(This is a director’s cut of an article originally published in the September 2011 issue of August Man Malaysia- Ed.)
Using references from fictional and real accounts in the media, Kamarul Anwar tries to verify whether today’s society is the only one obsessed with scandals of adulterous temperament.
Kristen Stewart was probably the last person you would thought able to cheat on their significant other. And then she did, with a 41-year-old married man, the director of Stewart’s Snow White and the Huntsman. (Though, word is that she only made out with Rupert Sanders and his snake never got acquainted with her pit, hence why Robert Pattinson is now on talking terms with her.)
But when the news broke a couple of months ago, you might not even have blinked when you heard it. It’s not because Stewart has a dubious reputation when it comes to relationships. It’s not because Robert Pattinson thought, “(They.) Were. On. A. Breaaaaak!” It’s just that infidelity seems to be… ubiquitous these days, whether in real life or in fiction, whether among prominent figures or the hoi polloi, whether among couples who are married or those who are not.
So, as the popular song about divorce and adultery goes: “If there’s something strange/In the neighbourhood/Who ya’ gonna call?”
Mere mention of the Obedient Wives Club (OWC) would cause people to instinctively (a) roll their eyes, (b) scoff, (c) groan and/or (d) blurt out a biting tirade on the group’s philosophy. I remember a personal friend of mine, a woman, who actually said, “Even if the member’s wife wears a corset and nothing else to arouse the husband, he won’t necessarily get a hard-on or forget other women – especially when his wife isn’t anywhere near pretty.”
As blunt as that conjecture may be, the source of the viewpoint – a female – shows that even a woman does not believe that the OWC is formed by women, for women. After the feminist movement took centre stage in the 1960s, this niche outfit consisting of tudung-wearing makciks, headed by the widow of the deceased founder of a banned religious cult (OWC vice-president and mouthpiece, Dr. Rohaya Mohamad, was the third wife of Al-Arqam’s Ashaari Mohamad) attempts to reverse the more than half century of efforts by feminists and spits on the idea of gender equality by telling women to be “whores in bed” for their husband and blindly comply to their husband’s demands like a Stepford Wife – plus, please, wear a tudung. Who the fuck is she to tell us that? Even men would want their wives to be their wives and not a RM260-per-session hooker devoid of emotions.
Dr. Rohaya has a point though. As radical (yet antiquated; the irony) as the OWC’s precepts are, the club’s foundation stems from the pattern of rising rates of divorces in Malaysia. A happy marriage, Dr. Rohaya reasoned, is one where the husband “would have no reason to stray, seek out prostitutes and indulge in social vices.” While marriage is supposed to be an institution built upon an egalitarian partnership where the wife’s feelings, needs, and desires also matter, the divorcing fad, so to speak, is rather worrisome. The Malay Mail (paper, not the person) reported that Malaysian Muslim couples get divorced at the rate of one couple every 15 minutes. In the United States, where 4.95 out of 1,000 people get divorced annually, 39% of the country’s population believes that marriage is obsolete, according to TIME.)
The divorce pandemic is not limited to prominent personalities, the pagan demigods of our time. Reports of their scandals often become the Achilles heel to their well-crafted public image. Unlike the title of Panic! at the Disco’s first single, once these media darlings write their sins, they consequently write their own tragedies. Not having enough of real bedroom problems in the media, today’s fictions – ranging from television series to films and even songs – feature extramarital affairs in abundance as part of their plot devices. This is a stark departure from the pre-Internet days where television stations were known to offer family-friendly programming.
Why the change? And are we, the society of the 21st century, fixated with the idea of infidelity? Or to put it in a simpler and more contemporary context: so, is, like, um, cheating, like so totally in?
A Brief History of Infidelity in Media
Our predecessors – especially in moralistic Malaysia – claim that today’s moral fabric is impure and theirs were as clean as a napkin straight out of laundry. But the topic of infidelity has been discussed ad nauseum since time immemorial. It was in the 17th century that William Shakespeare wrote Henry VIII, the play that dramatised of the King of England’s life when he fell for Anne Boleyn, which prompted him to annul his marriage with Catherine of Aragon. Leave it to the father of literature to decide what stories were deemed emotionally provocative to engage the audience.
Cinema only made things more salacious. When film emerged, our society was treated to Casablanca (1943), deemed one of the most famous romantic films of all time. This revered romantic story is, surprise surprise, one of an extramarital affair. In his magnum opus, Humphrey Bogart was Rick Blaine, the owner of a club in Casablanca. Throughout the course of the film, Rick gets enmeshed into a three-way relationship with Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), who is two-timing husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid).Casablanca concludes with Rick persuading Ilsa to leave for Lisbon with her husband, lest she would eventually regret this sinful romance.
