Loosening grip – a breath of air

Prince Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte – nephew of the Emperor Napoléon – was elected as the first President of France in 1848. History Today has the story – and it’s an interesting one, inasmuch as it contains pre-echoes of the most recent presidential elections … not only the French one, but also the American one. According to Richard Cavendish, Louis Napoleon “won one of the most remarkable victories in French history, though he had never held public office or distinguished himself in any worthwhile capacity.” Some considered him an ass; others called him a cretin. Cavendish reports that “Karl Marx sourly remarked that because Louis Napoleon was nothing, he could appear to be everything.” (Cavendish, 1998)

Macron and his wife, sourced from CNN, 12 May, 2017.

Macron and his wife, sourced from CNN, 12 May, 2017.

Aged forty years and eight months, Louis Napoleon was the youngest French president to assume office. That’s now no longer the case, of course: France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, is 39. And his wife, Brigitte Trogneux, is 64. (“Emmanuel Macron,” 2017)

Macron’s victory was welcomed with a sigh of relief in Europe, according to the Financial Times, which offered analysis indicating that wealthier, better-educated, and optimistic voters had preferred Macron. In his victory speech, Mr Macron told the crowd Europe and the world were “watching us” and “waiting for us to defend the spirit of the Enlightenment, threatened in so many places”. See Sky News, 2017 (“World leaders react to Macron’s election win,” 2017)

But the election left the nation deeply divided. Pledging to “guarantee unity”, President Macron acknowledges he faces an immense task ahead. He plans to invest in job training, farming, transport, infrastructure, and healthcare. He intends to push for public service modernisation, greater efficiency in the health sector, and cuts to local authority spending. In contrast to Marine Le Pen, Macron does not envisage a France that shuts out immigrants and asylum seekers.

Both Macron and Le Pen represent outsider movements. In choosing Macron, an independent and a centrist, voters have turned their backs on the traditional conservatives and socialists – the Republicans, the National Front, the Socialist party, and La France insoumise (France unbowed). “France offers an extreme case of the populist wave against governing elites that is sweeping many nations,” explains Jonah D Levy, writing in the Washington Post. In short, it is the French establishment that has been rejected. And it would be a mistake for that establishment to view Macron’s win as evidence that they have avoided what unfolded for the UK and the US. (Levy, 2017)

David Cameron – Britain’s Prime Minister at the time of Brexit – had called the referendum with the intention of strengthening his political grip. Cameron didn’t want to leave the EU. The establishment of the day told itself there was no way the UK would leave the EU. The outcome was a total shock.

Broadly speaking, the result is explained in one of two ways. The first expresses a deep resentment of the migrants who have come to live in Britain. It is immigrants, we are told, who are responsible for lack of jobs, the escalating cost of living, and the dilution and pollution of British culture. It is seen as vital that Britain leave the EU. The voice for this anti-immigrant line was Nigel Farage, the driver of Ukip’s Brexit battle bus. A second explanation, and the one this blog favours, is that issues like employment and housing are social problems, responsibility for which rests with the establishment of the day. The real reason for the social and political complaints – Neoliberal politics – remains to be addressed.

On his Brexit tour of the UK, Jeremy Corbyn promised a Labour government would deliver a “a jobs first Brexit.” (Agerholm, 2017) His view is more complex than simply a yes or no to continued membership of the EU – and he has thus at times viewed Europe as a bit of a riddle.

Corbyn has consistently argued against the economic and political view that says “free market at all costs”. In 2015, he was unhappy with how the EU was handling the grinding austerity enforced upon Greece. He had wanted to build bridges with Europe in order to give support for labour – common workers’ rights, poverty reduction, and welfare. That outlook could be seen as a reason to stay in the EU – not leave. As things have worked out, Corbyn is embracing the decision to leave. Notice how a response to the austerity attitudes could just as easily have informed the view, “If that’s how you treat the labour force, I want nothing to do with such behaviour” – a reason to leave the EU.

Social and political change is not the product of disaffected white males inspired by violent right wing ideologies. Traditional Marxist theory argued the agents of social change were the proletariat – the working class. In sociology and economics, people suffering a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material and psychological welfare, have been dubbed the precariat. What is in front of us now is a new proletariat, a new group without an independent identity – and they are looking for a political voice. This is the subject of Guy Standing’s book, The Precariat. Recent events in the UK and America point to this nascent group’s struggle to shape the future. (Standing, 2016)

The explanation I’m offering here is unorthodox – but it is not an effort to say something radically new. I’m being loyal to a framework of ideas and perspectives that seems to have been pushed to one side in favour of notions that owe more to emotion and moral outrage than to facts. The reader might recall Stanley Cohen’s foundation text, Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers, published in 1972 and based on research he had carried out during the 1960s. I’m arguing that we haven’t yet finished with the sixties and seventies – and nor have we lost hope in the possibilities and aspirations envisaged in those days. (Cohen, 2011)

French philosopher Alain Badiou uses the term ‘event’ when discussing the idea of truth and truth-telling. (Badiou & Feltham, 2007) He argues that truth breaks through, interrupting the flow of history, insisting we see something, even briefly. For him, the loyalty to that event is central to truth-telling. My reading of Badiou is that he is a Marxist and that he wants to ground his thinking in an historical view. So for him, and for me, truth-telling incorporates both a remembering and a re-experiencing. Marxism insists on a loyalty to emancipation – primarily economic and social, but also sexual. The discourse here is not about sex, but about culture. The political and social battles in the UK, France, and America – and indeed, in New Zealand – are cultural battles. The hard left wants to make a big thing of gender, safe spaces, and legislated language (see Jordan Peterson and his stand in a Canadian university), but I’m viewing these things within a broader and deeper context. (Peterson, 2017)

The irony is that the media don’t seem to be serving us well; I view the newsmongers as pro-establishment, and pro-business. What they offer is a version of the establishment view, perpetuating the old conversation of identity politics – a crusade against ‘bad men’, under the banner of ‘social justice warriors’. But the players – in America, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, et al – are all caricatures. The narratives in which these characters play out their dramas are supposed to explain why things are the way they are – the good guys and the bad guys. My view differs from this.

