Five Best Sunday Columns

On Murdoch's defeat, Casey Anthony's future, and Erica Jong on today's dull sexuality

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Erica Jong on the Boredom of Modern Sexuality. "People always ask me what happened to sex since 'Fear of Flying,'" writes Erica Jong, author of the iconic novel of the sexual revolution in the 20th century. "I was fascinated to see, among younger women, a nostalgia for ’50s-era attitudes toward sexuality. The older writers in my anthology are raunchier than the younger writers. The younger writers are obsessed with motherhood and monogamy." Jong thinks this shift in attitudes towards sex and freedom since the days of "Fear of Flying" makes sense: "Daughters always want to be different from their mothers. If their mothers discovered free sex, then they want to rediscover monogamy." But everywhere she looks, "there are signs that sex has lost its frisson of freedom. Is sex less piquant when it is not forbidden? Sex itself may not be dead, but it seems sexual passion is on life support." But what is the result?  "Not only did we fail to corrupt our daughters, but we gave them a sterile way to have sex, electronically." Moreover, she notes "our current orgy of multiple maternity does indeed leave little room for sexuality." According to Jong, there is something to be said, certainly, for this shift in sexuality: "Different though we are, men and women were designed to be allies, to fill out each other’s limitations, to raise children together and give them different models of adulthood. We have often botched attempts to do this, but there is valor in trying to get it right." Nonetheless, "when sex becomes boring, something deeper is usually the problem — resentment or envy or lack of honesty."

Frank Bruni on the Sordid Cast of the Casey Anthony Trial. "As a mirror of people’s opportunism, avarice, hypocrisy and hysterics," writes Frank Bruni, the Casey Anthony case was "galling." Leaving aside the justice of the outcome, the cast of characters was "almost too bad to be believed." Defense Lawyer gave the reporters and spectators the finger and lashed out at lawyers for going on television when he had done the same. Jose Baez, defense team leader, couldn't practice law for eight years because "the Florida bar deemed him unfit." Nancy Grace, with her "devil is dancing" wrath, "doesn’t serve the cause of victims with such histrionics. She serves the cause of Nancy Grace. And she succeeds only in trivializing everything." One juror "accepted, as a thanks from the network, a trip to Disney World." And "enough has been said about the sordid dynamics of the Anthonys. They’re pathetic. No verdict changes that or alters the probability that Casey Anthony will have a wretched future."

Susan Gregory Thomas on Gen X's Fight Against Divorce. "For much of my generation—Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980—there is only one question: 'When did your parents get divorced?'" observes Susan Gregory Thomas. "Our lives have been framed by the answer." Her generation, scarred by divorce, seems to have vowed against it. "Divorce rates, which peaked around 1980, are now at their lowest level since 1970. In fact, the often-cited statistic that half of all marriages end in divorce was true only in the 1970s—in other words, our parents' marriages. Not ours. According to U.S. Census data released this May, 77% of couples who married since 1990 have reached their 10-year anniversaries." Marriage, according to Thomas, is preserved for the sake of children: "Orphans as parents—that's not a bad way to understand Generation X parents. Having grown up without stable homes, we pour everything that we have into giving our children just that, no matter how many sacrifices it involves... To allow our own marriages to end in divorce is to live out our worst childhood fears." But is the pursuit of this "perfect nest" always the ideal? For one, "Gen-X's quest for perfect nests drove us to take out more home equity loans." Moreover, "marriages do dissolve, even among those determined never to let it happen." At the very least, Gen X "may not make it in marriage, but we still want to make it as parents...The phrase 'friendly divorce' may strike some as an oxymoron, but it is increasingly a trend and a real possibility...Many of us have ended up inflicting pain on our children, which we did everything to avoid. But we have not had our parents' divorces either. We can only hope that in this, we have done it differently in the right way."

Paul Mason on Murdoch's Fractured Empire. In the U.K., Paul Mason describes that the News of the World scandal "goes to the heart of the way this country has been run, under both parties, for decades... It is like a nightmare scripted by Noam Chomsky and Slavoj Zizek: key parts of the political machinery of Britain are wavering." Murdoch's empire was the peak of "journalistic centers of power" whose primary function, according to Mason, was to "dispense approval or disapproval to politicians... That is the kind of power that, until about 1500 on Thursday, journalists in that circle could wield." Mason likens the fracturing of News of the World to the economic meltdown: "In economics journalism, we have learned to study what the Financial Times writer Gillian Tett calls 'the social silence': the subject that everybody at high-class cocktail parties wants to avoid. After Lehman Brothers collapsed, we realized that the unasked question had been the most important: The answer was 'in the shadow banking system," but we only knew it existed when it collapsed. The political equivalent of that question is the one everybody has been asking journalists and politicians this weekend: why do all politicians kow-tow to Mr Murdoch; what is it that makes them incapable of seeing the moral hazards of the relationship?" Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, according to Mason, pioneered a theory describing this state of affairs: "there is a school of social theory that has a name for a system in which press barons, police officers and elected politicians operate a mutual back-scratching club: it is termed 'the manufacturing of consent'." But this theory has been challenged by "the role of the social media in breaking the old system." While Chomsky doctrine that "newspapers that told the truth could not make money," is true with respect to the fact that "Guardian, whose veteran reporter Nick Davies led the investigation, is indeed burning money and may run out of it in three years' time," nonetheless, "a combination of the Guardian, Twitter and the public-service broadcasters... proved stronger than the power and influence of Rupert Murdoch." He concludes "the most important fact is: not for the first time in 2011, the network has defeated the hierarchy."

Eleanor Clift on Clarence Thomas, 20 Years Later. "Most Americans had never heard of Clarence Thomas when President George H.W. Bush nominated him for the Supreme Court 20 years ago this month," recalls Eleanor Clift. "Democrats charged the White House with playing racial politics with an unqualified candidate on the assumption that they wouldn’t dare oppose an African-American... Republicans saw a political opening, thinking they could win over some voters with what Bush viewed as an historic appointment. Thomas’ race mattered, but he was chosen as much for his reliable conservative ideology as the color of his skin." But the confirmation process and Anita Hill continue to weigh heavily on Justic Thomas, 20 years later. "Thomas called the searing experience a 'high-tech lynching,' and remains a distant and silent figure on the Court. His memoir, 'My Grandfather’s Son,' published four years ago, reveals a life of real and perceived slights, along with towering grudges." As for his lack of experience, Clift notes that Thomas "rarely speaks in oral arguments, which his critics interpret as a sign of inferior legal acuity." A lot has changed in 20 years, but "Thomas is no Thurgood Marshall, which is exactly what Bush intended. For conservatives, Thomas is the gift that keeps on giving. Having just turned 63, he could well be there harboring his resentments as an anchor on the right for another 20 years."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.