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/

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What are we running from?

stifled - peanuts 02

Cartoon taken from a site on Peanuts. (click image to access)

My last post on this blog was dated August 2014.  It is now the first week of December, so why the long gap?  There have been a number of drafts on various topics, none of which made it to the Internet.  Was it just that life got busy?  Two things shaped my activities: first an effort to read material that takes time to process, and second the current sociopolitical climate − characterised by hegemonic ideology − affords little opportunity for contributions from writers on issues relating to the minor attracted person.

A mood can develop that tells the author this process is blocked − social, cultural and political spaces become increasingly rigid and a single view of things dominates.  In such a climate the writing process is gradually stifled.  An earlier post dealt with the topic of hegemony; here, the concept informs this idea of closed spaces.

The question, Why write? can be answered a number of ways; here are two possible responses.  One can write for oneself, quietly putting the assembled text away in one’s desk drawer with no intention to share it − ‘private writing’, a form of art for art’s sake.  Another answer to the question − another style of writing, and it is this one that shapes this blog − is a belief in the value of ongoing public exchange.  There is no attempt here to argue any way of writing is more important; what is rejected is any suggestion of a hierarchy inside writing.  George Orwell’s Winston Smith, hiding in the corner of his room, writing in his notebook, is every bit as powerful as the ubiquitous Stephen Fry.

We can use terms like author, reader, content, narrative about all kinds of writing.  We can even talk of multiple authors and multiple readers − Roland Barthes’ essay on the death of the author vigorously argues that texts are more than mere record-keeping.

So what is Take a Risk NZ seeking to achieve?

When working as a family therapist a method that was both intelligent and helpful was known as the Milan School approach.  Its strength is a commitment to what would be labelled today as a postmodern understanding of how things are.  The kind of question you ended up asking a client might be, Did you say that because you should, because you must, or because you could?  The dialogue this blog engages in links with all three possible responses to that question.  There should be, must be, and can be an exchange of ideas and views in order for the world we live inside of, and create, to have the chance of getting better and, in fact, being better. This view is bold and it does have risks.

The perspective this blog site promotes is being stifled right now. This site is a voice that wants to say a minor attracted person is genuinely an equal member inside his or her society, that sexual orientation for this individual, indeed for the social group such a social profile establishes, requires they be part of how a life is made.

Considering this experience of low oxygen levels there have been some reflections. First there is this idea of what defines one’s understanding of the notion, ‘future’. Inside public discussions about minor attracted persons this idea often involves a discussion of safety, desire that must be resisted, and is framed as dangerous – at the core of child sexual abuse.  It might involve the accusing voice of the probation officer when an inmate is negotiating life after release from prison. Here, ‘future’ is about tomorrow, what may happen; threat and blame are in the air; the focus is on the programmed, the scheduled, the foreseeable.

In an earlier post that discussed a seminar on inmates who are re-entering the community two kinds of approaches surfaced. One management style was to put all the emphasis on warning the individual that they must keep the rules, any mistakes will be met with punishment, and a return to the prison was an ever-present threat.  Another style was to stress human connection, support from others, a need to build bonds between the inmate − now outside the prison − and the wider community.  It was this second view that gained my support and now, again, a non-punitive and less violent approach is favoured.

Jacques Derrida

Jacques Derrida

Jacques Derrida offers a view of future that is ‘l’avenir (to come)’, the arrival of a person or an event which is totally unexpected, unforeseen.  For Derrida that is the real future.  So it is the unpredictable which needs to be our focus; when that thing or that person you did not foresee comes into your life, the issue becomes our response. This is a process guided by openness and tolerance, not fear and danger. In my previous post the topic was resilience.  Traditions like those of psychoanalysis, philosophy, and critical theory may have more to offer the minor attracted person than the voices coming out of such fields as behavioural psychology and criminology.

Cool at 13

Image used in the media piece by Jan Hofffman.