I can’t pretend to stand outside the media, as if they have played no role in shaping my views. YouTube, the various news sources, and all kinds of media provide access to information and opinions. The ways in which the business community controls and defines how media functions in Western democracies give the possibility of free speech and, in complicated ways, also undermine it.

Slavoj Žižek saw the US election as a chance for change. “Slavoj Žižek Says He’d Vote Trump: Hillary ‘Is the Real Danger’” said the headline in Breitbart (Hahn, 2016) . Žižek was not pro-Trump; he predicted the Democrats would lose because their chosen leader had links with banks and big business which undermined the party’s ability to point to real change – to step back from Neoliberalism and close the gap between the rich and the poor. Hillary Clinton may well have talked about emancipation for gays and lesbians, an openness to immigrants, and the promotion of liberal agendas. In the end, her words were seen to be superficial.

In America the Democrats, the media, and a large part of the Republican movement regard themselves as the establishment. For this group, the arrival of Donald Trump at the White House has been a shock. The way things work is spelled out in the distinctive style and damaged profile of Donald Trump – the compulsive liar, the fondler of women’s bodies – and the struggle to establish a new, draconian feminism as the determinant of our political future.

Here we see an alliance between the media’s lurid version of current affairs and an emergent faction inside feminism. It is important to note that not all feminist voices are singing these songs. “The progressive, feminist politics of the American campus have become so extreme that they’ve become comical,” says Allum Bokhari in Breitbart (Bokhari, 2016). The headline of this piece reads: “Christina Hoff Sommers and Camille Paglia on Coddled Students and Fainting-Couch Feminists.” It’s not all funny, however; there’s a dark side. Modern identity politics are currently being driven by a third-wave feminist view that is intolerant, and Stalinist.

Sometimes the media, informed by this new ideology, insists on offering us a picture of Donald Trump as the most recent version of the dangerous male – a pussy-grabbing bully, shaped by the business world, but ultimately a woman-hater. As stated above, Slavoj Žižek was not pro-Trump. He advocated voting for Trump because he saw Clinton as the dangerous one.

So now, all three nations are on notice: in Britain, America, and France, people who see themselves as the victims of economic strategies which undermine the future for individuals and families are demanding change. Across western liberal democracies, and at every level, we see people suffering and angry. One can hear such voices within the worlds of the working class, the middle class, and the upper class.

Some French liberals feared their old enemy, the radical right. The old categories of political left and right don’t serve us well in analysing modern liberal democracies. More to the point is the disenfranchisement of a population who have lost their faith in the political process, and fear a future that includes temporary work contracts, ballooning debt, and a sense of disconnection from society and culture.

As was the case in the US, the French media have portrayed things differently, focusing on gender wars, the faults of men, and the rising radicalism of feminist factions – the style one observes here is of Stalinist intolerance, rather than assertive critical thought.

At this point, it might be worth acknowledging this post has devoted more attention than usual to political matters. My intention is in fact focused on the intricately interwoven sociological and cultural aspects of our current situation – hardly surprising, given my training and experience.

Although the French election result is widely regarded as good news, some have expressed concern – not about the flavour of Emmanuel Macron’s politics, but about the fact that his current partner, Brigitte Trogneux, was once a teacher at his former high school, where she ran the drama club. The young Emmanuel’s parents sent him to Paris to put a distance between the precocious fifteen-year-old and his drama teacher. Interestingly, two years later Emmanuel declared that she would one day be his wife. (Jordan, 2017)

These facts alter the way we interpret the simple observation that the age gap for the French couple is almost exactly the same as that between Donald Trump and his wife Melania – although in that instance the differential is the other way around.

There are indications that for some at least, age gaps are no big deal. Quoted in a pre-election story that appeared widely – including in the US, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand – Martine Bergossi, a Paris retailer, gives her view: “Why can’t we marry younger men? I date them all the time.” Mary Jordan, the Paris-based writer of the article, remarks, “[Macron is] a candidate young enough to be his wife’s son.”

The Sydney Morning Herald ran Mary Jordan’s story under a headline that highlighted “the social revenge factor” which the story, intending to offer its readers a little titillation, claimed delighted many French women – including Martine Bergossi – and added “a little ooh-la-la” to the presidential campaign.

It crosses my mind to wonder: Is this fresh focus on age disparate relationships something out of the blue? Does it perhaps offer an opportunity for change? But then I am reminded that this sort of thing is in fact not new. Wikipedia offers a discussion of age disparity and the ‘half your age plus seven’ rule of thumb, admitting that “Although the origin of the rule is unclear, it is sometimes considered to have French origin.” (“Age disparity in sexual relationships,” 2017)

The media are certainly not neutral on this matter. Over recent years, the opinion shapers have been reinforcing popular culture, emphasizing talk of the need to shift to more age appropriate couplings, and urging punitive hard-line condemnation of relationships which break the rule. But age disparate relationships have been de-facto ‘normal’ for a very long time, and while all the talk of age appropriateness unfolds, in the real world other stuff happens.

Some of my readers might at this point be asking: What about same sex couples? But there’s no talk here of two males or two females. In 2015, I posted a piece titled, “Still breaking rules, but that’s okay”, which discussed the relationship between Stephen Fry (at the time, 57) and his partner, Elliot Spencer (then 27). Stephen Fry boxed clever with this message, I believe, by publishing two volumes of memoirs, in which he dealt frankly with all the ‘stuff’ about himself. “This is me, like it or lump it,” he seemed to be saying. (Hooper, 2015)

Interestingly, British commentators persisted in talking about him as likely to receive some kind of award or honour, validating his role in British society and culture as a leading voice to be taken seriously. Fry’s recent skirmish with the Irish Catholic establishment over ‘blasphemy’ is just another example of his readiness to push back against the challenges which crop up from time to time – things he regards as tattered emblems of the old establishment, outmoded relics worthy of being unceremoniously dumped. (Bell, 2017).

It is interesting to note both the British couple (Fry and Elliot) and the French couple (Macron and Trogneux) are the recipients of public approbation. This encourages me to suggest again that, at least for now, relationship age gaps are not as important as some might have thought.

