Sunday, September 2, 2012

How pedophilia lost its cool

The reason that the monstrous crime of pedophilia matters is simple: In an increasingly secular age, it is one of the few taboos about which people on both sides of the religious divide can agree. ...

[I]t wasn’t very long ago that some enlightened folk took a considerably more relaxed view of the question of sex with youngsters, and they weren’t afraid to say so. From the 1970s through the 1990s, a number of trial balloons were floated that almost no one in America would dare release now. Some people, including celebrated novelists, asked outright whether sex with minors might be worth a cheer or two. ...

Fourteen years ago, for example, the New Republic published a short piece called “Chickenhawk” (pedophile slang for a young boy) that discussed a short film about the North American Man–Boy Love Association. The piece expressed sympathy for the pederasts and would-be pederasts depicted and echoed them in asking whether the boys weren’t sometimes the predators in man–boy sex. ...

Similarly, seventeen years ago another sophisticated magazine, Vanity Fair, published a whitewashing of a Phillips Exeter Academy teacher who had been caught surreptitiously filming boys in the showers and splicing those images into pornographic movies. The essay not only painted this former teacher as a victim of his accusers but also cast negatively one accuser who had come forward. ...

Back in 1989, The Nation published a short piece called “On Truth and Fiction” by a novelist who said he had lately penned an “entertainment about a San Francisco private eye who wandered into the business of transporting Haitian boys to boy-lovers all over the world.” Apparently in the interest of promoting that book, the novelist wanted to report to The Nation’s readers that he’d lately verified its “factual basis,” thanks in part to a “charming and cultivated American priest [in Haiti] who educated boys for export.” ...

Once again, that kind of nod to pederasty would be far less likely to make the pages of any magazine sold in public today. In fact, if such a piece were to appear, it would excite plenty of comment—including calls for international investigation and prosecution of some of the characters in the tale. ...
--Mary Eberstadt, First Things, on the shifting boundaries of moral condemnation


So what happened to turn yesterday’s “intergenerational sex” into today’s bipartisan demands to hang Roman Polanski and related offenders high? Mainly, it appears, what happened was something unexpected and momentous: the Catholic priest scandals of the early years of this decade...

First, the scandals made clear that one point was no longer in dispute: The sexual abuse of the young leaves real and lasting scars. ...

In a fascinating bit of moral jujitsu, the scandals helped in a second way to repair the preexisting public consensus against sex with minors. Naturally enough, throughout the scandals and beyond, the spectacle of priests committing crimes proved irresistible to the people who already hate the Catholic Church. ...

And since the Church’s harshest critics are, generally speaking, the same sort of enlightened folks from whom pedophilia chic had floated up, there lurked in all of this a contradiction. After all, one could either point to the grave moral wrong of what the offending priests had done—or one could minimize the suffering of the victims, as apologists for pedophilia had been doing before the scandals broke. But one could not plausibly do both any more, at least not in public. And so, in a way that could not have been predicted, but that is obviously all to the good, the priest scandals made it impossible to take that kinder, gentler look at the question of sex with youngsters that some salonistes of a few years back had been venturing.
--Mary Eberstadt, First Things, on one theory of why