Friday, March 02, 2012

41-year-old teacher snags teen; I don't know what to think

Last month a 41-year-old male high school teacher in Modesto, a depressed central California city, quit his job and left his family to move in with an 18-year-old girl who had been his student. The couple, pictured above, announced their relationship publicly this week with excruciating appearances on television.

For some reason I'm having a hard time getting my mind around this story. To give some context: I have been a high school teacher. I never was attracted to one of my students and never had any kind of inappropriate relationship with any of them, but I can relate at least to the extent of having been a high school teacher. Second thing: I've also been a pornographer. And situations like this are pretty much in the porn sweet spot.

So you might have thought I'd experience some kind of thrill when I saw this, but instead I reacted like any decent person would have: "Oh no. Oh you poor fools."

Then the second-guessing began. I thought: Well, okay, she's of age. No crime here; only stupidity. She'll probably recover from this mistake, especially if they don't have kids. He never will, but he's an adult and should be prepared to suffer the consequences of his actions.

But then I thought: But wait, isn't he simply doing what millions of men have fantasized doing? He's not unlike Roger Sterling on "Mad Men," who dumped his respectable middle-aged wife to marry his gorgeous 20-year-old secretary, despite his best friend telling him he was acting like a fool. This lumpish fellow has none of the suavité of Roger Sterling, and probably none of the money, but whatever he has he'll have less of it once his soon-to-be ex-wife gets through with him. And that's as it should be.

The point is: Isn't this monumental dope simply doing what the culture tells him to do, namely follow his dream, pursue his passion, and all the other self-actualization advice people have been force-fed for the last forty years? And especially in this case! He's only accepting the invitation, or mandate, he's bombarded with every hour of every day -- the one which goes Young nubile female sexuality is the greatest thing in the world, and possessing it should be your goal in life.

No, we turn around and mock and condemn him for actually achieving this goal. Because that's America. We use sex to sell everything, and then when someone actually takes these messages to their logical conclusion, they are deemed utter scum.

A tiny part of me -- a part which exists perhaps in others (perhaps more in some people) -- wanted to say "Dude, you go! You turned your life upside down for some American trim! Today you are the envy of every man who's ever fantasized about it, thought about it, tried disastrously and failed to do it. You actually did it. Rock on." But that part in me really is tiny. Mostly I just shake my head and feel a little sick.

But the second-guessing continues. What kind of non-conformist am I anyway? Shouldn't I stand with this man, perhaps not because he has managed to obtain every man's fantasy for an American teenager, but because by tearing apart his whole life for something he's passionate about, he has somehow struck a blow against conformity, in favor of Gauguin-like self-actualization and bohemia?

I guess it just doesn't read that way to me. It reads like the opening scene of Act II of a tragedy. By the end of Act II their relationship is over. In Act III he's alone, hounded by authorities, can't get another job and rebuild his life, and winds up either killing himself or, at best, in the gutter.

I hope it turns out better than that; I hope he loses 50 pounds and becomes the surfing champion he's always wanted to be, while the girl ("Jordan Powers," a name right out of a Young Adult novel) goes on to law school and a six-figure job. Somehow I have the feeling that's not in the cards.

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