Currently I live in a Western liberal democracy. I understand, and value, the contribution pop culture and news media make to our lives. But they are too close to business, and too deeply enmeshed in some of the negative aspects of society. They are part of the establishment that needs to change, an establishment that is in denial, and that resists change. I see the American Democratic party behaving just this way.

Since the election the media has provided endless stories of the evils of Donald Trump, and little acknowledgement that the Democratic party has participated in and contributed to a country where the gap between the rich and the poor has never been greater. On the evening when the American election result became clear Hillary Clinton retreated to her bedroom, refused to acknowledge that outcome, and went to bed. This symbolic act of denial still represents the Democratic party beyond the first 100 days.

Looking at the media’s comparisons of the American couple and the French couple … in both cases, the age difference is roughly the same – about 24 years. Whilst one term for an older man in a relationship of this sort is “silver fox” – or “silver daddy”, in the case of a gay man – it didn’t take long for the Western liberal media to start portraying Donald Trump with a subtext that inferred ‘bad guy’.

For some time now, in media pieces, age appropriate relationships have been couples whose ages were very close, whilst age disparate relationships – sometimes the gap is 20 years or more – were a matter of concern, even suspicion. The ideology of appropriateness spreading through our media seems in fact to be at odds with the choices people make when forming relationships. Nevertheless the promoters of prescriptive views are determined: “we tell it like it is,” they cry.

For many people the media seems more real than their own lives, and their day-to-day experiences less significant. It might be worth questioning the establishment and the media, worth holding them to account for the way things are. What seems to be unfolding is the ‘real’ they promote is being replaced by a real that breaks through. The voices of age gap couples – in Britain, France, and America, in straight worlds and in gay – are being listened to, and are receiving social support. Let’s see where this takes us. Age gaps are not bad by definition, nor are men the source of all that is dark and dangerous. To those whose lives include relationships across generations – men or women, heterosexual or same sex – see yourself as very much ordinary, normal, a valued part of a diverse society. We live in interesting times.

Curiously, the feminists, who regard themselves as liberal, have begun to occupy positions vacated by the old guard – the establishment. They do not approve of Donald Trump, any more than they approve of the flow of unvetted speakers onto University campuses. The prospect of enshrining in legislation a set of rules concerning appropriate and inappropriate pronouns (this is Jordan Peterson again) is of a piece with attempts to restrict who people fall in love with.

There are times when the establishment, with its PC arguments, could do with not merely an update, but a vigorous challenge. Britain, America, and France are really sharing a theme here: the establishment and the media are being given a push back. In the UK it was not really about the immigrants; the establishment had made ordinary people’s lives difficult and voters wanted that to stop. In America, as well, it was less about the bad guy and the angry white males – lots of women supported Trump. No, here too was anti-establishment anger. The Democrats and Clinton had made deals that the American population did not trust. As in Britain, human misery had maxed out.

In France, too, the push-back against the old guard has been accompanied by a sense of fresh hope. Macron wants to rebuild France – reminding me of Donald Trump’s pledge to “make America great again”.

These days, in a Western liberal democratic setting, people often can’t imagine that a sexually expressed intergenerational friendship can be regarded as positive – “it’s just not on”. An adult in such a relationship can’t be doing a good thing or being a good person. Asked why, many people would find it difficult to explain. For those who look at both how we talk and what we talk about, there is the notion of “rules of discourse”. Without going into great detail, it can be observed that in terms of discourse, one cannot talk about the emancipation of the minor attracted person and at the same time talk about care of the young. I’m willing to break those rules.

What I’m seeking to comment on here is the rare situation where the rules of that discourse are that you can speak about one or other but not both together. So three couples – Macron and his partner, Trump and his partner, and Stephen Fry and his partner – are being talked about as important and socially valued relationships, and at the same time are age disparate and sexual. The point here is that the discursive rules are obliged to give way to the real. It was ever thus. For many people the view that is considered impossible has become so strongly felt that it is experienced as having always been that way. Factually, it has not. In my thinking, I am not insensitive to people’s strongly held views, but seeing the structure of how those rules have been built up, I’m freer to break them … or perhaps I only need to bend them.

During the 1950s the discourse about “sexual perversions” and psychologically dangerous individuals was conflated with the discourse about homosexuality. Behavioural psychology and its stimulus/response paradigm became the preferred discourse when talking about sexual minorities. The modern gay man and woman have successfully extricated themselves, and as if to not leave this social position vacant, it has been filled by the sex abuser/pedophile. Stanley Cohen, in early editions of his book on Folk Devils, observed that the dangerous individual was the young black male – a threat to the white man’s daughter. It seems to me Cohen’s stereotype has now been replaced by the dangerous middle class white man – the pedophile. 

Deleuze makes a challenging comment regarding modern life and the social position of the person who is labeled mentally ill. Individuals who are ‘marginal’ – as in the case of schizophrenics – can be seduced to live as if they are off to one side, isolated, so different as to belong there. At times the minor attracted person has a similar experience. Deleuze’s advice is to reject that isolation. The way forward is to stress our connectedness to others.

When writing about sexuality and the profile of Stephen Fry and his relationship with Elliot Spencer I offered a similar view. A discourse where one’s urges are the centre of one’s dialogue/interrogation at the hands of those who demand ‘talk’ is problematic.  Minor attracted persons find themselves being told to stop urges and to stop his or her desires as if they are different in kind from everyone else. The truth is they aren’t different – desire as one finds it lodged inside the text of literature and poetry is at the heart of who we are and – for everyone – understanding this is vitally important. The modern gay man and the lesbian in Western culture are no longer interrogated as if they are off to one side – they have been normalised – my view is the minor attracted person needs to stress their connectedness to others, and not allow themselves to be isolated and dehumanised.

Because we are at a time when we are sensitive to or captured by the talk of child abuse and the exploitation of the young, we are being sold the view that “the only way to solve these problems” is we can and must erase all age disparate relationships.

People are being told to manage their sexuality, I would suggest – as if it is only an issue of ‘sexual urges’. It might be more precise to say the targets of these messages are those we are unhappy about. When we view people this way we assume – wrongly, I believe – that we understand them in depth. We are most likely to end up with a better understanding of people – who they are, what they’re about, and how they manage their desires – only if they’re free to talk with us, on their terms. To sharpen this point even more, I argue this is equally true with regard to self-knowledge. What’s on offer right now is, can the view I’m offering here gain a foothold? Can the minor attracted person become someone we dialogue with rather than someone we interrogate?

