Recently the media fell all over itself to chronicle the story of a man who stood along a busy highway in the D.C. suburbs wearing a sandwich board reading: "I CHEATED. THIS IS MY PUNISHMENT."
It later turned out to be a hoax by a local radio station, but the depth of the coverage--it was on every local news station and the subject of a long article in the Washington Post--demonstrates a seemingly endless fascination with wronged women and how they get their revenge on cheating husbands.
Across the Atlantic, several tabloid-y dailies wrote about a disturbed young woman who:
...took revenge on the partner who had just dumped her by setting fire to his collection of designer suits, a court heard.
Kim Eccott, 23, caused £25,000 worth of damage to Mark Naylor's flat when she set light to clothing in the 47-year-old's wardrobe.
Torching your ex's stuff is hardly new news in the payback department--from Angela Basset's character setting fire to her cheating husband's sports car in "Waiting to Exhale" to TLC singer Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes's arson of her then-boyfriend's Atlanta mansion in 1994.
Revenge, we're told, is sweet, and depictions of it abound. Whole television series are devoted to dispensing public humiliation and payback for straying or sleazy husbands and boyfriends, from Jerry Springer and Steve Wilkos to "Cheaters." When it's women taking revenge on men--particularly for infidelity-- there's inevitably a "you go girl!" undercurrent to the reporting. It's supposed to be the wronged woman's chance to avenge herself against her victimizer. Everywhere you look, women are serving up retribution and the media rushes to cover it.
Even the political elites provide some schadenfreude for beleagured spouses--and the bigger the public platform, the bigger the public payback. Witness Elizabeth Edwards, whose publicity campaign for her memoir, Resiliance, was boosted by a media-driven mea culpa tour by her cheating husband, disgraced Presidential candidate John Edwards. While there's no doubt in my mind that John Edwards is a sleazy motherfucker, I thought his highly televised public spanking was clearly engineered as payback for his infidelity. Perhaps Elizabeth Edwards felt that the humiliation of being publically betrayed by her husband demanded that he be equally humiliated in public. She has terminal cancer, and would probably prefer to exact her pound of flesh from her straying husband before she dies. I'm not saying she doesn't deserve the pound of flesh. But I don't particularly like the fact that she got Oprah to flay it off him on national television. I'm uncomfortable watching personal drama--even deserved retribution--being played out in the public eye. I also don't think avenging yourself by humiliating your spouse before a large audience encourages reconciliation or closure, especially when you claim that's what you want (as the Edwardses do.)
If you're not in the mood for reconciliation, though, you should head to London, where this past Valentine's Day, the London Dungeon offered a "Hex Your Ex" special.
To qualify, visitors must bring a picture of their ex -- or anyone who has shunned them -- then rip it up and throw it in a smoking cauldron, spokeswoman Kate Edwards told CNN. Visitors can then select from a range of curses to inflict on their ex.
"The "curses" are meant to be taken lightly, she said. All were developed by the Dungeon's creative team.
"They involve marvelously bad things happening to your ex," she said. "Nothing deadly, obviously. It's obviously tongue-in-cheek."
Still, I think a good hexing–while cathartic–is probably unnecessary. I dislike the glorification of victimhood that's inherent in these stories. The best revenge is still living well--a cliche, I know, but it's true--and letting your ex reap what s/he sows.
Shakespeare wrote: "and thus the whirligig of Time brings in his revenge," a marvelous line about the inevitable bitchiness of karma. If your ex did you wrong, let Time's whirligig take care of him. It almost inevitably does. I offer up my own examples: after the breakup from hell, my ex proceeded to lose his job, get Lyme disease, and was forced to sell off his home thanks to the epic fail of his subprime mortgage. Another ex got married and divorced in less than a year after our breakup, promptly gained 50 pounds, and–in a random and spectacular crap e-mail–blamed me for the mess his life had become, even though he was the one who dumped me.
I confess, gentle readers, that I did not feel as bad about these unfortunate twists of fate as perhaps I should have. I may have even gloated the tiniest little bit. But would I have intentionally hexed these guys? No. If anything, what happened to them post-breakup proved I didn't need to.
Most people--especially spiteful or cruel people--are themselves their own worst punishment. Milton's Satan said "Which way I fly is Hell, myself am Hell", that is, we all carry the seeds of our own misery and destruction. Playing your dramas out in public rarely makes you look like a winner, and it tends to reinforce the stereotypes of women as victims. It's usually better–and less messy–just to sit back and watch them take root in the people who've wronged us.