By REX MURPHY
Commentator with The National and host of CBC Radio's Cross-Country Checkup
Saturday, March 15, 2008
William Blake saw visions. But not even Blake, pottering about naked in his back garden chatting with angels, as he was wont to do, could have fantasticated something as alien to the age he lived in as the Emperors Club, with its diamond-rated filles d'hôtel, available at rates of one to five thousand dollars an hour, ordered up as easily as pizza.
Which is not to say that Blake was ignorant of purchased pleasure. Prostitution, as the glib axiom testifies, is the oldest profession, and from drab to courtesan, camp-follower to fille de joie, the variety of its practitioners is one of its enduring characteristics. Rather, the poet was more progressive than the age in which he wrote, sensed more keenly the misery that brought women to traffic in their flesh, and the miseries that the traffic itself superadded.
Indeed, poor old, crazy, wise Blake, in his poem London, penned a verse of much pity and anger on the trade:
But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots' curse
Blasts the new-born infant's tear,
And blights with plagues the
Between prosecuting and patronizing upscale cathouses (a neat trick, in both senses) Eliot Spitzer probably didn't have much time for poetry, but he may want to check Blake now.
There was something in the face of Mrs. Spitzer, called to stand twice with her self-disgraced hypocrite husband at news conferences, that said she understood the force of Blake's phrase "marriage hearse." And Mr. Spitzer himself might have a less funnelled idea of the damage he's done from another of Blake's warning couplets. Contra the theme of enlightened argument, prostitution is not a victimless crime, but a social toxin:
The harlot's cry from street to street
Shall weave old England's winding sheet.
A governor who rents women is complicit in the state's decay.
Blake's wisdom is perhaps too crisp and emphatic for our relaxed age, where pimps - at least in certain venues - have more currency than pastors. Pointing to the moral and social dimension of Governor Spitzer's bedroom transactions, via Blake or anyone else, is probably gauche, or even worse, judgmental.
After all, following this "personal tragedy," as unfailingly it is called, Mr. Spitzer must have time to "heal." The warm, moist towelettes of pop therapy must be laid on his troubled brow, distillations of Deepak/Oprah chatter sluiced on his injured esteem. Let us pray there's a spa where he can "confront his demons" guided by selected readings from The Book of Charlie Sheen. After which, he can of course "move on," "put it behind him" or, if he is truly heroic, "reach out to others," "repair his relationships" and appear on a call girl-themed edition of The View gushing apologies and bleeding "authentic" recovery from every self-exhibiting pore.
There aren't really many serious observations to come out of the Spitzer train wreck. That the powerful are arrogant is the weariest of commonplaces. That a crusading prosecutor would commit the very crimes he prosecutes would not startle a six-year old. Lear railed against that precise hypocrisy four centuries ago:
Thou rascal beadle, hold thy bloody hand!
Why dost thou lash that whore? Strip thine own back;
Thou hotly lust'st to use her in that kind for which thou whipp'st her.
I have some admiration for those who named the call girl enterprise - The Emperors Club. What could be more appealing to the egotism of the clientele, the brassy overachievers of politics and commerce? Real emperors, alas, do not lurk in hotel rooms under aliases or pseudonyms. Napoleon would never check in as "George Fox" which was Mr. Spitzer's nom de whore. The name, incidentally, (besides being that of the 17th century founder of the Quakers) is that of one of Mr. Spitzer's closest friends, which must have pleased the real George Fox when it raced around the world in every newspaper and on every TV station. Mr. Spitzer was digging a pit for maximum accommodation. Was ever a man so intent on making sure that, should he be caught, everyone - friend, foe, neutral or intimate - would have a reason to despise him?
I have some sympathy for the young woman. Before, her body was the commodity. Now, she has entered a version of Monica Lewinsky's world - her self, her breath and being, are product. Talk shows, late night monologues, stalking paparazzi, tell-all articles - poor young "Kristen" may even mistake it for celebrity.
They'll pick her up in limousines and bring her to grand hotels. Entertainment Tonight and its tacky peers will burble at her approach.
The moment will pass and she won't be able to flag down a cab.
Which offers a fearful symmetry (another Blake caution) with the profession she probably thinks she's left.