A different issue surfaced inside my abandoned attempt to respond to a media piece by Jan Hofffman, a New York Times blog writer.  Her piece titled “Cool at 13, Adrift at 23” positioned the young who find themselves befriending those who are older than themselves as pseudomature.  Hofffman took work done by a group of psychologists and repositioned their message to suit her target audiences. First she wanted to encourage those who remember admiring that cool youth with dark sunglasses and gelled hair to drop any feelings of admiration and see this youth as flawed.  Second, she wanted to congratulate the parents who observed how their kids were a bit dull and stayed home watching DVDs on doing a great job and tell them they shouldn’t worry.  I read Hoffman’s piece as further evidence of just how conservative our society and culture was becoming.

Among recent items to grab my attention are two television documentaries. One is about a child sex abuser treatment unit in New Zealand, and the second a documentary, ‘The Paedophile Next Door’, aired on Channel 4.

Kia Marama Unit 02

Kia Marama Rehabilitation Unit

The New Zealand documentary (a repeat screening) focused on the Kia Marama Rehabilitation Unit, in which actor Colin Moynihan took on the task of performing a role – to live inside the psyche of a child sex offender.  The viewer was offered clips of interviews with staff at the unit – trainers and administrators guided by a behavioural psychology model; various men who were clients of the unit – men with convictions for sex abuse of children; Colin’s wife, who expressed concern about what taking on such a task might do to him;  and finally clips where Colin spoke about his experience of the role.

A number of years ago I spend an entire year attending each new show at Wellington’s Circa Theatre.  After one particular performance a group of us were invited to interview the actors.  One of my questions seems relevant to what Colin Moynihan had elected to do: Does adopting a character in a play change you; are you shaped by what the character offers such that when the play ends you are not the same?  The group explained that was not how it was for them.  Circa offers world class theatre; what they deliver is of a very high standard.  For an actor there is nothing particularly unusual about playing a strong character.  Colin, his wife, and the staff at the Kia Marama Rehabilitation Unit all believed Colin faced a risk which the Circa actors would not have considered real.  It might be interesting to ask Colin Moynihan to sit down with other actors and discuss my question.

As one might have expected the words the ‘clients’ are made to speak are highly scripted, and a viewer could easily ask, Is what these men are saying here really how things are for them?  I have worked as a Family Therapist; my assessment is this was not therapy.  Issues relating to personal integrity and damage to the clients remain unanswered.  The real clients here were clearly not the men who had been in prison; the clients here are the wider society.  It was their problems and anxieties which were being dealt with in the Kia Marama Rehabilitation Unit.

Eddie, a minor attracted person with no sexual contacts with any child, is committed to keeping this profile. (Interviewed inside The Paedophile Next Door.)

The second television documentary went to air on Channel 4 and was titled “The Paedophile Next Door”.  Tom O’Carroll discusses the item in his latest blog post, titled “Inadmissible Testimony”.  The item’s makers interviewed O’Carroll but did not use any of the resulting material.  What the group was looking for was a voice that is not Tom O’Carroll.  This Channel 4 piece is more complex than the New Zealand documentary.  Viewers discussing the programme – in social media spaces like Twitter and in the more select group who visit Tom O’Carroll’s blog – match that complexity with large numbers of responses.  The comments on Tom’s post extend into the hundreds.

The documentary-makers’ decision not to include any material from their interview with Tom O’Carroll may be seen as a shift in how the discourse on paedophilia is moving in Britain.  The preoccupation with the 1970s and 1980s persists – people like Tom O’Carroll (or, more to the point, PIE) working for social change are still referenced inside media discussion – however, the next step involves a turn where that past is the past and things have moved on.  The discourse now revolves around two topics that often appear as a pair: brain architecture and the ‘virtuous paedophile’.

What is really at stake here is neither a call to virtue nor an absence of transgression – rather, it is a quest for a way the minor attracted person can minimize the risk of violence and death at the hands of others.  Of course this all hinges on the person acquiescing to society’s requirement that they be open to ‘treatment’.