For decades since the film’s release, adultery was shone on a negative light and made to be such a big deal, to the point where the topic can be the central theme of a whole film. Fatal Attraction (1987) planted fear of psychopathic mistresses into many married men. Michael Douglas is Dan Gallagher, a successful lawyer from New York who bumped into Alexandra Forest (Glenn Close) at a cocktail party. That chance encounter led the two to have a weekend tryst when Gallagher’s wife (Ellen, played by Ellen Hamilton Latzen) is away at her parents’ house. Gallagher only wanted a one-night stand (or two), but Forest begins to become clingy, obsessive and homicidal. And you think your boss is a psycho bitch.
Infidelity still ushered in the 90s. It was still treated as a major plot point in films, but filmmakers had softened their treatment of the subject; people committing it were not necessarily villains now. We see discussed in 1993, when Demi Moore became the talking point of the year when she starred in Indecent Proposal, a polemical film at the time (but one that is just far too cheesy for people under the age of 18 today). Broke and desperate, married couple David and Diana Murphy (Woody Harrelson and Moore) are offered $1 million by billionaire John Gage (Robert Redford) should Diana be willing to spend a night with the playboy tycoon. In dire need to pay back some loan, The Murphys mutually agree to accept the proposal, which taught audience that money does make the world go round. Gage, however, obviously has not learned about mail-in brides or Mermaids.tv (if you don’t know what the latter is, ask your horny male friends).
With great power, comes greater libidinousness
Indecent Proposal reaped $266,614,059, a big box-office success. Consequently, the topic of adultery inundated other fictional works until the phenomenon lost its lustre as a cause for fascination. The sitcom Gary Unmarried (2010) has a running gag where the two primary subjects, Gary and Allison Brooks (Jay Mohr and Paula Marshall) could not contain their sexual attraction even though they are divorced and seeing other people. Infidelity, once the main attraction in films, is just treated as a plot-vehicle accompanying the laugh-track in the 21st century. Multiple-time Emmy Award winner Mad Men (2007) habitually portrays infidelity in heaving abundance to the point that audiences have become desensitised by the act. If Don Draper and the other married advertising executives at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce had a dollar for every time they slept with a woman who was not their wife, their agency would not need clients.
Fictional adulterers are no longer the men of the hour.
The 2000s saw audiences veering towards realism, as evidenced by the thriving popularity of reality shows. Now, real-life scandals have become endemically reported. And often, these figures who are often caught red-handed by media outlets and investigative journalists (ahem, paparazzi) are men from the political arena.
International Monetary Fund Managing Director, Dominique Strauss Kahn, recently made headlines for accusations of sexually assaulting a housekeeper in Sofitel New York Hotel. Former California governor and sometimes-cyborg, sometimes-barbarian, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was also handed divorce papers when stories broke of him siring a child out of wedlock with his cleaning staff. Even in our homeland, the de facto leader of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, has been indicted numerous times of sodomising men, despite having a wife. Then his name surfaced again in the news for committing more extramarital activities – with a female prostitute, this time around.
Sportspeople are also known for their insatiable need to take off their pants even when their wives are not around.
It’s almost expected, considering that their testosterone levels are exponentially higher than the average Joe’s and Jane’s. Still, these stories become hot-potato social capital and are dissected in countless small-talk at boring parties everywhere. The most famous golfer in the world, Tiger Woods was also the subject of the most infamous reported scandal of the nascent years of the 21st century, where he bedded more than a dozen women (and apparently won’t stop until the sun goes up). Manchester United’s striker, Wayne Rooney also had a lustful tryst with a prostitute (Jennifer Thompson) when his wife was expecting a child.
The Societal Obsession
The exposés of real-life prominent figures committing adultery has become ubiquitous today. Did life imitate art, or did art imitate life? And are we suckers for this sensationalised news, while our antecedents were not?
Besides a good fashion sense, Mad Men is approbated for its historical accuracies. The advertising executives of yesteryear commended creator Matt Weiner for immaculately capturing the essence of the culture of the advertising industry in the 1960s. (It was said that Mad Men was inspired by the book From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor: Front-Line Dispatches from the Advertising War, a collection of observations of former advertising executive Jerry Della Famina. He also was one of the people who noted the level of realism in Mad Men). Thus, infidelity has often been in the social fabric, only concealed from the media.
The 1989 film, simply titled Scandal, is adapted from the real-life affair between one John Profumo, a British politician and a prostitute named Christine Keeler. This monstrous hit of a film initiated the movement of disseminating real (but probably embellished) juicy bedroom details to the public. Obviously, art imitated life in this case, or Shakespeare’s Henry VIII for that matter. But it could have been possible that the imitation is now in a vicious cycle, where even civilians now dabble into adultery after being inspired by these acts in film and the news. Thus this explains the ascending number of divorces, or people who do not get married at all. If people of the past generations had been exposed to the theme of infidelity one too many times like we do, they would be rapt by it.
Now that this article is over a year old, I have had more time to ponder: were our predecessors really as interested about trysts and scandals as we are?
Old people, don’t you people talk about affairs and shit?
One Baby Boomer I spoke to said yes, in a matter-of-fact way, like the answer was entrenched in his reflex system. But it wasn’t talked about openly, he added, and he admitted that many of his peers are morally upright, or at least try to act like they are.
