Friday, July 15, 2016

The GOP: Saving Children from Themselves, Again

I think the word fuck is an important word. It's the beginning of life, and, yet it's a word we use to hurt one other, quite often. And people much wiser than I have said, I'd rather have my son watch a film with two people making love than two people trying to kill one other. And I of course agree. I wish I know who said it first, and I agree with it. But I would like to take it a step further. I would like to substitute the word fuck for the word kill in all those movie cliches we grew up with.
'Okay Sheriff, we're gonna fuck ya now. But we're gonna fuck ya slow.' — George Carlin, “The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television.”

I’m referencing a section of this famous stand-up routine for a reason. Are we still having this debate, forty years later? We can cling to our guns, but somehow those same weapons can’t protect us from the violence inherent in our lives and the lives in those we love. I’d like to hear a news story about how someone’s open carry right prevented a terrorist attack. What I call vigilante justice is another person’s constitutional privilege and patriotic birthright, which confirms our current national lunacy.

It doesn’t stop there. The latest GOP platform declares pornography a public health crisis. Politics makes for bizarre bedfellows sometimes. The so-called “sex negative” feminists of the Sixties and Seventies might find something for them inside the conservative language that follows below.

"The internet must not become a safe haven for predators," the provision states. "Pornography, with its harmful effects, especially on children, has become a public health crisis that is destroying the life of millions. We encourage states to continue to fight this public menace and pledge our commitment to children's safety and well-being. We applaud the social networking sites that bar sex offenders from participation. We urge energetic prosecution of child pornography which closely linked to human trafficking."

And, in fairness, I can’t disagree with parts of this proviso myself. But the issue is really not that simplistic. Human sexuality is extremely personal and very nuanced. To treat pornography as a cursed state of degeneracy is not the fairest interpretation to take. The difference between now and decades ago is the prevalence of the Internet, of course. But every revolutionary change and resulting technological advance radically changes the nature of the game. If you’ll recall, warning labels were placed on cassette tapes and CD covers in 1985 (see above). Ostensibly, these safeguards were put in place for the sake of minors, but one can cite any number of reforms, effective and ineffective, that ask us to think first of the children.

Carefully measured statements like these, which no doubt went through several cautious drafts before being adopted, still don’t reflect an accurate image of the world in which we live. This statement is notable for what it implies and leaves out. Is all pornography inherently bad? Can the state of, say, Nebraska, effectively address this issue in ways that Washington, DC, cannot? Child safety is a hot button issue, one that makes parents across the board fearful and paranoid. This isn’t a wonky discussion over Medicaid coverage or abortion rights. This is a very personal argument that cuts right to the quick. What politician in his or her right mind would run on a platform of being anti-child safety?

America’s modernity has expanded considerably from its frontier beginnings. With extended lifespans and fewer deaths from disease, childhood and adolescence have been redefined, too fast for us to take proper stock of each. Around the time of the Civil War, many children, especially from working class families, had to take on the responsibilities of adults at very young age. Many mothers died in childbirth. Several marriages of convenience were arranged to give poverty-stricken families one fewer mouth to feed. As I (and many others) have mentioned before, the poor are still among us.

Returning to my original point, equating all pornography with its illegal form is overreaching. I’m sure the first part of the statement took a more zero-tolerance approach and was ironed-out somewhat with subsequent revision. Hands up if you’ve ever viewed pornography. Keep them up if you’ve ever smoked marijuana. In a spirit of great magnanimity, I’m calling everyone out, including myself.

Hypocrisy and charges of hypocrisy undercut everyone’s best attempt at sounding strong and irrefutable. Child safety is an important issue. Every parent’s worst nightmare is the mere thought of something awful happening to his or her kids. To treat pedophilia and child pornography as some new menace is awfully disingenuous. We talk more about it, for sure. I have gotten to the point that I can’t read my online hometown newspaper. Almost every day, it seems that I read stories about high school and middle school teachers who have pursued unlawful relationships with their students. At a slightly later time in my life, I knew several older men, college professors, who had frequent affairs with their students. If their example is any indication, I’m not shocked at the prevalence of the custom.

Ethics should not be confused with legality. There are far too many legitimate instances of childhood sexual abuse. My life experiences are proof that child molestation did not begin with the age of the Internet. The silent film actress Louise Brooks was lured to the home of a local pedophile by the promise of candy. When confronted with the knowledge, Louise’s mother blamed it on her strong-willed daughter. Such attitudes are still among us. Adults in positions of trust and reverence have adopted predatory behavior on numerous instances. Now they have different tools and different methods. They will change with the times. Indeed, they already have.

I hate to put it this way, but we can’t build metaphorical walls around convicted sex offenders any more than Mexico can build a wall alongside our border. We’ve pushed these convicted felons into less affluent areas and restricted their mobility, but we can’t force individual compliance. I happen to believe that sex offenders are mentally ill, but tough talk is often the refuse of the well-intentioned. I was raised to be skeptical of vague promises and toothless rhetoric, and as this crazy election year grinds to a close, I know we’ll see plenty of each.

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