I am not here making any attempt to look into a crystal ball and make predictions; the issue here is the persistence of a refusal to allow the sexuality of the minor attracted person to be explored.  The position being argued here is that treatment is not sexual understanding.

Hand in hand with this, the violence and hatred people are capable of directing towards others go unacknowledged as problematic in their own right.  Gays may well have successfully introduced the notion of ‘homophobia’ as a way of reframing an issue of moral righteousness.

For a moment we glimpsed how we are: we tell ourselves lies, claiming all that is dark and dangerous lives within those we, the righteous, seek to punish. All too often what gives us permission to do unspeakable harm to others involves various phobias and fears.  No sooner had this insight surfaced than violent behaviour and dangerous rage morphed into hatred of the paedophile, and societies (particularly in the West) found themselves back on track.  We may need to augment what we have learned with a new word – ‘paedophobia’.

So two aspects of what it means to be human are going unexplored – the sexuality of the minor attracted person and the self-righteous violent rage that can be performed in public.  The beheadings by Islamic extremists can’t be viewed as radically different from what the rest of us are capable of once this kind of insight is acknowledged.

Both the TV documentaries – the New Zealand piece on Kia Marama and Channel 4’s presentation on paedophilia in England – show a heavily scripted and tightly controlled public voice.  The social construction of ‘the paedophile/sex offender’ has found a place in modern discourse … and it appears the virtuous paedophile has been invited to the table.  The talk grows in volume month by month.  But there are other voices – some of them feeling stifled – who, rejecting those limited options, are determined to create their own speech and not merely mouth the scripts handed to them.

That paedophile profile offered to us in the media, those probation reports drafted by behavioural psychologists setting the conditions for ongoing supervision of released prison inmates, and the criminological discourse treating incarcerated sex offenders as if they represent all who are attracted to the young … none of these dominant and highly influential voices really resemble the varied and genuinely diverse voices of minor attracted people who live within our societies and cultures.

In the current environment, this blog has two interests: first, a concern about what is generated and what circulates inside our societies and cultures that links with the experience of the minor attracted person; second, an attentiveness to those voices that are original and that disrupt the socially constructed discourse.  In recent times, all the talk is about sex abuse and the dangerous person.  The emergent profile offered to us in media discussions – labelled paedophile or sex offender, and often a man – is sad, remorseful, guilt-ridden and contrite (even if he hasn’t done anything), pathetic and pitiable, but needing treatment.  This virtuous paedophile may well mark a new moment in the discourse but this is not really a marker of significant change – it does not ask, and nor will it be, a step towards an emergent sexuality for the minor attracted person in the way things happened for homosexual men in the 1960s and the 1970s.

So, with this post, has the block to dialogue been cleared?  The reader can decide that question.  But Jacques Derrida is right: we can best understand the term ‘future’ as pointing to the thing or person whose arrival is unexpected – in a real sense experienced as ‘other’.  Such a future is well worth valuing, and inside that unplanned-for and unexpected set of events, perhaps we will from time to time catch another glimpse of ourselves as we really are.

 

References:

 

 

 

 

Do Sally and James have your support?

 

Sally and James are asking for social and community support (Parents Forever logo).

Sally and James are asking for social and community support (Parents Forever logo).

Recently a media item on NZTV2 20/20 caught my attention – The Silent Victim. The programme’s focus was on the families and partners of child sex offenders. In the media piece two women were interviewed: first a woman who, after her male partner was convicted of sexually abusing a girl, made the decision to remain with him and speak about what that process and situation were like for her; the second person interviewed was Shelly Lomas, a psychologist with Wellstop.

The first woman and her husband were given fictitious names – Sally and James. The way the media piece was put together Sally was presented as a brave woman – a person deserving not only a listening ear, but also admiration. That message of respect for Sally is strongly positive and gains my whole hearted support.

There were two occasions during the interview when this position of admiration for her was put in question. The first was in how Sally’s situation was framed. Her story was offered as a very unusual love story, one where if it were us the love would have stopped long ago. The second occasion was when Sally stated unequivocally that she loved James, he was in her words “an intelligent and genuinely nice guy”. The interviewer repositioned what Sally was saying by adding, “Yes, but do you trust him?”

