Kobe Inc. under fire

From the small town of Eagle, Colo., another American sex scandal takes wing. The victim and perpetrator have become larger than their immediate lives, metamorphosing into unmistakably mythic proportions: the struggle between men and women, money and fame, sex and celebrity and, finally, truth and justice.

The setting: a society yearning for the discovery of truth, any truth, especially the case when it comes to America’s sex life. There is a constant yearning for some stable sexual truth. The characters: a man, who is no stranger to the mythic proportions now assigned to him (and, ironically, one of the gentlemen of the National Basketball Association) and a 19-year-old former high school cheerleader.

The battle for this game of spoken and “essential” truths is removed from the court Kobe Bryant is used to and set squarely in another. It would be na퀌�ve to assume, though, that this struggle waits for the gavel; it has already begun in the lightning wires of the Internet, on talk shows and in the newspapers.

The truth that America craves: Whose story of sex do we believe? Whose character do we take at more value? More telling, what are the qualities of these strangers that clarify our understanding our own sexual lives and our positions within?

The vitriolic blogger who began freekobe.com tells us something more about his own version of sex between men and women than in his ability to really free Bryant. Do the young men, who have essentially spit on the character of the young woman in hundreds of chat rooms, reveal disgust and insecurity in their own “character”? The friends of the victim, who have rushed to her defense, dripping with barely hidden stories of the “obviousness” of her injuries and the essential goodness of her character, also instruct us on their own sexual reality as small-town women in a world of splintered feminisms. These ladies also certainly revealed another American temptation, that of the camera. It was the victim’s own confidantes who revealed her apparent suicide attempt in the daze of the halo of lights and microphones.

The victim’s supposed instability is a sad, strange legal slam dunk for Bryant. The glee of the defense was registered. The 19-year-old woman will now be everything that Bryant would be cautious of before, concerned with later and hoped for after being caught: a liar, unstable, irrational and prone to cravings for public attention. She is even being ridiculed for trying out for the “American Idol” television show. When did the desire to be a star become a litmus test of rationality?

On the other hand, Bryant is now letting the tears freely fall, apologizing to his wife and “us.” He is so sorry, but not sorry enough that for the first two weeks of July, he sought to distance himself from the very notion of any sexual contact with “that woman.” He repeated several times “you guys know me, I would never do something like that.” And for a moment we pretended we did know him (at least the “guys”) until we realized that the “that” in that statement was not just a blowjob, but potentially sexual assault.

We don’t know you, Kobe (I never pretended I did), and I don’t know the young woman. I do know the power that famous men enjoy in this society. And as medieval as it sounds, they enjoy access to sex. I also know 19-year-old women, and as diverse as they are, I have heard plenty of their struggles for sexual freedom and for freedom from fear, intimidation and harassment.

As America (and myself) talk, talk, talk and talk about the dangerous sex lives of celebrities and strangers, I wonder if it is an attempt to interpret our own.