I argue the establishment, as freshly reconfigured, is making determined efforts to insist their ideological views be the only guides to how we live, and who we choose to live with – and love. Which makes it crucial that we pay attention to our actual choices. I don’t think the hard-line feminists and their Stalinist intolerance will be the last word. What I look forward to is more evidence the 1960s and 70s have indeed not finished with us – and that we will reject hate and vote for love.

Details:

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We see what we want to see

Source for image for The Imitation Game gained on the Variety film review - details offered below.

Source for image for The Imitation Game gained on the Variety film review – details offered below.

A friend recently invited me to a screening of “The Imitation Game”, a movie that offers a portrait of “mathematician, cryptanalyst and war hero Alan Turing”, as one reviewer describes him.

Susan Sontag, in her essay Against Interpretation, worked to make readers more aware of what she saw as a false claim to be merely describing something or that modern Western self-belief that one can remove subjectivity and have only some bare-bones way of writing.  She felt that was just one more rule-bound way of writing, claiming “there are no rules telling me how to write.”

Sontag’s self-awareness as a writer and a critic is precisely what I want to work with here.  If a Jewish patron were to see The Imitation Game, they would very likely see more than the story of Alan Turning the wronged cryptanalyst; the ‘wrong’ here would for them necessarily and inescapably involve an understanding of what went on in the death camps of Nazi Germany.

We would be unlikely to find a survivor from Turing’s time in the movie theatre; if I were to talk of Turing as a wronged homosexual some of my readers would nod their heads in agreement.  It would be interesting to locate – or, better put, acknowledge – what other current-day wrongs can be mapped onto Turing’s story.

While writing this blog piece I noted that in the reviews, some from well-known sites, the reference to Turing’s homosexuality was often not explicit, as if the reader would take it for granted.  What is going on here represents a further social marker of change – the homosexual man is in the process of being socially repositioned.  Western societies and cultures now find themselves ‘after’ a period of emancipation; they live inside what sociologists call a phase of normalization.  The homosexual man is just like all men: he is now ‘included’ and the putting right of the wrong includes no longer having his sexuality referenced.  In other parts of the world – in certain African states and in Putin’s Russia, for example – Turing’s experience of prejudice and socially-configured hostility is playing out as violence sanctioned by church and state.

I’d be doing a bad job if I failed to acknowledge inside mainstream Western societies and cultures there are other voices, other messages – and the gay lobby, I suspect, is well aware of this.

What I find perplexing is a subtext which insists that the Turing story is only about gay men, that to do what I am doing now is somehow not valid.  As a critic and a film viewer I would want to leave open how a movie might be interpreted.  Jews, persons of colour, and women have every right to see themselves inside this movie’s depiction of individuals who are wronged.

What I experienced whilst watching The Imitation Game was that feeling you have when you see what you want to see – Morten Tyldum‘s Turing is  there, of course – but what is most striking is that whatever piques one’s interest is there as well.  What I saw was not limited to the story of a homosexual man; I also felt an empathy for the experience of those who are currently labelled ‘paedophile’.

One begins to hear all the reasons why this can’t be the case – mustn’t be the case.  Turing was brilliant; that is not what one expects to see inside the profile of the paedophile, is it?  Well, actually, the modern gay movement knows only too well most gay men aren’t brilliant either, but they expect to be afforded respect as persons on the basis of the consumerized, value-added Alan Turing the film serves up to us.

Second objection would be: but we see homosexuals differently today; we know better.  Funny that – seems to me that’s what the movie is on about: how a society can get things so wrong.  For those who are unaware of the work of John Money, he was a New Zealand sexologist (1921–2006); one of his professional concerns was what he referred to as ‘paedophilic genius’ (discussed inside Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions).  Money gave Lewis Carroll and JM Barrie as examples of paedophilic genius.

As with the homosexual man in the 1950s – and (as discussed above) in some non-Western countries today – social stigma all too often blocks and hides the contribution and giftedness of the ‘deviant’/’pervert’/’child sex-abuser’. I know some readers will be very angry with what I say next: in my lifetime, Michael Jackson would have to be the West’s poster-boy when it comes to paedophilic genius (Tom O’Carroll has authored a text under the name of Carl Toms called “Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons: Arvizo, Barnes, Bhatti, Chandler, Culkin… The A-Z of All the King’s Boys“).

The homosexual story is a good teacher when it comes to understanding how stigma works and what is at stake when it operates in full swing.  Those of a more academic bent might take a look at Stanley Cohen’s “Folk Devils and Moral Panics” (The 1972 version of this book is referenced below; the link offered in this paragraph is the 2011 Routledge Classic of the same book.)

Sociologists refer to stigma in terms of social distance. A recent study – “Stigmatization of People with Pedophilia: Two Comparative Surveys” – looked at stigma and the paedophile noting that in our current societies and cultures the paedophile is the most strongly negative profile inside our spaces.  This condemnation – and even hatred – is practiced inside our societies, perhaps because people tell themselves this social practice keeps children safe; Jahnke, Imhoff and Hoyer argue this is not the case; in fact the very opposite may be true – stigmatization of the paedophile may make child sexual abuse more likely.  The abstract for this paper states, “The strongest predictors of social distance towards people with paedophilia were affective reactions to this group (anger and, inversely, associated, pity) and the political attitude of right-wing authoritarianism …)”.

Given that we see what we want to see, was what I felt when watching that film an example of personal delusion?  I don’t think so; in my view, seeing what you want to see sits at the heart of all art.  If that is the way things work, then failing to admit this is where real delusion lives.

What I think is important is not how one’s sense of empathy for Alan Turing as a gay man might map onto the paedophile.  The real issue is seeing the ‘person’ who would want to punish Turing in his lifetime.  The key question is, Does that person – the one who sees a subhuman object they can kick, punish, imprison for being ‘that way‘ – live in our world today?  My sense of things is that yes, that person is very much alive … and kicking.

