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A brief look at the childish behaviour of certain sectors of society with respect to paedophiles
I am no paedophile.
Anyone who knows me would confirm that. Like me, most people in this country have no desire to commit indecencies with children. However, I need to state my position clearly, before I continue with this essay, since it would be easy for certain people to read a hidden agenda into the following.
In certain third world countries, a panic will spread quickly. Person X has been accused of stealing the penises of men in village Y. Various victims have claimed that their penises have just vanished. The accused, who is claimed to be a witch, is pursued by mobs of angry people. There's no logic to it. The stampede of emotions soon causes other fall out - other people, who are mistaken for the accused, are injured. These panics can take some quelling. (see The Fortean Times for more of these stories.)
So what have panics about penis snatching to do with paedophiles? This and the periods of similar panic, which have occurred in the very recent history of this country, have far too much in common. It seems to me that people are quick to lose their sense of perspective, where paedophiles are concerned. I can understand why people lose their cool. As civilised citizens, we are meant to protect our children; they are supposed to be the innocents, nurtured by the adults. Likewise, sexual perversion is taboo at the best of times, but is completely contrary to the nature of an emancipated society if only one participant is willing. The explosive combination of these two sensitive subjects is no surprise.
The problem, as I see it, is that society is too quick to resort to the ignorant mob-rule which causes more damage than good. The popular media act as a catalyst. Both reflecting public opinion, and spurring that opinion to greater heights, the tabloid press both fuels and feeds off the sector of society who cannot necessarily form an intelligent opinion of their own. The paediatrician, who had both his home and person violated can testify that the passion of the great unwashed to cure society of a well-publicised threat, in its own way, is not discerning enough to do the best job.
Strangely enough, I believe that the popular media has more of a hand in the subject of paedophilia than it would like to admit. When you actually look at what is being published these days, you realise that society is suffering from the ease of publishing and the market economy of the media. Sex sells. Sex is everywhere. Everything, every sordid detail is not just available, it's brandished as a trophy. So, the same newspaper which reports sex crimes on one page is revealing someone's sexy secrets on another. Publications for children are no better. Recent studies suggest that young girls (and I mean young, not just slightly younger than 16) are more keen to read magazines of beauty and sex tips than they are to read the more traditional comics of yesteryear.
The portrayal of children has also changed. The sexy clothes and photoshoots, previously reserved for adults, are bestowed on children as well. A good example of this was found in one of the TV magazines. It showed the young female teenage soap stars, who are maybe slightly above the tender age, but who are known to the public as the much younger children they play. These girls were dolled up and put on displayed as sexy sirens. At a glance, you have a thirteen or fourteen year old girl, who is seen in twenty million homes a few times each week, looking like the ideal male fantasy.
No wonder, then, that people get confused. No, I'm not excusing those who do, nor I am I suggesting that the media can turn someone into a paedophile - that sort of sickness comes from somewhere else. However, the popular media provides fuel for the paedophiles, and since the media reflects society, we are all to blame. We have barely noticed how explicit our printed and broadcast media have become and, having allowed it to invade many uncharted territories, everyone has suffered, especially our children.
Look at the children you find out and about. While there are plenty looking like children always did, there are so many more who have quickly progressed into the exhibitionism that will last until their late adulthood. While in their hearts, these kids may not be tarts, too many of them look exactly like that. It's a shame to see childhood deprived from the children.
So, weary of the ignorant public's means of tackling paedophilia, and the irresponsibility of the media, it was a good thing to see the recent satire on this very subject. Christopher Morris's Brass Eye program ruffled more than a few feathers. This program worked on a number of levels. It was deeply disturbing, wickedly funny and remarkably sharp. Some of the scenes, showing how a television documentary should not approach the subject of sex abuse, but so often nearly does, inspired many viewers to complain. The popular media were so disgusted by this view of themselves that they have taken the opportunity to vilify the program makers. They argue that child abuse is no laughing matter, that the program was too explicit and that it trivialised a very important subject. This is irony at its best - the program was making exactly those points, only about the media it was satirising. Bizarrely, there was no fuss at all at an episode of South Park, the previous week, which featured the subject of paedophiles and even had a scene where a man described a wheelchair bound eight year old child, with mental disabilities, as sexy and sassy.
Satire is not necessarily meant to make you laugh. I did not laugh much at the Brass Eye program. However, I have been amazed at the magnitude of the reaction. The latest news, that the program makers may suffer legal action after a scene in which a series of ludicrous pictures were examined by the presenter and a genuine obscene photograph expert. The pictures included a large child's head, superimposed over a tiny nude woman's body, and a picture of a dog with a human erect penis and a child's head. The point of the scene was, partly, to point out how arbitrary the regulations are on pseudo-child-sex photographs. All the pictures were clearly non-erotic, intended to show how pointless outcry at such pictures would be, despite the claims of the expert to the contrary.
The fact is we've experienced an absurd reaction to a TV program that was intended to give a slap in the face to those in the media, who should change the way they publish in order to improve society. It looks like the damage to society has already progressed too far.
19 August 2001