What do Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods and Arnold Schwarzenegger have in common? They are all American icons who use their celebrity status to make our world a better place. Yawn. They all have promising young daughters who are destined to follow in daddy’s footsteps and achieve great things. Yawn again. As if the column title hasn’t already given away the answer, all three of them are powerful men who, at the pinnacle of their careers, put everything they had on the line and cheated on their wives.
|Powerful men who fell from grace|
For every Bill, Tiger and Arnold, there are hundreds other famous men who got caught with their hands in the cookie jar. At times it seems that the more successful a man gets, the more willing he is to throw away everything for a fleeting moment of carnal pleasure. According to a 1950s study on American men by the Kinsey Institute, there is a one in two chance of indiscretion occurring during marriage. In the Information Age where you can download free porn, order Viagra and hook up with an old flame all at the click of a mouse while the wife is asleep in the other room, that estimate seems a wee bit conservative.
|The ground-breaking study on sex and the sexes|
So why do famous men cheat? The notion itself seems to defy the basic principles of economics. Common sense tells us that those who have little or nothing to lose – the loser dude in a trailer park – would be more inclined to cheat. But studies suggest just the opposite. A recent New York Times article cites evidence that people who have more to lose are more prone to risky and self-destructive behavior. In much the same way best-paid executives are more likely to engage in insider trading, powerful men are more likely to stray. Is it ego, arrogance or the delusion of grandeur that makes men in high places cheat? Or does life on the fast lane demand a dose of clandestine thrill to spice things up? After all, high-stake politics and billion-dollar acquisitions can get a little stodgy if you do it day after day. We can psycho-analyze the cheating man all we want, but at the end of the day it might all come down to one word: probability.
|Caught in the cookie jar|
Remember your high school science? Chemical reactions occur when particles collide. We all know that. We also know that only a fraction of these collisions can cause a chemical reaction. Increasing the concentration of the reactant particles, scientists argue, leads to more collisions and therefore more successful collisions, ultimately raising the rate of reaction. This Collision Theory, first proposed by German chemist Max Trautz in 1916, is seemingly applicable today in explaining why men who have it all are more likely to lose it all. Fact: successful men meet more women of higher caliber than the average Joe. Fact: women throw themselves at these men like moths to the flame and lemmings to the cliff. Result: more collisions, more chemical reactions. It is that simple.
|Modern chemistry explains it all|
If an eighth-grader understands this, so do politicians. That's why the sex snare remains the weapon of choice for politicians on the look-out for ways to destroy their opponents. Better still, the smarter the target is, the harder he falls. When the scandal of former chief of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Dominique Strauss-Kahn first broke in May this year, many in France suspected that the hoopla with the hotel maid was but an elaborate set-up to sabotage Strauss-Kahn’s bid for the French presidency. Within a week after his arrest, the disgraced 62-year-old bowed to mounting political pressure and resigned from the IMF. Even after he was cleared of all criminal charges five months later, he threw in the towel and walked away from the presidential race. Whether he was guilty or not, the damage was already done. The trap of infidelity did it again.
|Strauss-Kahn arrested by police, convicted by the public|
The epic fall of tragic heroes in the likes of Strauss-Kahn is not limited to the West. Here in Hong Kong, there is no shortage of public figures who have rolled the dice in the underworld of adultery and lost. From actor-comedian Jackie Chan to property tycoon Walter Kwok and even our chief executive heir-apparent Henry Tang, these powerful men have been known to keep mistresses, fornicate with movie starlets, impregnate domestic caregivers, and, in the case of one Stanley Ho, did all of the above. In truth, men looking for a booty call in Hong Kong are spoiled for choice, whether it is a guys' night out on Lockhart Road or a day-trip to nearby Macau or Shenzhen. For those who prefer to go off the grid, there is that three-day golf trip to Hainan Island where a visit to the massage parlor gets them much more than a back rub.
|Henry Tang mobbed by reporters|
In a city known for materialism, even torrid affairs can’t escape a bit of commercialization. In Hong Kong, money is always part of the equation, even – or perhaps especially – when it comes to love and lust. Just a few weeks ago, a bar hostess was sentenced to seven years in jail for blackmailing a wealthy businessman, referred to as Mr. X by the local press. When their four-month affair ended on a bitter note, the accused demanded a whopping HKD140 million (USD18 million) in “break-up fees” and threatened to murder Mr. X and his family if he didn’t pay up. After the 1987 thriller Fatal Attraction scared the pants off male movie-goers around the world, random men reportedly went up to Glenn Close, who starred as the bunny-killing mistress Alex Forrester, and thanked her for saving their marriage. It looks like Hong Kong has just found its very own Alex Forrester to keep married men in line.
|Glen Close in the final scene of Fatal Attraction|
Male infidelity is a phenomenon that transcends time and culture. The question of why-men-cheat is a horse that has been beaten to death by psychologists, feminists and day-time talk show hosts. Entire shelves of books have been written about it. Ah yes, women are from Venus and men are, well, just pigs. Biologists tell us that male primates are hunter-gatherers biologically programmed to maximize sexual partners. Female primates, on the other hand, are nurturers who stay in the cave and raise the young. That’s why men and women behave so differently when it comes to sex. But does it excuse us or condemn us? And when the seven year itch creeps up, are men supposed to scratch it or ignore it until it festers into a flesh-eating ulcer? To all of that, America’s leading sex columnist Dan Savage offers yet another perspective and a badly-needed glimmer of hope. The writer urges all of us to re-examine the institution of marriage and stop pretending to be something we are not: monogamous. Couples should be upfront about their sexual needs, Savage argues, and once in a while they should let a bit of air out. That means an occasional stray by either spouse, if handled with honesty and an open mind, can be a good thing. Perhaps the guy has a point. Perhaps marriage is more than strict rules and prohibitions.
|John Gray's new book|
If all of that sounds a bit radical to you, that’s because it is. So before you rush home tonight and suggest an open relationship to your girlfriend at the dinner table like the characters in the Farrelly brothers’ comedy Hall Pass, you are well advised to take Savage’s advice with a pinch of salt and keep that wishful thinking to yourself. When it comes to the “M” word – be it marriage or monogamy – remember what a wise man once said: freedom comes not from the absence of restraint but the presence of discipline. Or was it a woman who said that?
|Wishful thinking in the Farrelly brothers' comedy Hall Pass|
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This article previously appeared in the November/December 2011 issue of MANIFESTO magazine under Jason Y. Ng's column "The Urban Confessional."
|As printed in MANIFESTO|