16 responses to “The Folk Devil in the Details (Or, “Lawyers, Guns and Sex Toys”)

  1. Pingback: Elizabeth Wood Gets To The Heart « UDreamOfJanie

  2. Without stepping up onto my favorite soap box, I think it needs to be said that there is a deeply entrenched religious component to this fear of all things sexual as well.

    It becomes very difficult to even address issues of sexuality when there is overt oppression of all things sexual coming from the pulpits of America, and such pronouncements are accepted by a majority of Americans without question or thought.

    It just seems that as long as we can’t speak openly and honestly about sex in general, we have no hope of intelligently addressing issues like sexual predators. And as long as we can’t address the underlying fear of sexual predators, we can’t speak openly and honestly about sex in general.

    I think we’ve painted ourselves into a corner, and we sorely need to find a way out.

  3. I like your “painted ourselves into a corner” metaphor here. I was thinking earlier about how on earth we can “banish the folk devil” from our culture, or turn the tide of the moral panic, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to do it without making quite a mess.

    For example, what if we all had to walk around with our assorted sexual proclivities written on our foreheads? (In other words, what if we couldn’t hide them?). It’d be a bit like the mess of getting oneself out of the painted-in corner. It might not be pretty at first, but we’d be better off for it once we were out!

  4. While that actually appeals to the exhibitionist in me, in my case it might be more expedient to list the sexual proclivities I don’t enjoy… yet.


  5. Tom Joaquin

    This really gets to the heart of a lot of issues, and brings me up to one of my soapboxes as it did JanieBelle.

    Our culture is based on a manachian dualism — there’s good and evil, us and them. We dehumanize the enemy, whether it be a child-abuser or the enemy in war. It confirms our own “rightness” somehow, and let’s us feel in control of our world in a simplistic fashion.

    It’s the main problem with our penal system — we objectify suspects, and feel any effort to delve into the reasons for his or her behavior is somehow an attempt to free the person of responsibility. So nothing get’s better and no one gets smarter.

    There was a priest here in Boston about a year ago — he had spent time in prison and was defrocked because he had abused children. He was traveling to different areas of the country, not to defend child molesters, but to discuss the problem from his perspective and increase understanding about causes, and about ways and to help abusers and thereby reduce the number of abused children.

    He created a firestorm every place he went. The very idea of discussing child molesters as human beings was offensive in the extreme to most people.

    One related story from a book I read some time ago about large scale abuse of civilians by various nations during times of war. A main theme of the book was the dehumanization of an enemy that occurs in all major conflicts. One example concerned an incident that took place in Paris during WWII. Troops were chasing and shooting civilians during an action. One woman trying to escape lost her shoe. The soldier chasing her acted on his first response; he picked up her shoe and handed it to her; she thanked him. He then had no idea of what to do. How do you chase or kill someone with whom you’re had a such a human moment? The story stuck with me.

  6. I think its about time that wives (if their husbands don’t initiate it), mothers, or even daughters discuss sexual issues and facts within the family, say, over dinner (?). This way, a lot of latent attitudes or behaviors towards sex within the family will be exposed, so as to be affirmed or corrected. It could smoke out the sexual predator within the family itself, rather than being vigilant for the predator without but oblivious to that is within.

    I am set on discussing sex, to let them air their views, with my children, by the time they reach adolescence.

    Thank you, Elizabeth.

    Tom Navarro

  7. Tom Navarro, I’m glad to read that you are committed to discussing sex with your kids. Bravo.

    Tom Joaquin, speaking of dualism and rigid thinking, did you see that the Supreme Court declined to hear the case involving an Arizona man who was sentenced under state guidelines to 200 years in prison for possessing child pornography? A question I have about the Supreme Court: What criteria does it tend to use in deciding whether or not to hear a case? In this instance, the issue is not so much the child pornography (though that is inextricably connected) as it is the state’s sentencing guidelines which prohibit the sentences for each count from being served concurrently. At least that’s what I understood from the NYT article. It does seem an instance of absolute inflexibility, built into the law. And one that is especially difficult to challenge because of the nature of the crime involved.

