Have you seen the video of alleged Russian spy Maria Butina and her ultra-conservative American lover Paul Erickson crooning a duet of “Beauty and the Beast”? This bit of kitschy, Disney-inspired sap is being rolled out by Butina’s lawyer as proof that she and Erickson were really, truly, madly in love.
The only thing this video proves is that Paul Erickson is a fool. Look, maybe you love Disney. Maybe you and your spouse bust out the love duets at karaoke night. That’s cool. But if you’re ever brought up on criminal charges, no one should offer video of these things as evidence of your innocence.
I blame American movies for this line of defense. Butina was accused of using sex to gain access to high-ranking American officials. Instead of coming up with a plausible defense, her lawyer declared her a virtuous woman. His argument boils down to this: she can’t be a whore if she’s in love. (Need proof? Watch Pretty Woman.) And a man can’t be a beast if he manages to convince a pretty girl to love him.
Just look at the fairy tale that inspired their duet. “Beauty and the Beast” is a heartwarming hostage tale in which a young woman’s father hands her over to a monster. As soon as the woman agrees to marry the monster, all is forgiven. Suddenly the monster is a prince, Daddy is redeemed, and all is right with the world. It’s a terrible story.
This time it’s the woman who snared a captive. Butina found a willing co-conspirator in Erickson. In exchange for her affection he escorted her into the bowels of the NRA, into the heart of the evangelical political community, and into the highest offices of American government.
There is no princess in this story and there is no handsome prince. The story of Maria Butina and Paul Erickson is no love story. It’s the story of a weak, gullible man and a duplicitous woman. There will be no happy ending for Butina or Erickson. Frankly, more fairy tales should end this way. We should stop promoting the Disney romance narrative. It’s not good for anyone.
And that video? Butina’s lawyer should never have trotted it out as proof of anything. Now there are two foolish men in this story. I suspect there will be more.
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