have a double expectation of politicians: that they will act as though they are extremely moral, and that they will be anything but.
The only thing one can be sure of is that the people whose lives are ruined as a result of the narratives of the powerful will never be remembered on their own terms.