My biggest takeaway from the hack of cheating site Ashley Madison

I’m not really all that qualified to comment on pop culture stuff, especially if it’s television programming. We haven’t had cable for years and have long relied on Netflix for TV fixes. YouTube, too — the kids are always showing me John Oliver clips and stuff like that.

But reality TV? I know almost nothing. I think Kim Kardashian was on her third marriage before I asked someone who the hell Kim Kardashian was. Same for the Duggars. I didn’t even know who they were until the story about Josh Duggar molesting female family members surfaced.

I do use the Internet, so I was aware when the story broke about the marital cheating site Ashley Madison being hacked. I tend to find some of the hacking going on a little entertaining — as long as confidential information isn’t compromised. Like when the Lizard Squad hacked the XBOX and Playstation networks over Christmas, rendering countless gamers unable to maintain their daily fix and/or play with their new Christmas bounty.

At the time I teased my gamer-devotee teenager that the hack was probably done by some disgruntled parent sick and tired of being held hostage to video games.

Which is why my initial reaction to the Ashley Madison hack was a similar sense of just desserts. Whether it’s good or right or not, people cheat. Like prostitution, it’s an act that’s as old as time. I’d like to think it’s not as common as it seems in light of the news, but there’s no avoiding the truth that “sh#@ happens.”

But if you are going to take cheating to a level that involves a mass Internet network, then deal with the fallout. It’s one thing to disrespect your spouse through the act of cheating. Doing so in the blatant, graphic and ultimately traceable ways provided by the site is just yucky.

Ashley Madison founder Noel Biderman poses with a poster during an interview at a hotel in Hong Kong in this August 28, 2013 file photo.  (Bobby Yip | Reuters)

Ashley Madison founder Noel Biderman poses with a poster during an interview at a hotel in Hong Kong in this August 28, 2013 file photo. (Bobby Yip | Reuters)

Bring Josh Duggar into the Ashley Madison story, and it goes from yucky to I-don’t-know-what. There just aren’t words for the molestation story, alone, without bringing Ashley Madison into it.

I had wanted to blog about the Duggars earlier in the summer, but as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I found the story too horrific on too many levels to write about in the immediate aftermath. I still struggle to do it now. The story is like a rancid onion, and peeling off one layer only reveals another more rancid layer underneath.

What do the crimes say about Josh Duggar? What does the decision to hide the crimes say about his parents? Why wasn’t anyone charged with anything, even a misdemeanor child endangerment charge? Is the Arkansas division of Child Protective Services involved on behalf of remaining minor children in the home? Are the minor children in the Duggar family and in their larger social circles safe?

And now that we are finding out he allegedly maintained Ashley Madison accounts, we have to ask: Is Josh Duggar safe from himself? The purported treatment he received when his parents decided not to turn him in should have included treatment for impulsivity and deviant behavior.  Maintaining Ashley Madison accounts from 2013 until May of this year, which happens to coincide with the surfacing of molestation allegations, suggests the treatment may not have been as effective as he’d like people to think.

The degree of awfulness contrasting the wholesome, strict Christian family brand successfully bandied about by the Duggars leaves Josh Duggar looking like a twisted, perverted version of the small man behind the curtain in Oz.

Are we as a society that has birthed such successful shows and websites safe from ourselves?  The Duggars reality show and the Ashley Madison site show just how much we value denial and dishonesty– so much that these undesirable states of being are financially lucrative.

Are these stories more reflexive of modern society and its technology, or more reflexive of a desire to stay in denial and avoid addressing problematic human behaviors that have been around as long as people have been professing one lifestyle, but living another?

Maybe we need a reality show that shows the way reality shows keep us from dealing with actual reality. Or a website that enables users to receive feedback about the various issues they are in denial about. Or a reality show with a website that provides a forum for couples to learn how to communicate about sex and the monogamous expression of sexual desires and wishes.

Who knows? I do know the Duggars’ schtick should have come across as too good to be true, but it didn’t until the horrific facts proved the hypocritical lie. The idea of such easy access should have come across as too-good-to-be-true to cheaters. And I’m sure many of the marriages undermined by Ashley Madison also should have seemed too good to be true to some of the unsuspecting spouses.

If there’s one lesson to take from the merger of these two stories, it’s that it is time to stop avoiding the truth.

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.