    And by the way, the story about the soldier, the woman and the shoe stuck with me, too. What was the book?

    (And Janie, are you admitting that your head just isn’t big enough?)

  8. Forgive the disjointedness of this comment…

    I would also be interested in the criteria for selection by the SCOTUS.

    Dehumanization of “The Other” lies also at the heart of this, and must be addressed in tandem with the other points being made.


    I’m just sayin’ that I could use the services of a platoon of bald Marines. Not only that, while I had them around, I’d try to fit my list on their heads.

    OK, that was a bit of hyperbole there folks. A squad, on the other hand…


  9. Tom Joaquin

    As a rule, the Supreme Court has absolute control over which cases they hear. There are a few specific exceptions — cases where one state sues another state — but most of their calendar consists of cases the Justices have decided to take. Or, to be more precise, at least four of the Justices. There are very roughly about 8,000 cases sent to the Supremes every year. At least four Justices have to agree to take a case if it’s to be placed on the calendar (the Rule of Four).

    Mos of the cases on the docket concern constitutional issues that are being decided different ways in different federal appeals courts. Then there are appeals from special federal courts — the US Tax Court, for example.

    The case you mentioned, Elizabeth, falls into the last large category — a state law challenged as unconstitutional. Under Arizona law, someone convicted of child pornography receives 10 years for each conviction. In the case we’re talking about, the defendant possessed 20 images of child pornography — therefore, 200 years. As you said, the sentences aren’t to run concurrently. It does make a practical difference whether you receive 200 years or 100 years, because you becoming eligible for parole earlier under the 100 years sentence.

    The defendant’s lawyers argued that the sentence shouldn’t have considered each photo a separate conviction. They argued that a 200 year sentence was more than someone would normally received for rape, or for second degree murder. (The AZ prosecutor had asked the court for a 340 year sentence!) Because it’s an Arizona law, they appealed to the AZ state supreme court. When they lost there, they tried to go the the Supremes, who, it turns out, decided to let the AZ court have final word over AZ law. And, for this particular defendant, that’s it.

    The book I mentioned in my prior comment is “Humanity, A Moral History of the Twentieth Century”, by Jonathan Glover, a British philosopher primarily known as a bioethicist. It’s very good.

  10. Thanks, Tom, for the additional explanation.

    Have I said publicly, lately, how nice it is to have you around?

    You’ve got to be one of the smartest people I know! And you have a real knack for explaining complicated things so that we who are not well versed in the law can understand how they work. Even when they’re kind of crazy.

  11. Pingback: confusing skeezy with predatory « yellow is the color…

  12. Pingback: Conservatives Love Porn Too » Blog Archive » Sex In The Public Square

  13. Elizabeth,

    I read with amusement the comments about free speech and the Supreme Court.

    Brings to mind an interview with Alan Dershowitz a few years ago. He was commenting about the protection of free speech. His view was that speech came in two kinds: popular and un-popular.

    Popular speech needs no protection, everyone already approves. It is the un-popular speech that is the only type that needs protection, and that’s what the Founding Fathers had in mind with that amendment.

    Too bad it is often reviewed by right wing judges who got elected by a constituency of the local religious right (translate: wackos) who control things in most locations more than 100 miles from Times Square.

    As for the Supreme Court deciding which cases to review, that’s usually NOT done by the whole court and no vote is taken. The 9 justices have divided the country into 9 areas, and a single justice generally decides which cases from his area to bring to the Court’s attention, and which to drop in the trash. That might explain why justice varies from one part of the country to another.

