I don’t habitually spend time looking at topless men. I’ll see them at the gym and sometimes, if I’m not careful, catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. But generally, this diversion doesn’t comfortably fit into my routine. This year, though, for about four months, I made an exception. For reasons known only to my analyst (LOL, kidding. I don’t have an analyst, because life isn’t a Woody Allen movie!), I turned again and again to a blurry portrait of a lithe, 70-year-old Puerto Rican Jew.
To the extent that I was obsessed by anything this year, this was it.
At approximately 2 a.m. on July 21, a Sunday morning, Geraldo Rivera was a little drunk. It had been a satisfying day. He’d done “a great show on black-on-black crime and race relations and the Trayvon Martin fallout and federal charges” and all he wanted to do that night was talk to his wife about it. But she was asleep! So, what’s a guy to do?
The morning before, he’d snapped a photo of himself. It has not been established if, at the instant of documentation, he was about to enter the shower. His hair and mustache—which is neither droopy nor heavy with moisture—appear to be dry, so I suspect he hadn’t just taken one. Also, why would he risk damage to his glasses, which are tinted the color of rosé and are probably very expensive? Perhaps he was simply lounging around in a white towel, hung low enough to indicate a regular and thorough lower abdominal wax.
Looking at the day-old photo, Geraldo realized he looked good. Not buff, exactly, but not much visible body fat, either; sort of a scrawny, aging Michael Phelps. If his fifth wife, Erica, didn’t want to enjoy her husband’s body, well, there were thousands of Twitter followers who might. “Dammit, I like that picture,” he thought. “You know,” he also thought, “I gotta tweet this thing.”
And at 2:02 a.m. EST, he did.
When Geraldo finally slept off the tequila, he awoke to a text from his daughter: “TAKE THAT THING DOWN RIGHT NOW!” He didn’t, not right then. But the next day, Fox management made a more persuasive argument and, just like that, the tweet vanished.
But of course, it didn’t. The memory hole isn’t effective. Geraldo was lampooned, almost instantaneously. I’d like to think the low point was being mocked by Glenn Beck, whose bathroom appears to be the size of my apartment. The real fallout wouldn’t happen for a couple of weeks, when Geraldo learned that Duquesne University, which had asked him to moderate a panel on the John F. Kennedy assassination—for which he was eminently qualified—wanted him to stay home. The snap was deemed “inappropriate,” noted the demure Associated Press, “and not in line with the school’s values as a Catholic university.” (Perhaps I’m naive, but I think a Catholic university should be more forgiving of a skinny topless Jew.)
Cyril Wecht, a forensic pathologist who sat on the advisory board of the institute sponsoring the Kennedy panel, dissented. The photo, he observed, was not high “on the moral depravity list.”
It had been ten years since Geraldo had been in such trouble. This, too, was for an ill-advised disclosure, and broadcasting American troop movements got him booted from Iraq.
“I am banned for life?” he asked.
Don Imus often says he “revels in the agony of others.” I try not to do that, at least to excess, but sometimes I can’t help it. Only hours after the photo’s publication, at 12:44 p.m., Michelle Markowitz, a writer, deployed Topless Geraldo as a Twitter rickroll. In other words, she tweeted something anodyne (“First pic of the royal baby!!!!”), totally at odds with the attached photo. It’s a pretty unpleasant surprise.
I must’ve done something similar a hundred times. “The baby is walking!” “Doesn’t this banana split look delicious!” “Brooklyn sunsets are the best.”
Topless Geraldo, all of them.
I did it enough that, eventually, I was subject to this treatment myself at least once a day. And I fell for it every time. By the end, my Twitter followers—a prudent bunch—simply refused to click anything to which a photo was attached.
The party ended 130 days after it began. On October 29th, Twitter automatically previewed photos in users’ timelines. The element of surprise was gone.
I wish he hadn’t deleted that photo. I further wish that, instead of caving to his daughter and the Fox brass, Geraldo had stood his ground. The tweet marked him as a man willing to deftly—albeit a little recklessly—navigate a young medium. He was simply indulging in the tradition of self-portraiture that was, as Casey Cep wrote a week before the infamous tweet, “a product of the Renaissance.” Said Cep:
It used to be embarrassing to stage your own portrait, an implicit acknowledgement that you had no one there to take it for you or no one interested enough in taking your picture, but that self-consciousness has disappeared. It has been replaced by the self-confidence that selfies require.
This is the minor tragedy of Geraldo, who got caught between what used to be, and its replacement.
It’s mostly safe to follow Elon Green now.