Put “The Imitation Game” on your list of films to watch – see what you see.


DETAILS:

  • Cohen, S. (1972). Folk Devils and Moral Panics (Third Edition). London and New York: Routledge
  • Downing, L., Morland, I., & Sullivan, N. (2015, 4/01). Pervert or sexual libertarian?: Meet John Money, “the father of f***ology” [Excerpt from the Book “Fuckology: Critical Essays on John Money’s Diagnostic Concepts”]. Salon (USA). Retrieved from http://www.salon.com/2015/01/04/pervert_or_sexual_libertarian_meet_john_money_the_father_of_fology/
  • Jahnke, S., Imhoff, R., & Hoyer, J. (2015, 20 June). Stigmatization of People with Pedophilia: Two Comparative Surveys. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44(1), 21-
  • Pedophilia: Biosocial Demensions. (1990) (J. R. Felerman, Ed.).
  • Songtag, S. (2001). Against Interpretation. USA: Picador.
  • Staff Writer. (2014). The Imitation Game [Web commentator on Film and TV shows.]. In Rotten Tomatoes (Movie Info).
  • Toms, C. (2010). Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons: Arvizo, Barnes, Bhatti, Chandler, Culkin. The A-Z of All the King’s Boys. Leicester, United Kingdom: Troubador.
  • Tyldum, M. (2014). The Imitation Game [Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance, Mark Strong.]. U.S.-U.K.) A Weinstein Co. (in U.S.)/StudioCanal (in U.K.) release and presentation of A Black Bear Pictures/Bristol Automotive production. (International sales: FilmNation Entertainment, Los Angeles.) (113 minutes). Retrieved from http://variety.com/2014/film/reviews/telluride-film-review-the-imitation-game-1201294590/

Mistakes can have a very high price.

A minor attracted person can be a whole range of ages, including the one offer up in this image.

A minor-attracted person can be a whole range of ages, including the one offered up in this image. Source: http://fightback385.tumblr.com/ Further source information: The photograph was taken by Jan H Andersen using a model. Andersen lives in Denmark. Anderson’s blog – http://www.jhandersen.com/ ; his stock photography collection – http://www.expozero.com/. The photograph inside this blog piece can be found in the collection “Death and Suicide”.

Recently the American Psychiatric Association (APA) issued a statement in which it admits it made an error, a mistake it wishes to correct with its publication of the DSM-5. A text it drafted refers to paedophilia as a sexual orientation. The APA now wishes to retract that use of the term ‘sexual orientation’ and replace it with the term ‘sexual interest’.

Why make this move? It is seen by those outside APA in various ways. In this blog-piece the voice being explored is the voice of those who are minor-attracted. To hear that voice one can listen to the comments of a group called B4U-Act. They would see the APAs’ (the two groups of the American Psychological Association an the American Psychiatric Association) as an attempt to placate their critics rather than educate those critics as to where their criticisms are fundamentally flawed. The APAs have not acted to educate people about distinctions between paedophilia and paedophilic disorder; paedophilia and CSA; and finally ‘orientation’ or ‘interest’. B4U-Act would object to the focus on social control and prosecution.

In this blog-piece my text explores the issue of the relationships between groups. B4U-Act is not focused on whether the term sexual orientation is used or not; I am. My reasons are not based in some belief I have that this term is ‘the truth about sex’; rather it is about how the use of certain words and phrases bring with them certain outcomes. The homosexual discourse shifted when the term sexual orientation was used because the negative stuff of gut feeling, hate, and the yuck factor was moved to one side. The discourse on minor-attraction needs the same outcome, a way of short-circuiting the hate, the emotional stuff that has no interest at all in understanding what is out there in the real world. It is my belief the gut and irrational responses to the homosexual and the minor-attracted profile are not an insight into a truth about what is at stake here. It does not make available understanding; it blocks it.

I unpack the recent move by the APA as a seeking to cooperate with two groups which most dislike the idea of a minor attracted person being seen as having a sexual orientation. The first group are the religious right – they fear the use of this term ‘sexual orientation’ by the minor-attracted individual is a step towards normalization and social acceptance, and point to the homosexual history to support their predictions; the second group is the LGBT voice (the modern day version of the homosexual lobby, its post-emancipatory and post-legal change lobby), whose most recent concerns are the issues of marriage and adoption – they are convinced the term sexual orientation ought to apply only to them and no one else; there is a concern lest the desire that inhabits the world of the minor-attracted individual be linked back to them.

When a group like the APA makes a decision to use a particular linguistic term in how it discusses its client groups one might assume the issue to be driven by science, research, and clinical experience. Actually there is another dimension that is often in play but seldom acknowledged; these factors fall under the headings of culture and politics. What is concerning about this recent move by the APA to position paedophilic desire using the term interest and not using the term sexual orientation is how it has been driven entirely by this aspect of culture and politics; there is no concern for science, research, or clinical experience that explains the APA’s effort to ‘correct an error’. Its original text had been carefully drafted over years; backroom writing and discussions sat behind what was written. Once the text was out there the reaction of the religious right and the LGBT groups was so strong the text was retracted within days of publication of these groups making public their protest.

The APA has prioritized the optics of social control and a concern to aid legal prosecutions of those whose desire incorporates the child and the youth. The hat they wear is that of the police officer; the therapist’s hat is gone. For me as author of this post there is an experience of déjà vu. Over twenty years ago I trained at the Family Therapy Institute based in Sydney, Australia. At that time I had moved away from the world of theology and religion and was working as a counsellor. I was looking for a supervisor and some theoretical guidance in my work with individuals and groups. The writings of liberal and politically critical theorists in the theological world had shaped my thinking, so the family therapy world interested me. Like the liberal theorists I had embraced in the academic world of theology, the theorists and practitioners in family therapy looked to social and interpersonal frameworks to define both how problems and solutions/interventions can be constructed. I trained inside this framework of family therapy for two years and went on to do work as a trained family therapist in both Australia and New Zealand.

You can understand my concern as I saw the profession of family therapy being hijacked, becoming an instrument of social and state control of people’s lives, predominantly under the increasing influence of the child abuse rhetoric. To me it was a betrayal of years of theoretical and clinical discipline. Some family therapists have retained a commitment to the origins of this way of working but they are few in number. I see the APA group, with its move to correct an ‘error’, making the very same move.

