The image shot clear around the world this week: a uniformed cop having sex with a woman on the hood of her car. Her shirt is pulled up, frayed light-denim jeans dangle from her foot and she's arched her back in what appears to be ecstasy. It may sound like a still from an unimaginative porno, but it's actually a capture from a security camera of a New Mexico state police officer getting busy on the clock -- and it's appeared everywhere from major national news outlets to British tabloids.
Now, the unnamed officer did have sex on-duty and in public, but just to keep things in perspective: There are cops currently accused of all sorts of horrendous crimes -- from murder to sexual assault -- but this officer isn't believed to have broken any laws. The tryst took place on an isolated road, out of public view, and there is no evidence of sexual bribery or abuse of power. The official line is that he "made a horrible personal decision" and will be punished, but not fired.
So why did it make international news, then? I suppose it's possible that people from New York to the U.K. are outraged that New Mexican tax dollars paid for this man's quickie. It seems much more likely that they are voyeuristically turned on by the whole scene. After all, the video still looks like it was taken straight from an amateur porno. It's smutty cliché turned real-life headline. (Next on the 10 o'clock news: Pizza boy caught giving "special" delivery!) Not only does it realize X-rated cop fantasies, but it's also real-life inspiration for the genre of caught-on-camera porn: naughty escapades made to look like they were recorded on hidden security cams.
When it makes the news, though, this is what I like to call morality porn: We condemn it at the same time that we're titillated by it. (It reminds me of the upset over a recent issue of French Vogue featuring a photo shoot of preadolescent girls made to look like adult sex symbols -- these images were said to be dangerous, even capable of turning normal men into pedophiles, and yet the outrage only served to get the shots much greater exposure.) In this case, the naughtiness is a large part of the thrill. The public disapproval -- strained as it may be -- is required to fuel the carnal fire.
To begin with, the cop fantasy hinges on the idea of power being corrupted, an enforcer of the law breaking the rules -- and all for sex. Many find something arousing, or at least self-affirming, about powerful authority figures -- from police officers to presidents -- proving weak in the face of lust. That's one way to make yourself feel OK about your own desires. And then, of course, there is the fantasy of being the one who inspires such passion.
This is one of those rare cases where hypocrisy over sexual misbehavior is revealed with all the subtlety of a porno parody. Usually, we do a much better job of concealing our pervy ulterior motives.
UPDATE: It was reported Saturday that the officer was fired after all.