After pictures surfaced this weekend of British mogul Charles Saatchi choking his wife Nigella Lawson during what appeared to be an argument in a restaurant, the mostly well-meaning public response has ranged from "God, that's awful" to "GET A DIVORCE!" Actually, the sort of response that makes you want to take a bunch of Xanax and go back to bed, like, say "LEAVE THEM ALONE OR THEIR MARRIAGE WILL BE RUINED!!!1" — has been refreshingly absent. Until now!
In a column with the parody-murdering title "Leave Nigella's marriage alone: it's the only way it will survive," the Telegraph's Christine Odone argues that what happened to Nigella Lawson at the hands of her husband and before the lenses of prying paparazzi should just be something we just shut up about. Because right now, what the public and the media should be focusing on is Nigella Lawson's marriage. Here's the kicker sentence, just to save you the dozen or so eyeball muscle cramps that the piece gave me:
The only way the Saatchi marriage stands a chance is if everyone – including the Metropolitan Police – back off.
Hoo boy. Where to begin? The part where Odone minimizes domestic violence as just an oopsie-daisy fight got out of hand sort of thing that all of us solve with deep fried Mars bars and a quick pop-on-over to the marriage counselor? The part where Odone rushes to understand Charles Saatchi's hurt feelings rather than condemn Charles Saatchi's fucked up actions? The part where Odone prioritizes preservation of a legal union between a famous lady and a famous man over utilizing a public platform to point out that domestic violence is wrong?
Let's start with the part where Odone paints violence as an acceptable part of a healthy relationship that just sometimes ~*hApPeNs*~.
...there are a million incidents in a marriage which can only be understood by the couple involved. Some may be played out in public, others behind curtains at home. Happily, rows between spouses never elicit much interest; unless one or the other sports a black eye the next day, no one makes a fuss.
On a large scale, that's just good, old-fashioned irresponsible commentary, especially since the notion that sometimes couples punch each other and LOL it's ok! is exactly why it's been historically difficult for victims of abuse to get help. This is awkward, but does Christine Odone know that people, like, die from domestic violence all the time? And that abusers don't tend to go from dirty looks to facebreaking right away? That it's a gradual process that sometimes involves, say, choking of one's wife in public?
I'm not trying to say that I fear for Nigella Lawson's life; I don't know what's going on in their marriage beyond that one really awful-looking thing that just happened (Saatchi, natch, has denied choking his wife). But I do care about what message we're sending other people experiencing similarly violent treatment in relationships, which is why Odone's point about the normalcy of relationship violence wasn't entirely ragemaking; it was also super sad. I've been in physical altercations of varying severity with men I've dated before, and in at least one incident (the one that escalated to me being dragged down a hallway by the ankle) I probably should have left and never looked back before things got worse (they did). At the time, it didn't occur to me that what was happening was bad; I believed, like Odone purports to believe, that sometimes shit just happens and you get up and brush yourself off and deal. Incidents like Lawson's can help hold a mirror up to people being dragged around by the ankles or choked in public or hit and help them realize that what's happening is not just a cute little couple fight to giggle about later; it's fucked up. It's hard to realize that the water you're swimming in is poison if you're used to it.
Moving on to the part where we're supposed to shut up for the sake of Nigella Lawson's marriage.
The tragedy of a celebrity marriage like Nigella's and Charles Saatchi's is that they cannot hope for that kind of privacy. Any row witnessed by a member of the public will be snapped, tweeted, or recorded by fans and critics alike. This curiosity and open exchange charges the atmosphere: how can Charles Saatchi read such comments without feeling accused and convicted of a foul crime? How can Nigella stay with a man whom the public has decided is toxic? She will be bombarded with messages from well-meaning fans, telling her she must stand up to abuse.
Oof. Playing pretty fast and loose with the word "tragedy," aren't we?
Will negative press coverage hurt the Saatchi/Lawson union? Maybe. But that's not the point; the public has no vested interest in the survival of Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi's marriage, but it does stand to benefit from continued media insistence that fucking publicly choking your wife isn't an appropriate way for a man to behave.
Coverage of Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi's marital discord isn't about the media interfering in a private matter; it's about the media condemning an act that is objectively wrong. It is wrong to choke your spouse, and if you are being choked by your spouse, they are in the wrong. Not you. Period. Exclamation point. Emphatic emoticon.
Image via AP.