Sally and James had been married about a decade prior to his sexual offending. She viewed her husband positively, and when asked, judged the sex life for them as a couple, before the offending, as average. The offending happened when a young female guest came into the family home.

Sally offered a number of personal insights that came out of her experience. Two of these were really significant. First the girl who was involved with James – and we know nothing about details – was experienced by Sally as a competitor for James’ affections, and in the competition Sally believed she had lost. She offered what is typical for a woman lensing news of a sexual affair through the model of sexual monogamy – the belief that for a second person to be loved by their current partner, and for that person to become sexually involved with one’s partner, is to have failed as a lover. With this as her belief Sally was drawn into entertaining self-destructive behaviours, although it seems from what is offered inside the 20/20 program, she never acted on those feelings. One could again blame James for all this, but I don’t think Sally did. The ‘monogamy model’ positions a woman, or any person in a relationship who finds out their sexual partner has sexual links to someone else, in a potentially harmful way. It is a particular way of interpreting sexual desire and its place inside a life that can be very unhelpful. Sally appears to have seen past this limitation. Her talk about herself and how she felt suggests she decided that fidelity, faithfulness amid change, is the better aspect to stress inside a committed relationship that sees itself as shaped by love.

Sally did more than offer self-reflections, she challenged the viewer. She offered an outsider a riddle inside a question – what if someone you admire deeply sexually offends, what would you do, how would you feel? It is easy to see why this woman was viewed inside the 20/20 programme as brave.

Sally also talked of the issue of shame. Unsurprisingly Sally experienced shame when news of her husband’s offending became public. Out of that sprang a question, would it change for her if she left him? Her answer was no, the shame would remain. It was her view the message “leave him” is the message of society and the wider community. At the same time she understood that message can be resisted, her personal experience told her that the wider community may be wrong.

This idea the community and wider society can get things wrong about how to manage the sex offender came through the interview with the second woman as well. Shelly Lomas of Wellstop saw the modern response to sex offender as blocking the possibility of things getting better. It is her view all the mechanisms and strategies for helping the sex offender deal better with life are dismantled by punitive attitudes and social isolation; the sex offender is denied the capacity or even the possibility of hope. Shelly expressed strongly the belief this approach was for her counterintuitive – “How do people expect to make change when you shut down all the processes that you and I would ordinarily use to evolve and move to a better place?”

The final insight Sally referenced was the role of human doubt inside what it means to be in love with a person. She was asked, as one might expect, “What if James sexually abused a second time, would you leave him then?” Her answer was “I don’t know.” In 2008 John Patrick Shanley directed a movie in which Meryl Streep played the part of a religious woman in the employ of the Catholic Church – Sister Aloysius Beauvier. Eventually it became clear Beauvier was on the war path to push a priest out of the parish where she worked. The character of the priest – Father Brendan Flynn, was played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. The movie was called Doubt and it was about sexual abuse inside the Catholic Church. At the end of the movie Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the character Streep gave life to, cupped her face in her hands following her success at getting the man moved on and said, loudly crying, “But I have such doubts.”

Father Flynn early in the movie gave a well thought through homily to the local Catholic community, pointing out that doubt is a position from inside which interpersonal and even political relationships can grow and deepen – he was referencing the period following the assassination of President JF Kennedy. He was, of course, arguing how certitude can be a deeply problematic model on which to forge a life, or the path for whole communities as well. The various versions of fundamentalist worldviews that surround us today, ranging from fundamentalist Islam to strident statements by Richard Dawkins, serve to reinforce the view offered in Father Flynn’s homily.

Voices of people who are not frequently offered the chance to speak are situations that grab my attention, plus there is a theme in this 20/20 media piece that seeks from wider society an extended hand of human compassion. In what is written here there is a separation between what is said by the women interviewed and how the item has been managed by those who put together this media item. To the two women who are interviewed I deliberately extend a message of respect, they deserve that in my view; the makers of the media piece are judged less positively.

