My stepfather used to say, “You can do whatever you want in private, as long as you look good when you’re out in the world.” He adored that sentiment, appreciated, I believe, being able to play the good and loving father when we were out to dinner or spending time with family friends, and then come home and either sexually violate one of us, say, or spend the night either psychologically torturing his us with mind-numbingly long talks about how some small aspect of one family member’s behavior was an indication of a larger pattern of disrespect and bad thoughts (akin to the re-education techniques used during the Chinese cultural revolution). He counted on this public-private split, the well-developed expectation of a man (particularly a man of a certain class) to act however he wants to at home or in private as long as, in public, he keeps himself together.
In yesterday’s NYT magazine (you may notice a pattern here, with respect to the place where I find things to rant about these days), there was an article about how the FBI apparently sent a letter to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, threatening to expose his sexual liaisons with women other than his wife. The article makes reference to a press that was, in the early 1960s, “more cautious” than today’s media:
“F.B.I. officials began to peddle information about King’s hotel-room activities to friendly members of the press, hoping to discredit the civil rights leader. To their astonishment, the story went nowhere. If anything, as the F.B.I. learned more about his sexual adventures, King only seemed to be gaining in public stature. […]