We really, really, really wanted Huma Abedin to dump him.
As a report circulated Sunday night that Anthony Weiner — he of the corny, cloying come-ons, wiry poses, and all-too-serious smirk that he so rarely could bring himself to crop out — was back to his old tricks. This time, Weiner was angling a photo of his crotch to capture his and Abedin’s young son in bed beside him. The reaction on social media was sudden and apoplectic.
She’s too good for him. She deserves better. Change the locks, throw his belongings out on the street, take his credit card to the store.
Oh, and one more thing, Huma: Leave his ass.
Social media has done a lot of funny things. One of the stranger ones is that it’s given users a place to list their likes and dislikes, a tidy compilation of black-and-white fandom that, taken as a whole, makes up a person. You list your affiliations in your bio, a warning to visitors that you’re a partisan. You’re either Team Kendrick or you’re Team Drake. You’re Yankees or you’re Red Sox. You’re Alabama or Auburn; West Coast or East; Android or Apple. You’re right, they’re wrong, and you’re not afraid to yell about it. The internet is no place for shades of gray.
So what happens when that same kind of polarization is turned on a private relationship?
When Abedin issued a statement announcing her decision to separate from Weiner on Monday morning, the internet erupted with what amounted to applause. The New York Times issued a push notification. Twitter filled with replies: Atta girl. Took her long enough. HELL YEAH, HUMA. We didn’t just support the separation — we cheered for it. Whereas the public dissolutions of yesteryear — Brangelina versus Jen, say — were confined mostly to the checkout aisle, social media has built a platform for us not only to pick and announce sides, but to declare them to the relevant parties. (Take a look through Abedin’s Twitter mentions, and bring some Rolaids for after.)
#TeamHuma was easy to rally around, after all, and not just because she was up against a man seemingly hell-bent on finding his last couple dozen supporters and alienating them. Scorched Earth Huma was certainly a more compelling narrative than Poor Huma, the character who emerged in the wake of Weiner, the documentary released in May that followed her husband’s 2013 campaign for mayor of New York City — and that campaign’s derailment as news of a fresh round of lewd texts broke. In many ways, the star was not the titular character, but the visibly queasy Abedin, who spent many of the film’s most memorable scenes pacing in quiet horror. Earlier this month, Weiner — and notice that it is always him telling the story — revealed that Abedin’s role in the documentary was not something she agreed to: He says that filmmakers used footage of her without her consent. (A spokesperson for the film told The New York Times that “the filmmakers had consent from everyone who appears in the film, including Anthony and Huma.”)
Many compared the saga to the April release of Lemonade, Beyoncé’s tale of coming to terms with being cheated on. As Beyoncé bashed the shit out of Jay Z’s proverbial fire hydrant, the BeyHive stirred to life: Less to attack Jay than to proclaim itself fiercely Team Beyoncé with Jay, turning the full force of its fury — which is to say, its allegiance to the marriage of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter — on Becky with the good hair, that union’s suspected enemy.
Or, look at the frenzy over Barack and Michelle Obama, whose relationship is held up as such a paragon of devotion that a movie recounting the step-by-step progression of their first date was released last week — a project, by the way, that neither party had any involvement with whatsoever. Consider your feelings about the Obamas as a couple, and think about what you actually know of their relationship. They are smart and attractive and ambitious and likable. Sometimes they pose in formal wear together. Occasionally they get on a plane. Once in a while, they make a scripted video with each other. Are they happy? Maybe! Who knows? But the dearth of information about the state of their marriage from any source other than their in-house photographer hasn’t stopped people on social media from crooning about the strength of their love. Barack and Michelle are #squadgoals for couples, a model of adult romance. Woe unto any who dares to challenge it.
Caring deeply about the relationships of famous people is nothing new, of course. Tabloids have always trafficked in the love affairs of those in the spotlight, and Abedin, an aide to Hillary Clinton, and Weiner, ex-congressman, ex–Democratic darling, and ex-mayoral candidate, are undeniably that. But there’s something strange about declaring allegiance to a relationship, whether it’s to a couple or to a specific partner. Social media has both a distancing and a magnification effect: It’s easy enough, in a world where we can go see Weiner and watch through the lens of internet fandom, to feel that we know more than we do, to feel party to scandal just as naturally as celebration. Part of the excitement over Abedin’s announcement was the sense that it felt like she was finally taking our advice to ditch that scoundrel. If only she had listened to all those strangers sooner.