Aug 272007
The ingenue in fiction is a sweet young girl who because of her naïveté is often taken advantage of by more worldly members of the cast. Sometimes she is even duped into committing some crime or other offense and made a scapegoat by dastardly villains. It’s an enduring theme in literature, enough so that it still has traction in modern society, though in an altered form. I call the many who make use of it disingenues, a word that has been used occasionally by others without definition. By it I mean someone who pretends to be a naïve innocent led astray by people who pretended to be her friends, with the intention of deflecting blame for some misdeed. More broadly, it could be taken to mean someone who is disingenuous generally (like, say, Alberto Gonzales).

The narrow meaning could be applied to any number of misbehaving celebrities. They blame “bad influences” around them and pledge to improve the company they keep so as not to wander down the garden path again. It’s a cheap dodge, and one that devoted fans always buy. Thinking seriously, when Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan go out to party, who’s in charge of that entourage? They are. They wield the power and authority in their circles, and they make their own decisions. Having the wrong people around them enhanced their opportunity to make bad choices, but those “bad influences” didn’t choose for them.

But let’s not limit the definition to women; this is the 21st century, and gender balance is at work here in epic proportions. The greatest recent disingenue is in fact a man, Michael Vick, who until this very day made a dedicated effort to lay blame for his own failures and shortcomings on the people surrounding him. From the beginning of this dog-fighting debacle, his position was that he had placed ill-deserved trust in his relatives and acquaintances. He had given them a house and they had betrayed him by using it for these evil purposes. Of course this fanciful tale of Mike Vick, ingenue, eventually unraveled, leading to today’s guilty plea. Encouragingly, today he also said, “Not for one second will I sit right here and point the finger and try to blame anybody else for my actions or what I’ve done.” Maybe he has turned the page, but consider how his statement of fact went to great lengths to indicate that the most gruesome act — the violent killing earlier this year of several dogs that were not “game enough” — was a “collective effort” involving Vick but not solely carried out by him. This is not materially different from the statements of fact accompanying his cohorts’ pleas, but the difference in language is telling; he is still trying to deflect blame.

Literary or not, the disingenue is here to stay. This line of defense is too successful to fade anytime soon. We always want to pity a poor celebrity led astray by the bad influences around him or her. But let us not forget that these people chose to associate with those influences, and moreover, that when those influences offered a turn onto the wrong road, Mike Vick and others like him chose to take it.