The Changing Face of DisgraceS

What do the instant comebacks of Martha Stewart, Henry Blodget, and Eliot Spitzer tell us? There's no longer anything to be ashamed of in failure. And that's cheery news for anyone who's been laid off.

The narrative arc of disgrace used to be a traditional three-parter: The fall, the repentance, the glorious return. But our fast-forward culture lacks the patience for that. We've forgotten about the Biblical years of wandering in the desert in favor of the three-day resurrection. So much easier to step right back into the spotlight. It's not a comeback — it's an encore.

If anything, Stewart's five-month stint in the big house after she was convicted of lying to prosecutors about a stock sale made the ice queen of entertaining vastly more approachable. Hey, Martha's a little bit gangster! Now lets make some badass cupcakes. I hear she got the frosting recipe from a cellmate.

Henry Blodget, a former Merrill Lynch analyst, became famous for predicting Amazon.com's soaring rise in stock price during the dotcom boom. But he was barred from the securities industry for life after lawsuits turned up emails showing him privately bashing the same stocks he was recommending. And yet he's still dispensing stock tips at his startup, Silicon Alley Insider. If anything, he has more credibility as a blogger than he ever did as a Wall Street analyst. (And how did he launch his comeback? Covering the Martha Stewart trial for Slate!)

And Eliot Spitzer went from governor of New York, a rising star of the Democratic Party, to Ashley Dupré's Client 9, brought down by an investigation into prostitution rings, to boring punchline — all within six months. He's still a schlub who shows up at Slate parties, god help him. (Now, he at least has the excuse of being a columnist for the online publication. Along with Blodget.)

What this means for the less-famous: Nothing's really a setback. Did your startup go under? Give speeches about how much you've learned about business. Went bankrupt? Raise money for a brand new hedge fund? Laid off? Glory in your life as a free agent (until you get another steady job). The only risk you take when you fail is not being epic.

The Greatest Depression has been marked by its swiftness and ubiquity; in a hyperglobalized economy, it struck everywhere at once. We're all disgraced now! Why would we ever hold a little thing like failure against someone?

(Photo of Blodget via BusinessWeek; Spitzer via Us Versus Them)