You have heard the saying, “How did a nice woman like you get to be in a bad place like this?” The media piece gave an answer to this by stressing how all the women in the group being referenced in this story experience suffering because of their partners’ offending. The sub-text being offered in this media piece is negative in how men are referenced.

The 20/20 item gained a place on my Facebook wall and I chose to support the process where these voices are given space inside our public discussions. ‘The Silent Victim’ opened with the idea that people have experiences that need to be considered, but these people daren’t speak out for fear of persecution. Because ‘The Silent Victim’ showed it understood how some voices are blocked and suffer because of this, I was looking for more: just where will this compassion take us? Will we be asked to extend that empathetic skill set to the sexual offender? The answer seems to be a clear no.

That clear no for me was sad, but the programme’s shortcomings did not end there. Again I stress, a critical eye is focused on how the media item was assembled, not the women who were interviewed, or the views they offered. The profile of the sex offender was male; I saw no acknowledgement that sexual offending against children could be attached to the profile of a woman. And this piece was written as if same sex couples did not exist. Allowing for an untruth to be believed – that all sex offenders are men – the partner of the offender could also be male. Two important pieces of New Zealand legislation are crucial: the Homosexual Law Reform Act 1986 legalising consentual sex between men aged 16 and over, and the very recent law allowing same sex couples to marry – Marriage (Definition of Marraige) Amendment Act 2013. The media item’s ‘heterosexual normalism’ seems seriously out of step with what is happening in the real world.

It could be asked was this feature I am calling heterosexual normalism merely an oversight by those who put together this media item, a forgetfulness? Perhaps, but another explanation, one that is much more problematic, could be at play. The program is clearly wanting to show compassion and empathy towards the families and partners of sex offenders. It may also be inspired by a strongly feminist ideology that is zoological, by that I mean a form of feminism that is deterministic and is really only about women as opposed to a different kind of feminism where men are included in that better world one is working to create. If same sex male couples had been included then the empathy the program wants to push for would be directed to men as well as women, a position a zoological version of feminism would not want to engage.

The last element of one-sidedness and distortion that I found regrettable in this piece rests with the West’s newest social and cultural blind spot. There was no space offered to the idea that sexual contacts across generations could be positioned inside friendship, or how such encounters could be framed positively. I would not be at all surprised if a reader felt I had just taken a step too far, but take it I will.

In my view The Silent Victim is in fact the same old same old. I am disappointed because I view these moments as opportunities, chances to do some good. I am glad that Sally’s narrative has been given some public space, and the move to get New Zealand society to consider the situations of those impacted by sex abuse, NZ prisons, and what comes after the person is released. All this matters a great deal. But still the negative attitudes to the sex offender, the profiling of men as the real source of women’s personal suffering, these messages are not simply tedious – they’re dangerous.

________

Late post: This item in Salon was offered to me by a British friend after the above article was put on my blog site. On the page it had this publication information: .

Married to a Pedophile – Salon.com

Being liberal is no easy life-choice.

Apparently we are all being watched.

Apparently we are all being watched.

The focus of this blog Take-A-Risk-NZ is on crime, sexuality, social change, and in particular, the situation minor-attracted people find themselves dealing with. The views offered here may seem to many to be off to one side and remote – if a reader goes to the pub or some social gathering the ideas I offer are probably not going to pop up in conversation.  Other issues it could be argued are more worthy of public concern.

I don’t see it quite that way, although there are some really big issues out there. The canary in the coal mine comes to mind. As things change and new problems replace old ones the signs a problem is present can be found in what at the time is not focused on and not judged to be important. In earlier days inside a coal mine those who went down into the mine would take with them a small bird in a cage. While down inside the mine the bird, perhaps a canary, might begin to struggle and fall ill, indicating a gas leak or the presence of a threat, a danger the miners may fail to register. To fail to see the bird having problems was to leave open the possibility a person might be the next animal to die. How minority groups experience problems can be for the rest of us a warning regarding our fate as a society.

