‘Virginia,’ ‘Damages,’ Adultery and Pop Culture Villains

There are a lot of things that look terrible about the trailer for Dustin Lance Black’s new movie, Virginia:

But I think I’m most irritated by the whole pious-Mormon-sheriff-who’s-cheating-on-his-wife-so-he-can-be-a-submissive schtick. It’s amazing how often pop culture goes to the adultery well, whether it’s to demonstrate that a social conservative is a hypocrite; to show that an upstanding man has a dark side as was the case in Ides of March; or to reinforce the idea that an already venal person is even more evil than we already knew.

I’ve been watching Damages as part of work on a larger piece, and it’s very interesting in the first season how the show decides to reinforce that Arthur Frobisher, a billionaire who trashed his company’s stock value to make a profit and raided his employees’ pension fund, is a bad guy by having him sleep with hookers while he’s married and do some cocaine after his wife decides to divorce him. There was something just incredibly generic about the sequences (though it is particularly poignant to me to see Ted Danson have sad desperate car hooker sex) and the way they were meant to indicate to us that he was a Bad, Bad Man. Especially because there are much more powerful ways to impart the same lesson. His casual manipulation of his mole among the client advocates, and the way he treats his wife, particularly the scene where he swings the good-luck putter she made sure he had as his good luck charm into her windshield in a futile, scary attempt to prevent her from leaving him, are much more directly relevant to explaining Frobisher’s hunger for control.

I get that choreographing morally-dubious-looking sex scenes, or talking about adultery, is a really easy thing to do cinematically. But it’s really boring, and it often doesn’t get at what actually is important about these figures. Being personally irresponsible and selfish isn’t actually always the same impulse as reshaping the world to suit your needs. And what’s important about philandering politicians or corporate tycoons is less their personal behavior and the way it impacts their families than the policies they implement and the decisions that they make that affect the rest of us.