That part of me that looks for hope values the idea of resistance, the view that in such moves to resist are the seeds of our real futures. The sad part is the personal cost the strategies of social control and policing faced by those it impacts on. Whenever groups such as therapists, religious leaders, or professional groups like APA make these moves to stress social control over care and sound research the outcomes are tragic. I am not alone in expecting suicide and despair to be on the rise; indeed the graphic offered at the top of this blog-piece sends just this message. It is at this point that one perhaps should stop speaking and allow a picture to say its 1,000 words.

Research and film making: ethical questions

The topic for today’s post is linked to the last one, the issue of trace, being remembered, and the politics of personal record keeping. The topic is the ethics of how to construct a documentary film on minorities – in this case the group are people who are minor attracted.

What prompts this post is contact with a film maker who is planning a documentary where the subject of the film is the minor attracted person. All people in her film are asked, have you ever acted on your desires? My belief is, in the context of this film, a question about child porn would be equally problematic. I argue the strategy behind the film maker’s question is deeply flawed and what follows explains why I hold that view.

It is important to note, while this documentary film clearly kicked off a reflection process for me, the topic of film making and the ethical issues that emerge from such projects, goes well beyond one documentary and its maker approaching me for an interview.

It can be argued the methodology of social science research shares the same ethical concerns involved in making a film about any individual or group. How social science research and making a film can be done badly is easy to describe.

Imagine a researcher or a film producer who just wants to make a name for themselves, and take no account of the real life impact of the project on the people who are at the centre of their research or their film. Consider a person who views themselves as part of some specially positioned group or class of person, and that the researcher or film maker feels entitled to comment on others as if their word was divine judgement. Via a sense of entitlement the researcher and film maker claim to speak about people as if only their perspective matters. The negative impact on the very people they focus on seems inevitable. Finally consider a person doing research or making a film on behalf of another group. The interests of the group they work for or seek to serve are really the only determinants to how the research is done or the film is made. We can see how such a methodology and project design would be ethically flawed.

Sadly, in the academic world, as in the world of film and Hollywood, what is all too common is a feckless indifference to the subject being studied or the people at the centre of a project. It is not only an issue of poorly devised method, there is ideology to consider. The guide offered by capitalism lives at the heart of many academic and media/film projects, despite capitalism’s modern claims to render us a service. Recent versions of capitalism claim to be a path to individual emancipation and social betterment. One is offered a new soap to buy at The Body Shop so as to help some poor and distant village better itself; a woman is coached to see the pleasure she takes in the same soap as a deserved outcome of personal strides to be bold and new. The truth all too often is it’s all about selling soap. What is masked is the impact and dominance of a capitalist perspective on a world that could be otherwise.

At the New Zealand National Sociology Conference in 2011 I presented a talk on how social science research focused on minor attracted people needs to consider how the subjects of the study are consulted, invited to be involved in the design, implementation and evaluation of research projects. I argued it is their life that is at the centre of what happens, and I also argued the events that surrounded the controversy of Professor Green’s work and The Cartwright Inquiry in 1987, what became known as ‘the unfortunate experiment’, provides a local New Zealand experiential base for why putting the client or the subject of study first is the way to go.

A documentary about minor attracted persons, I argue, needs to have the same concern for ethics as does a project concerned with the delivery of health care. Linking back to the Professor Green controversy, I argue a concern for socially vulnerable people and groups in our society matters, and this is how I view minor attracted people.

To ask a person, as the the proposed documentary does, to declare the nature of their relationships to children – and it is my belief this extends to the question of viewing or downloading child pornography – leaves open the possibility of legal action against the interviewee. That move would be based on what is said/not said, and how the interviewee responds. Even if the answer simply appears vague or unclear, if they fail to say ‘no, never, ever, not me’, then they are very much at risk.

What you end up with are interviews only with the pure and the safe: those who admit to actions when legal punishment is done and dusted; those who say quite clearly, ‘yes I am minor attracted but no, never, ever, not me’; those who say I am not minor attracted, no, never, ever, not me; and finally those those who lie – because they must, the situation requires it.

I am arguing it is not an ethical move to invite self disclosure in such a documentary given the social position and vulnerability of minor attracted persons.

It is true I am most familiar with the world and situations that define social science research, but the worlds of art and film can be asked to conform to the same ethical guidelines I am arguing for. When a film is made, when any art object is created, the artist works with material and offers it up for others to view. That process is complex and I am influenced by what Roland Barthes writes in his essay The Death of the Author. I recommend reading that essay as a way of unpacking how objects in the world of art and film can be viewed, and how a text can be read.

What explanation might be offered regarding the need to ask the participants in the documentary about sexual contacts with the young.

One explanation could be to talk of trust, trust from the point of view of the audience – they would want to be offered an eye on such an exchange between the film maker and the interviewee. In such a case a minor attracted person interviewed in any film exploring this area would see it as important to ask the hard questions in order for the viewer of the film to assess what that person offers. How the subjects in the film, the people offering a narrative about their life, should be positioned inside the thinking of the person doing the viewing pivots on this process. The film maker sees themselves as merely helping a story unfold. I believe the real structure of what goes on here is something else and that it deserves to be unpacked.

I think the film maker’s approach involves an illusion not dissimilar to therapists who tell themselves the person in the room is their client, when in reality it is a group outside the room who are their real clients. Often this group is the one paying the cost of the therapy. The person in the room is simply being managed so as to meet the expectations and concerns of those real clients. Therapy is assessed and guided by what they want, not what the person in the room sees as important.

The reader may have noticed I do not say the film maker’s concern is for the victims of child sexual abuse. That would involve yet another illusion. In terms of an explanation claiming a concern for a relationship of trust between the film maker and the audience the argument offered posits the idea the viewer just wants to know the answer to a question before they begin to assess who is doing the talking. I argue the illusion operating here involves the idea of the viewer’s openness. As if the viewer has decided to ask a minor attracted person to draft their own narrative, as opposed to consuming the narratives that are already out there – the stories of the predator, the sex abuser, the dangerous liar. In my view, to expect the kind of disclosure being sought is effectively to sabotage the entire project.