Yesterday two plain clothes police officers came to my apartment complex. They had taken an interest in an image that was distributed inside Tumblr, a social media network much like Facebook. The picture these officers were interested in was of a boy pointing a handgun at his head. That image was used in a post put up on this blog that discussed the use of the term sexual orientation when referring to a person who is minor attracted. The American Psychological Association had just pulled the use of this term in favour of the phrase sexual interest when referring to the desire felt by a minor attracted person. (For a background to this see this Washington Times piece.)

What this blog piece offers was referenced by Tom O’Carroll in an item titled “Should we publish and be damned?” A commenter on that article, Peter Loudon, shared details about the person who took the image of the boy in the picture. The image eventually found its way to Tumblr. Peter stated as part of his comment, “The photograph was taken by Jan H Andersen using a model. Andersen lives in Denmark. His blog is here http://www.jhandersen.com/ and his stock photography collection is here http://www.expozero.com/. The photograph in question can be found in the collection ‘Death and Suicide’.”

When my blog item, along with image of the boy and the gun, was put up on Take-A-Risk-NZ a link to it appeared on my Facebook page.  It was this link the NZ Police took an interest in. The two women were in front of me to give me a polite message – we are watching you. I don’t have any criminal convictions, but apparently I am a person of interest. The police are, I am sure, convinced such interest is what their job requires – under that banner of “child protection”.

There are times when to understand an event one needs to locate it inside a context. Digital communications like those used by a lot of us – Facebook, Tumblr, emails – are of interest of the State and its agents, Mr. Snowden has helped us see this very clearly. Also 2014 seems to be part of what has been unfolding for some time now – over the last thirty years there has been a turning process unfolding.

The 1960s and 70s are now very much under attack and a part of the liberal commentary that filled those decades is now viewed as suspect, even dangerous. (See Tim Stanley’s views of both Camille Paglia and Allen Ginsberg, and a podcast on The Telegraph titled “Why did the 1970s become a haven for evil?”.) Men and women my age find themselves in the gaze of others as agents of dangerous views, and some bashing is going on, especially for the males in that cohort (see Barbara Hewson’s comments on the persecution of old men).

When responding to the two police officers I mentioned Mr Snowden and the watching process they referred to. I stressed this activity is well known to many of us. I also asked them to tell me if any image, like that of the boy with the gun, is linked to criminal activity, links I may be unaware of, please tell me of such things, I want to know if I have been pulled into something unawares.

If asked, my politics is liberal; perhaps the term “left” might be a fit as well. Whatever the label, the views I hold and the commitment I have to them is no easy road to walk. Over that period of thirty years I refer to above, it could be said the liberal and the left have not had the upper hand politically. It has been the neoliberals and the Christian right who seem to have been the movers and the shakers. One choice I have made is to back the liberal view because I think it deserves my support. Like the opinion voices of Alain Badiou and Michel Foucault I think an event is something that one should link to truth and truth telling. The 1960s and 70s can be seen as an event and a truth, something that broke through into our lives that needs to be allowed to touch us now in 2014.

Further Reading:

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.

What’s on my mind as this week unfolds (first week in June 2012)?

There has been a media story about the deaths of two adults, one male and one female, where opening accounts included information about the man’s profile as including a sexual attraction to minors. How marked this was is certainly unclear but in my thinking I am joining this episode with another that took place in the New Zealand media in late December of 2011. Again, in this media item there was violence. The young man had sexual contact with a girl who was injured very seriously.

My thinking is about how these cases are being offered up to us in the media and does this tell us anything about ourselves both as a culture and as a society. The issue of minor attraction is certainly not a uniquely New Zealand social issue. Because I live here my interest is in the local forms this item takes, how is it managed, talked about, how it sits with us 2012.

So it is my plan to check some facts, do some thinking, and write. Come back later and what’s on offer may be of interest.