    When censorship gets tangled in with religion, it gets truely bizarre. Just ask my former neighbor in Baltimore, the famous Madelyn Murray (O’hare) whose house was firebombed by righteous christians with her and her little children inside … twice. Her great offense against morality was to bring the Supreme Court action getting prayer out of schools. I remember kids saying how she deserved to be killed. Bizarre. In the end, Madelyn was in fact murdered some years later in Arizona, I think it was.

    When I started school as a little kid out in a rural school, I remember the teacher wanted us to put on a little play in the classroom. It was to be a story about Jesus, and she picked me to be Jesus. I had learned to speak English just a few months before, so I didn’t know all the words. At the beginning of the play, the teacher told me to bless the other kid. I didn’t know what “bless” meant. She explained I should say a prayer over the other kid. But I didn’t know any prayers. So she said then just say the Lord’s Prayer. I didn’t know the Lord’s Prayer … because though we all repeated it each morning in school, they all mumbled and I never understood any of it. That’s when the teacher suddenly realized than she was face-to-face with the anti-christ himself in the form of a 6 year old little blond boy (me), so she stopped everything, stood me up against the blackboard and had the entire class pray AT ME for an hour or more. And I was then known as the Dirty Boy until we eventually moved away the following year. “Dirty Boy” was also the name given to another kid who got caught with a postcard of a nude woman.

    This religious intolerance is often the root cause of much censorship, or at least that’s what I have found. Think about it: What would Jesus do? Would he ostracise a little 6 year old boy for not belonging to the popular religion in that town? You decide.

    I realize this topic is supposed to be censorship and not religion, but I feel that once God’s imprint is attached to a personal opinion, then it becomes necessary in the minds of some folks to ram that opinion down everyone else’s throat. And the result is censorship, just as surely as day is followed by night.

    Don’t think of me as being against religion. In spite of being an agnostic german immigrant living in a 99% jewish orthodox religious neighborhood, I get along just fine with all of them, in fact this week with passover, I got several invites to join their for their religious dinners this week. Oddly I notice that none of the Jews has ever inflicted any of their standards on me, that appears to be a Christian thing… must think on that some more.

    Oh and on the topic of the Orthodox Jews, they have no problem at all with lesbian sex! Their definition duplicates Bill Clinton’s explanation, and if there is no reproductive activity involved then it’s not sex and so 2 women together is “just friends” no matter what. However 2 men together would violate the “thou shalt not lay with man as with woman” rule, so that’s not allowed. But they do allow women to have fun.

    I wonder if they’d allow me to watch and bring my camera, or would they censor that? Oh well.

    (Elizabeth, I realize I probably babbled on way too long, and sidetracked myself into religion though I see it as perhaps the root of censorship .. but anyway, if you decide not to publish this or whatever, I sure won’t be offended at all. Just realize it’s not entirely safe to allow me to get on my soapbox, cause I’ll be up there all day on some topics)

  14. Fred, you’re welcome to bring your soapbox to my blog now and then. No apologies. Thoughtful comments of any length are always welcome.

    Your story about being prayed at when you were 6, and your asking “what would Jesus do,” really struck me because Jesus, as I understand him from the stories, was a pretty open-hearted guy who defended prostitutes from stoning, sat down with tax collectors, and generally advocated compassion and self-improvement. Funny-sad that out of that should have grown such strains of intolerance, fear and hate.

  15. Elizabeth,

    After all, was it not Jesus that said “Judge not, lest ye be judged”. And later at the stoning of the prostitute, I think he said “Let Ye who is without sin, cast the first censorship”.

    He said that, didn’t he?

    Oh God, even as I type this, I see an ad on CNN for their program tomorrow nite, “What would Jesus really do?” Let’s all watch it and then we’ll know for sure.


  16. As Reverend Lovejoy’s wife, in The Simpsons, would say: “Please, think about the children!” LOL. Great article Elizabeth. I never thought about that term, solidarity by exclusion, when I watched clips of To catch a predator. It’s pretty much a suburban version of Jerry Springer, isn’t? Only the booing audience is sitting at home, with our torches and our judgment.