Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum called the Duke rape case "a scandal in search of meaning." She points out that every new piece of news that emerges is like a Rorschach test. Everyone - conservatives, liberals, blacks, whites, men and women - interprets what is happening according to his own predisposition.
For me, the story has conjured up images from a depressing and gruesome film of a number of years ago, "Leaving Las Vegas." The film served up to the audience a distillation of the worst that life has to offer. The protagonist, played by Nicolas Cage, loses his job and concludes that it's not worth going on. He takes whatever money he has left and goes to Las Vegas with the objective of giving himself a month to drink himself to death.
Cage meets a prostitute and they connect on a personal level. But the terms of engagement are that it can't get too personal. They can connect, but she can't interfere with his goal of drinking himself to death. That is, although moments of humanity might be permitted, they'll both remain aimless and pointless objects of life's serendipity. He, an unemployed loser with no prospects. She, resigned to sustaining herself by selling her body.
In one of the film's more horrible scenes, she receives an order to a hotel room from a few college kids who are apparently in Las Vegas for a weekend joyride. When she arrives and enters the room, she tells them she'll take them one at a time. Even in the flesh-peddling business there's apparently a place for some kind of civil rules of engagement.
But the boys will have none of it. They gang-rape her, sodomize her and beat her.
The pathetic story fits well with the backdrop of Las Vegas, the quintessential human supermarket.
So, it's this sad story of human emptiness that I see in the tale from Duke.
It may be true that those with different politics or sympathies may interpret the facts differently. But what seems consistent across the board here is the complete absence of any glimpse of quality and decent behavior by anyone.
Like in "Leaving Las Vegas," one is left with a cynical sense that the only way people are capable of relating to one another is as objects for one another's use.
Even if the Duke boys shake the rape charge, it's hard to feel much sympathy for them. You can see them going through life like it's all one big fraternity party. The sense one gleans of why they're getting a university education is to acquire a pedigree and technical skills so they can afford the accoutrements for the party.
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