If the question regarding sexual contact with the young or a child is not included a film that explores this topic, will the maker of the film be attacked? The accusation would run along these lines: the film has allowed a sex abuser, someone who has had sexual contacts with a youth or child, a platform to speak and potentially be listened to. I have no doubt there will be some who would wish to attack the film maker if the issue of past contact with children were not raised. I also think it can be managed. The anxiety about this point of view is a mistake.

I leave one final question on the table, and I do it respectfully. I perceive the woman who approached me to be in her film as wanting to move things on from a media tabloid rave. I don’t think she would knowingly harm anyone. But I doubt her project has been designed with sufficient ethical rigour. If those interviewed inside the film are asked, have you ever acted on your desire, this question may well be there as a way of protecting the maker of the film from the threat of future prosecution. My question then becomes, Is it ethical for a social science researcher or film maker to put at risk the subjects of the project in order to ensure the safety of its creators?

Just what are we capable of doing to each other?

Here is the title and link to a text offered up to us by The San Diego Free Press:

Sex in San Diego: Are Some Men Born Pedophiles? New Science Says Yes, But Sexologists Say Not So Fast

March 13, 2013

By Steven Rosenfeld

http://sandiegofreepress.org/2013/03/sex-in-san-diego-are-some-men-born-pedophiles-new-science-says-yes-but-sexologists-say-not-so-fast/

COMMENT:

“I would not want to tell the scientific community to stop its endless journey where who and what we are a part of what unfolds. Second the contribution of other bodies of knowledge also plays a role – the humanities are a rich source of knowledge, and yes at times, wisdom. My thoughts offer up to me various futures, some that scare me deeply.

What if future societies and cultures decide that to be gay or lesbian is ‘unwanted’ and bad, a view that has lived amongst us before, and science offers that future society the chance to make us, literally determine us, to all be heterosexual? Is that really what we want? (In some African settings today women viewed as lesbians are attacked and raped, believing such actions will achieve just this outcome of forcing those women to become heterosexual. This violent attack on them is spoken of as ‘corrective rape’).

How is the erasure of the pedophile any different? (Some of us view pedophilia as a sexual orientation, and that view has ethical consequences). We don’t ‘discover’ stigma, we make it happen. Sexual differences amongst us are not about some people being hard-wired to be morally bad, and others hard-wired to be good. I ask myself this question, just what are we willing to do to each other, given the chance?”

Stigma and the pedophile, surely it’s more than just opinion and morality!

The last post on this site looked at how a person accused of assaulting his daughter had decided to not appear before a New Zealand court. The focus of that post was how New Zealand courts perform, and how they are viewed when dealing with such allegations. This post looks at a very different issue – social stigma for those socially ‘positioned’ as child abusers.

While working on a post-graduate diploma in Arts at Victoria University, I had an informal conversation with one of the teaching staff. She commented on my use of the term pedophile, “These days articles don’t refer to pedophiles, they talk of child abusers.”

In this post the lecturer’s comment is taken at face value. At the same time it needs to be acknowledged there are different discourses: sociological, criminological, psychological, media studies, and so on. The discussion here is intended to show how a care about how one speaks and a look at how others use words can be helpful. What is offered in this post offers a possible structure and process that language can demonstrate. Academic discourses can be subdivided into subcategories and even subcultures. One such subcategory and subculture is referred to as “victimological sociology”. If the woman’s comments are located inside that subculture, then what she refers to may well reflect what has been happening over the past twenty years.

For example, the way some authors use the term child abuser rather than pedophile shows how stigma can shift in terms of what it purports to offer. Stigma often begins by constructing a profile of an individual or group on the basis of opinions, and moral judgements. Eventually what is offered up seeks a more solid, more ‘factual’ quality. This process or set of moves is offered up inside the comments of the university lecturer. The term pedophile as it is used today has a history and it is one of profound social stigma – the individual so labelled is socially positioned in a strongly negative way. The individual, indeed the entire group, is discounted – they do not belong to the normals. That this is constructed with strong opinions and moral views is not unknown to a reader. However the introduction of the term child abuser evokes the extensive social, political, and academic discourses about abuse, child safety, and harm done to children, linked to a further discourse – rape and the feminist claim to be our current expert on trauma.

The move to the term child abuser from that of pedophile is a significant shift. A character of the child abuse discourse is its claim to be based in research and scientific enquiry. By calling the pedophile the child abuser what happens is the moral and opinion aspects drop below the radar, strengthening the notion that this profile is based inside what science has to tell us.

In this way, ideology and morality morph and lay claim to a place inside scientific discourse. This situation can be managed: it is the task of a critical thinker, and a good scientist, to keep ideology and morality in a position where such confusion does not take place.

To hold a moral view is perfectly valid. It is important however those moral views do not end up hiding inside scientific discourse as if they are not there, and this is equally important when looking at ideology. Both are part of how ideas and social practices are shaped. But they can seek to be invisible and thus go unexamined and unacknowledged. (For readers interested in the subject of ideology and how it functions, a text to explore is Louis Althusser’s book, For Marx.)

Some see religion as less central, that secular thought is normative, and in some ways that shift has happened. In the same way some see ideology as less a part of who we are – that in a better educated and more aware phase of social history we are less easily captured by political groups, less willing to just follow the leader. The political rhetoric of Hitler’s 1930/40s Germany and McCarthy’s 1950s America seem crude and unconvincing. I argue it would be foolish to become too confident that morality and ideology are dead – far from it. At the same time, I wouldn’t argue for either morality or ideology to be ‘taken out’ or ‘dumped’.

Nor is it the focus of this post to enter into long discussions about what is morality, what is ideology, and what is science. These terms are not interchangeable, not simply the same thing presented to us in different clothing.

Socially and culturally we have come to view science as a template for truth. Western culture has changed the way ideas and claims about what is true and what is false are managed. (An interesting text on this topic is Fearless Speech, based on lectures Michel Foucault offered at the University of California at Berkeley in the Fall Term of 1983 – its focus is not so much a discussion of the problem of truth, but with the problems that face the truth-teller, or of truth-telling as an activity.)