Well, sure, just like us, we do not talk with strangers about another person’s illicit bedroom activities too. Talking with friends is an inclusive activity that shelters us from our surroundings, like we occupy a space separate from other parties. Our jargon and pronunciation style might have transformed from 50 years ago, but we still talk about the things that titillate human beings; what is deemed taboo.
Sure, tattling has been our pastime since time immemorial, yet how does one explain the ascending number of failed marriages, or the exponential two-timing in our age?
Sure, I’m no social scientist, and it is not my job to speculate what the reason(s) is or are — though I can confidently say that every individual who commits adultery has personal, unique reasons to do so. And should I write about the rising divorce rates, it will diverge from the course of this article.
Some of these individuals have interesting stories, and sickeningly, I do take interest in their affairs. Hey, I’m human, too. Which then, I would segue to present you a list of my favourite adulterers, four of which are fictional characters, while another quartet are real-life figures.
Though before I do so, I cannot help but to notice that these people share something in common: they are among the best in their respective fields.
Maybe, after all, their truest commitment lies in their chosen vocations.
(Most of) the characters in Mad Men
Let’s start with the odds-on favourite. Leading the pack of men who has made adultery so glamorous is Don Draper (Jon Hamm), a baritone-voiced barrel-chested man who has a mysterious mien that just makes women around him so eager to dig into his pants and find out what’s inside Draper (and his pants). And then there’s Roger Sterling (John Slattery), Draper’s former mentor-turned-on-and-off-best friend, a man who is more committed to wearing his silver-hued suits than to his two now-former wives. Even Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), a Catholic raised in the suburbs, has gotten the hang of the quirks of her colleagues in Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce; she once gave a handjob to a random man who passed her a joint in the cinema.
Mr. McMahon (WWE)
The on-screen persona of WWE’s Chairman of the Board (yes, I know that wrestling is fake/predetermined) has his fair share of scandals and is proud to show off the intimate sessions with his mistresses to the world (WWE has cameras everywhere in the arena, and he should know, since he owns the damn company). But McMahon’s most flagrant act of infidelity has to be when he stood in front of his wife Linda – who at the time was in a catatonic state – and passionately played tonsil hockey with Canadian hottie Trish Stratus.
Christian Troy (Nip/Tuck)
Born a product of rape and sodomised by his stepfather, Christian Troy (Julian McMahon) finds comfort in sex and berating the women he sleeps with. His marriage to Liz, a lesbian anesthesiologist whom he made fall in love with him, is only so he would have someone to take care of him because he has breast cancer. Troy then learns that he is fully healed, and that he hasn’t learned to be faithful. In a later time, he feels responsible of his second wife’s suicide (Kimber Henry, played by Kelly Carlson). To absolve himself of guilt, he goes and has sex with her mother. Fucked up, I tell you.
Singers usually get on the side of the ones cheated on and make songs to express their distraught and heartbreak. But Rihanna goes into the shoes of the ones who make that lapse in judgement, and expresses the remorse felt by an adulterer. In her mind, she is a “murderer”, as it kills her boyfriend to know that she is happy with another man.
The father of science also fathered tens of children – fifteen, exactly – out of wedlock. The website cheaterville.com (thank you for providing the information, but why the fuck would you curate a site dedicated to these fuckers?) claims that Albert Einstein “had as many as ten mistresses in his lifetime”. I’m pretty sure someday we’ll unearth his research paper on the laws of attraction. That’ll get him another Nobel Prize.
I remember E! News extensively covered Tiger Woods’ serial-cheating scandal for weeks. While I do not follow golf (I knew Woods only as ‘that guy on the Nike ads’ and ‘that guy with an EA Sports game’), the then-ongoing coverage certainly got my attention as (1) it had been a traded-like-a-hot-potato social capital, and (2) I can’t help but live vicariously through this golf legend. Woods has divulged to the National Enquirer that he slept with 121 women before his infamous car crash, and the list of women includes porn stars and his then-21-year-old neighbour. 121 women. Wow. 95 more and he’d conquer as many holes as on the world’s largest golf course, Mission Hills Golf Club.
John F. & Robert Kennedy
President John F. Kennedy had power to wield as he took charge of White House in 1961. He also had too much testosterone to swing his phallus in so many different directions. Medical experts theorised that JFK’s medication for his Addison’s disease (an endocrine disorder) led to his horniness. Among some of his reported affairs were with actresses Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe, and the latter also had an affair with father-to-eleven-children and then-Senator of New York, Robert Kennedy. Daddy Kennedy must have told his boys in a deep Bostonian accent, “You gotta learn to share-ah.”
(Photo is cheating-husband2 by Den Harsh; all other images are courtesy of their respective copyright holders)
None of Kamarul Anwar’s childhood friends have any interest in writing, so he was excited to meet people with a common passion at a gathering of ISSUE’s editorial team. Eventually, the novelty wore off as he realised that everyone there were mere mortals. We writers, he learned, might be able to whip up literary magic, but none of our farts smell like Sean John’s I Am King. The scent is, simply, Unforgivable.