The Cosmopolitan is the most hypocritical of cocktails. All Juicy Couture, with magenta sequins on the hip pocket and a heart over the "i," it is in reality a stealthy, dark, sleek, long-range, off-the-radar missile designed to get you bombed. You're drinking a vodka martini, folks, even though it doesn't taste like one. Don't kid yourselves.
But you do kid yourselves. You wouldn’t order one of these horrors if you weren’t trying to kid yourselves. You’d order a martini, preferably made with gin, which shouts itself out, not vodka, that trickster, and certainly not pink vodka, sweetened with Cointreau and—arghhh!—dressed up in cranberry juice. “You” in this case is the consumer. “You” in this case is also a hypocrite, if we take hypocrisy to be saying one thing (“I am not gay”) but doing another (soliciting sex from other guys in the men’s room). The Cosmo drinker’s hypocrisy is to say, “I am a nice girl. See my pretty drink?” but then, like her prototypes on Sex and the City, to get drunk and sleep with her unattractive divorce attorney.
I’m curious, though: what is the active agent in hypocrisy, besides Cointreau? (Active is the word: hypocrite got its start as the Greek word for actor. See my last post for the etymology of cosmopolitan.) We like to think that hypocrites know they are hypocritical, which suggests that deception is the main ingredient. We’re pretty sure that Larry Craig recognizes some inconsistency between his statements and his actions. You can tell when you’re having gay sex. You can also tell when you’re voting against including sexual orientation among hate crimes. And when homosexuals get beaten to death, as Wyoming student Matthew Shepard did back in 1998, you, in nearby Idaho, are surely worried for your own safety, so that your desire to deceive only deepens. It’s villainous, this hypocrisy, because it denies safety to others that you covet for yourself.
Bristol Palin, teen mom, and, now, Abstinence Ambassador for the Candies Foundation, provides another curious example of profound dissonance between what she says and what she does. These days, she pledges not to have sex until she’s married. What is she thinking, pledging abstinence of all things? Right there on Oprah Winfrey’s show? With the world watching and a custody battle over her out-of-wedlock child in progress? How does she jibe that custody battle with her early 2008 pledge that she and her two-month-old’s father are going to get married, that Levi Johnston, high-school drop out, is "a really hands-on dad"? He’s so hands-on that a year later, he’d coughed up only about $4,000 in child support.
We like to think hypocrites are Iago-esque villians, twisting their lemony fingers in glee, cackling, “Heh, heh, let’s see if they’ll swallow this whopper,” until we remember that Iago is one of the most cryptic, baffling characters in the history of theater—precisely because he seems motivated so purely by a desire to deceive others. The deception theory is unpersuasive when we consider Bristol Palin, too. In 2008, the kid seems honestly to believe that she’ll marry Levi and have hot sex forever. And in 2010, she seems equally confident that she won’t have hot sex. Ever again. With anybody. Maybe the deception theory explains Larry Craig, but it doesn’t help an actor play Iago. Ask one and he’ll tell you that to play a villain, you have to figure out what that character thinks he’s doing, which is never being a villain.
The hypocrite doesn’t see himself as hypocritical but rather as a perfectly rational actor in his own drama. To the Cosmopolitan, the Cosmopolitan’s actions are consistent: it sees itself, a la Juicy Couture, as a cute little number in near pink to which unlucky things like ugly divorce attorneys, gay sex, and unwed pregnancy happen. The active agent, then, is self-deception.
In that case, hypocrisy is related not so much to villainy as to dramatic irony: it’s a phenomenon of the beholder. We non-Cosmopolitans see the unintended consequences of knocking back all that lipstick on a vodka, while the Cosmo is just going about its little Cosmo life, making terrible choices like anybody else. Medea, for example. No cognitive dissonance need apply except to us, the audience, who see the collapse of logic, the untenable position, the folly, the fallacy, the chasm between word and deed. Are hypocrisy and dramatic irony two different things or perspectives on the same cocktail? They both describe our seeing what the actor cannot. Worse, the agony of dissonance is all ours, not the actor’s, which is why we shout at them in horror movies even though we know they can’t hear us. “Don’t open the door!” we scream. To no avail. For this reason, I can’t watch those kinds of movies, nor can I watch Sex in the City. I keep wanting to stop the horror and tell Sarah Jessica Parker that a giant pink Cosmopolitan is sneaking up on her.