In the media and in public debate views are often offered up to us as scientific. That is significant because it is seen as a marker. To see an idea or argument as scientific says something about its validity. The position science has gained inside Western culture has a history, and one should keep a critical eye on the process by which science sustains this status. I want that feature to be noted, and I am interested in developing this point in a later post.

In my view it is a mistake – and dangerous – in academic writing to refer to the pedophile as the sex abuser. It is a lazy way of writing about those whose sexual orientation would be better termed minor-attracted persons. This problem of lazy thought does not go away if one then says, oh I am only talking about those adults who have had sexual contacts with the young. There is a temptation to form two separate groups: first, the person who has no sexual contact with youths; second, those who have. This division, while seductive, is unhelpful.

Individuals in this second group find themselves subject to the full force of the law and all the social stigma that can be evoked and applied. Currently we seem to suffer from far too much interest in punishment and far too little interest in understand just what it is we are drawn into when we discuss pedophilia and the sexual abuse of children.

When we allow morality and ideology to hide inside science we allow a highly emotive and morally driven set of views to appear to make things more clear; when in reality the lives of many adults and children are misrepresented and adversely affected. I am, as the reader will no doubt recognise, speaking of another topic on which to post. In recent times Western cultures and societies have been more willing to seek a moral perspective on what is happening, just as science has grown in its role as definer of how to speak the truth. Morality is in no real danger of ‘disappearing’.

It is important to notice how morality and ideology hide inside science. Seeing this strengthens a critical approach when it comes to the difficult and often loaded situation where what is being talked about is not only a person who is minor-attracted (pedophile) but a person who has also given expression to that sexuality and sexual orientation.

In a discussion of a person who is minor-attracted one wants to discuss sexuality and profile issues, their social position and how they can own who they are. To label them child abusers will not take us forward in terms of political, social, and academic discussion. As is so often the case, the court room may well allow us to answer the question, has a person broken the law. It may not however lead us to a very deep view, or allow for a very satisfying understand of who this person is. We need to ask what kind of life they can lead inside a society and culture that they and everybody else can see as ethical, responsible, and fulfilling.

In 2007 Umberto Eco published his book Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism. I recall an interview on the radio where Eco said he had nothing against progress, what worried him most about modernity was that he saw people “marching lockstep into the future.”

Since the close of the Second World War we have seen authors speak of a concern about the return of fascism. In the book Nineteen Eighty-Four we see this message offered up by George Orwell. In that text the issue was largely fascism from above – a bonding/nationalism that is characterised by violent political leadership; what seems to be a new threat at our time is what I would call fascism from below – a bonding/species-ism (seriously misguided notion of what forms the basis of our fears). This is a kind of ‘arm-linking’ exercise that movements like the child sex abuse industry deploy that has the feel of producing that ‘lockstep march into the future’ that Eco talked about as so dangerous. I join Orwell and Eco in saying think, question, take a risk!

REFERENCES:
■ Althusser, L. (2005). For Marx (B. Brewster, Trans.). London and New York: Verso.
■ Eco, U. (2007). Turning back the clock: hot wars and media populism. Orlando: Harcourt.
■ Foucault, M. (2001). Fearless Speech. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), Distributed by MIT Press.
■ Goffman, E. (1986). Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity.
■ Koubaridis, A. (2013, 1 Febuary). Court slip up led to escape, The New Zealand Herald.
■ Orwell, G. (1950, July 31). Signet Classics Paperback. Vol. No. 6: 1984/Nineteen Eighty-Four [Afterwood by Erich Fromm] (p. 336). New York, N.Y.: Signet Book.

Do what I say, not what I do in the world of social science research.

Sarah Goode has put up a piece on the newspaper site The Independent. (How can we prevent child abuse if we don’t understand paedophilia?) In a comment on that site I offered the folowing view.

The approach that Sarah Goode offers which says informed reflection and decision-making is better than ignorance is not a position I would criticise, rather safe positioning in my books. However the issue is, as she points out, a bit more complex than it looks at first. Her position that research done, and this includes methodologies adopted, while on this journey has a green light because it is viewed as part of child protection leaves me a little uncomfortable.

Goode states above “Now is the time to shift our attitudes and begin to explore. The journey is uncomfortable but the goal is better child protection, so any discomfort is worth tolerating”, those words “so any discomfort is worth tolerating are the ones that give me pause to think. John Haidt (The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Kindle, March 29, 2012) would argue what Sarah Goode’s text does, the pulling on a cord labelled child protection, is designed to trigger something in the reader deliberately. Sarah Goode is in effect saying let me do what I want and don’t think too much about it. (I acknowledge Sarah Goode has written elsewhere about how ethics committees in academic settings have made life complicated for her, sometimes unreasonably so, “Understanding and Addressing Adult Sexual Attraction to Children: A Study of Paedophiles in Contemporary Society“, Kindle, July 3, 2009).

Research into groups does need ethical guidelines. Those being researched deserve to be protected from researchers who too often are guided by the view, “results is what matters; the subject being researched is fair game”. What I think is needed is research on the researchers. Of the work that is out there, how much of it was done ethically, where the subject being looked at was an adult who has an attraction to the young. Was the subject treated as we would want to be treated ourselves. Sarah Goode has my support, but it is not unqualified support.

When Sarah Goode did her research for the book I refer to above (Goode, 2009) the people she interviewed reported a degree of disquiet regarding her research methodology. As subjects they did not feel they had been ethically managed by her. Hopefully the concerns of those being researched will be allowed to influence how future work is done by social science authors.

  • Ryen, A. (2004). Ethical Issues. In C. Seale, G. Gobo, J. F. Gubrium & D. Silverman (Eds.), Qualitative research practice (pp. 230-247). London ;Thousand Oaks, Calif. :: SAGE.
  • Yuill, R., & Elliot, D. (2012). Researching and Theorizing the “Age Taboo” on Intergenerational Sexualities. Journal of LGBT Youth, Volume 9, 67-71. doi: 10.1080/19361653.2012.627726
  • Rind, B. (2008). The Bailey Affair: Political Correctness and Attacks on Sex Research. Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 37, 481–484. doi: 10.1007/s10508-008-9334-0
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