Watching Letterman. . . .

I’m a big fan of David Letterman’s comedic style and genius. While I had seen Letterman on The Tonight Show in the late 70s, what I remember most about those early years is tuning in during the summer of 1980 to his daytime comedy show. His skits, gags, and timing were hilarious. That show died after a couple of months, and then in 1982 Late Night debuted and I could once again get my fill. Since then, I’ve showed my kids numerous YouTube videos of old Letterman highlights and we’ve laughed together. The best bit ever? Letterman and the monkey lady. . . .

Recently, I’ve watched Letterman less and less, something occasioned by a growing lack of TV time and the fact that I just can’t stay up that late anymore!

Perhaps the most significant Letterman moment of all happened last Friday night when the humorous host took almost 10 minutes to tell his audience the story of his victimization by a blackmailer/extortionist. Not only was it a significant Letterman moment, but it was a significant cultural moment as well. Somehow, Letterman masterfully unwound the story and when he finally made his “confession,” he became the hero and recipient of applause. I’ve watched the clip a couple of times and I’m still trying to sort it out. I think it’s worth our attention as Letterman’s story, the audience reaction, and the continued response offers us a great wide-open look into the mirror to see what we’ve become.

Sure, Letterman’s sexual behavior was, as he says, “creepy.” But is it more than that? Is it “normal” because that’s the story about sexuality we’ve written in our current culture and choose to live/believe, or is it “creepy” because there’s really something wrong with what he did?

Let’s admit it, according to the Biblical drama of redemption and the Kingdom-story that’s unfolding around us, Letterman’s behavior is not really “creepy” at all. It’s something much worse. It’s wrong. And lest we self-righteously point our fingers at Letterman while thanking God that we haven’t gone down that road, think again. I can speak for myself. My post-puberty life has been full of sinful and fallen expressions of sexuality in thought, word, and deed. It’s also been a life marked by the never-ending struggle between managing (with God’s help and by His grace) the sexual thoughts, words, and deeds of my life that are not what they’re supposed to be, and living out my sexuality to the honor and glory of God. The struggle with sin is real. I suppose you might know what I’m talking about.

In the introduction to his wonderful book The Meaning of Sex, my friend Dennis Hollinger writes, “The issues surrounding sexuality and our sexual drives are far too significant to be driven by either cultural impluses or our hormones. And God knows we struggle with both. All of us struggle to make sense of our sexual beingness and our sexual longings. The temptations are powerful in a world where sexual images and impersonal sexual liasons are only a computer click away. The allurements send tremors through the core of our being with their potential to wreak havoc in our personal lives and covenants. They are already wreaking havoc in our society.”

Watching Letterman this last week reminds me of who I am. It reminds me of the need to be honest with myself and recognize the sins I’ve committed, the struggles I face, and the fact that before the Biblical drama concludes in all its glory. . . the battle will continue. But after watching Letterman, I truly wonder if most people in our culture. . . our kids. . . will even realize that a battle should be raging.

Maybe you and the kids you know and love should sit down and watch Letterman’s 10-minutes together. Then, talk about him, his humor, his behavior, and the audience reaction. Then, bring the Word to bear on the sexual realities of this rapidly changing world.

8 thoughts on “Watching Letterman. . . .

  1. Walt –

    I always appreciate your empathetical approach to an issue, yet are still not afraid to bring the truth. I thought it was interesting that he never publicly apologized to his family and still got the cheers from the audience. Can comedy cover up tragedy? Is the widespread acknowledgment of culture accept that affairs can be ok? Or even funny? That part scares me, despite this being sketch being very funny and my appreciation for Letterman and his humor.

  2. Walt,

    A thoughtful post… Sorry, but I can’t help but be a bit “snarky’ here… Letterman’s confession on national TV can help but make me wonder about two things: 1. Maybe now he’d like to go back and get and embrace some of that good ole fashioned (marriage etc.?) values; and 2. Just how many “daughters” (of a father and mother) did he take advantage of sexually? Perhaps he could have paid a bit more attention to the message of the Sarah Palin’s (not that she is perfect either) in the world, rather than savagely attack them? Life has a way of leveling the playing field doesn’t it?

  3. Rich, I hope I don’t come off as snarky or ugly, but I have to reply to your comment. I am growing increasingly frustrated with the language surrounding Letterman’s relationships with his female staffers.

    For the record.. I am a woman, and a committed Christian. I think what Dave did was “creepy” and wrong, as Walt described. I also think it’s tacky for a boss to dally around with his subordinates.

    But could we stop infantilizing these women, please? “How many women did he take advantage of?” Instead of (or alongside) asking that question, why isn’t anyone asking, “How many of Letterman’s female staffers misused the power of their own sexuality and appealed to one of the basest appetites of a powerful man?”

    I think this issue opens up an interesting cultural dialogue about men, women, and sex.. the (erroneous) idea of sex as something done TO women BY men, the (erroneous) idea that women rarely draw from the power of their sexuality to get their way, that women are so often victims in settings like this one. Sometimes they are.. but sometimes they’re not. These were consensual relationships between adults; if “advantage” was taken, these women should be filing complaints/police reports.

  4. Sorry, sent my comment too early.. haha..

    If anything, one could argue that the women benefitted more than the men did – Letterman paid for one woman’s law degree, for example. Again, not arguing that this is a GOOD thing, but it tips the scales a bit as far as “taking advantage.” Maybe SHE was taking advantage of HIM.

    Again.. not trying to snark :).. just sharing an opinion.

  5. That’s a thoughtful comment Lisa. Thanks.

    I think it’s worth noting this caution from 1 Corinthians 5 (forgive the long quote): I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with any who claim to be fellow believers but are sexually immoral or greedy, idolaters or slanderers, drunkards or swindlers. With such persons do not even eat.
    12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?

    And I think it’s worth hearing Mr. Letterman’s disclosure in context. He has, indeed, apologized to his wife and to his staff in what struck me as a heartfelt manner. Speaking of the damage to his wife, he concluded Monday night: “Let me tell you something, ladies and gentlemen: I have my work cut out for me.”

    He’s a fascinating man, viewed over time. This may be the beginning of a third public transition in his life; the first two being his response to the attacks of 9/11 and the heart surgery that saved his life. I thought it was interesting that the music Paul Shaffer played coming out of the Monday night confession was U2’s It’s a Beautiful Day.

    I can’t imagine this story is over any more than your’s or mine. It’s really something to see so much of it played out on live television.

  6. Lisa,

    I appreciate your comments… you can say them, I can’t – but I think it was helpful to be said! Thank you for hopefully your empowering comments to other women and your perspective for other men.

    Again, let me say the the irony of all this, as it relates to David Letterman and Sarah Palin (for example) is astounding! The resounding hypocrisy of the whole thing amazes me… thanks again Lisa!



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