"If you are here to fraternize, I do not have the time."
-- the character Seven of Nine, in "Star Trek: Voyager"
Actress and pouty object of desire Jeri Ryan is rewriting the political sex scandal script.
Unfortunately for her ex-husband -- toothy and good-looking GOP Senate candidate Jack Ryan of Illinois -- Jeri Ryan's departure from the old themes has been disastrous for his political career. He found it just a little difficult this week explaining to heartland constituents his alleged romantic brainstorm: public sex in the kinds of clubs featuring mattresses in cubicles and whips and cages hanging from the ceiling.
She says the notion repulsed her. He denies proposing anything of the sort. Yesterday he announced he is quitting the race.
Two things make this sex scandal breathtakingly unconventional, and it is not the whips and cages:
The people in question were married.
And: No sex occurred.
This may be the first sexless sex scandal to bring down a politician. Ryan is being punished for kinky thoughts he denies thinking. Talk about the pain of unrequited love.
In the usual lusty plot, the foxy blonde in question -- almost always she is blond, except when she is Monica Lewinsky -- is an avid participant in the devil-may-care gymnastics. We will not soon forget the star turn of Rita and Rep. John Jenrette (D-S.C.) one night in 1976 on the Capitol steps. Not to mention Monica and the pizza and the thong.
Another typical plot point is infidelity -- proven or suspected. Think of doomed 1988 Democratic presidential primary candidate Gary Hart with Donna Rice on his lap aboard the good ship Monkey Business.
Alleged misuse of public funds often helps drive the action: Elizabeth Ray being paid as a secretary by Rep. Wayne L. Hays (D-Ohio), even though she couldn't type.
Finally, a boffo comic pratfall leaves the audience laughing: Stripper Fanne Foxe exiting Wilbur Mills's Lincoln and leaping into the Tidal Basin.
The Ryan affair lacks all the ingredients. Maybe what we have here is a casting problem.
Ever since the former Jeri Lynn Zimmerman was a beauty queen (Miss Illinois 1989, third runner-up and swimsuit winner in her bid for Miss America 1990), she has been cast as the babe. Squeezed into intergalactic spandex as the technologically enhanced Seven of Nine, she single-handedly raised the ratings of TV's "Star Trek: Voyager" when she joined the show in 1997.
The cat suit was so tight that, early on, it caused Ryan to black out on the set a few times, she told interviewers. Her character's back story was that, as a child, she had been "assimilated" by the Borg, the organic yet mechanical society that shared a hive-mind. "Resistance is futile," said Seven of Nine, the signature Borg line. It became the male-fantasy caption of sexy Seven of Nine pictures on fan pages all over the Web.
The character wrestled with becoming an individual, human and sexual. She would say things such as, "Guilt is irrelevant." "Pleasure is irrelevant." And the classic: "Are you in love with me, Ensign? . . . Then you wish to copulate?"
When "Voyager" was canceled in 2001, Jeri Ryan became the sexy lawyer-turned-teacher Ronnie Cooke in the series "Boston Public." She helped boost ratings for a while there, too, but the show recently ceased production.
Jack Ryan, 44, was a Senate candidate from central casting -- handsome, wealthy, possessing a social conscience. In 2000 he walked away from investment banking to teach at a boys' school on the rugged South Side of Chicago.
The beauty queen had met the investment banker when she was a student at Northwestern, from which she graduated in 1990. She was dealing blackjack at a charity event, and he lingered at her table. They were married in 1991 and had a son, Alex, now 9. They took turns commuting between Chicago, where he worked, and Los Angeles, where she worked.
It was in the spring of 1998, while Jeri Ryan was still playing Seven of Nine, that her husband took her to some interesting nightspots. Her version of the story emerged in court documents, released Monday, relating to their 1999 divorce and 2000 custody negotiations.
Referring to Jack Ryan as "Respondent," Jeri Ryan told the court:
"On three trips, one to New Orleans, one to New York, and one to Paris, Respondent insisted that I go to sex clubs with him. These were surprise trips that Respondent arranged. They were long weekends, supposed 'romantic' getaways. . . ."
"The clubs in New York and Paris were explicit sex clubs. Respondent had done research. . . . One club I refused to go in. It had mattresses in cubicles. The other club he insisted I go to. . . . It was a bizarre club with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling. Respondent wanted me to have sex with him there, with another couple watching. I refused. Respondent asked me to perform a sexual activity upon him, and he specifically asked other people to watch. I was very upset. We left the club, and Respondent apologized, said that I was right and he would never insist that I go to a club again. He promised it was out of his system.
"Then during a trip to Paris, he took me to a sex club in Paris, without telling me where we were going. I told him I thought it was out of his system. I told him he had promised me we would never go. People were having sex everywhere. I cried, I was physically ill. Respondent became very upset with me, and said it was not a 'turn on' for me to cry." In response, Jack Ryan told the court the claims were "ridiculous" and an attempt to "libel" him when he had "political aspirations."
"I was faithful and loyal to my wife throughout our marriage," he said then. "I did arrange romantic getaways for us but that did not include the type of activities she describes. We did go to one avant-garde nightclub in Paris, which was more than either one of us felt comfortable with. We left and vowed never to return."
The great irony of this political scandal is that Jeri Ryan apparently is not a sex pot, she just plays one on television. Unfortunately, even her husband may have miscast her in the role. In the spring of 1998, the Los Angeles Daily News asked Jeri Ryan if Seven of Nine was her alter ego. She laughed. "My husband wishes it were," she said. "He thinks she's the perfect woman, meaning she looks good in a cat suit, is efficient and always on time."
"She is cast in roles where she's going to be the object of desire," says Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University. "One of the things she was being asked to play by her husband was the kind of role she plays professionally, demonstrating there is a difference between human beings and the roles they play."
In real life, Jeri Ryan defies the conventions of the classic political scandal. She was a National Merit Scholar. She is forever telling interviewers that she does not mind being cast in sexually appealing roles -- as long as the characters also are strong, intelligent and well-written.
Jack Ryan's campaign released a statement from Jeri Ryan on Monday, when the candidate was keeping hope alive.
"I consider Jack a friend," she said. "Jack is a good man, a loving father, and he shares a strong bond with our son. I wish him all the best, both in his life and career. I have no doubt he will make an excellent senator."