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Why Nobody Should EVER Be As Famous As Michael Jackson

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A lot has been said about Michael Jackson’s legacy in recent years. Like so many others, I remember just how big he was. I’ve listened to his music. I’ve watched his music videos. I’ve also read some of the many weird stories that have been told about him. While I never considered myself a huge fan, I don’t deny that in terms of sheer star power, he’s in a league all his own.

The extent of that star power is difficult to fathom today, even for people who become stars for all the wrong reasons. It’s impossible to overstate just how big Michael Jackson was as an entertainer and a celebrity. Anyone under the age of 30 can’t hope to understand the status he had in the mid-1980s and early 1990s. He was the closest any celebrity ever came to becoming a full-blown demigod.

Whether you cared for his music or not, he forged an unparalleled legacy that will likely never be matched. Ever since his death in 2009, however, the narrative surrounding that legacy has branched off into two very different directions.

One attempts to celebrate just how much he contributed to entertainment, highlighting how he ascended from his days as the cute kid in the Jackson 5 to one of the undisputed King of Pop. The other attempts to cut through the breadth of his fame to reveal his egregious misdeeds, which may have included child sexual abuse.

The stories surrounding these misdeeds have recently gained greater attention thanks to the “Leaving Neverland” documentary that aired on HBO. In this film, the kids Jackson allegedly abused, who are now adults with families of their own, get to tell their stories. Without spoiling too much, the details of those stories are not for the faint of heart.

It’s impossible to know just how true some details are. I’ve noted before that people should never take documentaries too seriously. I’ve also pointed out that human memory is notoriously unreliable. Even though Michael Jackson was ultimately acquitted, there’s still an underlying sentiment that he’s an abuser who got away with his crimes.

Personally, I don’t blame people for thinking that way about him. Jackson was a weird, eccentric character and for understandable reasons. He was a child star who somehow managed to become an even bigger star as an adult. He even said in the days leading up to his death that he never had a childhood. His whole life was consumed by fame, celebrity, and stardom.

Even today, there aren’t many parallels. Even the biggest celebrities of today, from Taylor Swift to Ryan Reynolds, never had to endure fame to that extent. They got to have childhoods. They had a chance to anchor themselves to the real world, if only to a limited extent. Even the children of celebrities have some breathing room, although not all of them handle it well.

Michael Jackson never had that opportunity. Shortly after he achieved stardom with the Jackson 5, his life became consumed with celebrity. He ceased becoming Michael Jackson, the kid, and forever became Michael Jackson, the celebrity. He never faded into obscurity, like many other child stars do. He remained this superstar icon who, no matter what he did, couldn’t escape the fame.

It’s a caliber of fame that, logistically speaking, just isn’t possible today when one mis-worded tweet or one scandalous video from a smartphone is enough to cause a celebrity’s downfall. Personally, I believe that’s a good thing. I would even go so far as to say that nobody should ever achieve the level of fame that Michael Jackson had.

It’s not just that fame can corrupt otherwise decent people. Michael Jackson already had issues beyond fame, from his lengthy list of medical ailments to the way his father disciplined him and his brothers. Fame, in many cases, acts as a fuel rather than a catalyst. It compounds the good and the bad in people. For someone who has real demons, the bad can lead to real tragedy.

The level of fame that Michael Jackson achieved wasn’t just fuel, though. It was more akin to weapons grade plutonium, bombarding him with a level of volatility that no human being is equipped to handle. Through both the interviews he has conducted and the anecdotes of other celebrities, the effects of such immense fame are painfully clear.

Michael, as talented and weird as he was, couldn’t handle it. The pressure of navigating that kind of celebrity isn’t just daunting. It’s impossible. It’s also likely that pressure played a role in some of the health issues he endured later in his life. It probably played a role in his less-than-normal mental health.

Now, none of those issues should absolve him of any crimes he may have committed. The fact that he’s no longer alive to defend his legacy against a contrasting narrative is worth considering when judging him, as both a person and an icon. That won’t stop some from furthering a certain narrative, which has already had a substantial impact on Jackson’s legacy, but it should provide context.

Regardless of the narrative that best reflects the truth, there are lessons from Michael Jackson’s famous story that are more relevant now than they were when he was alive. Currently, we live in a world of outrage culture where the internet and social media has given people unprecedented access to the world of celebrity. With that access, the dark side of that world is harder to avoid.

Even at the height of his fame, Michael Jackson just had to dodge reporters and the paparazzi. He could also rely, to some extent, on people not taking the tabloids too seriously. After all, some of those tabloids published stories that were weird, even by his standards. Today, he would have to worry about everyone with a smartphone and social media account.

On top of that, the very nature of the internet and human psychology have made it so that even proven lies somehow become accepted as truth. They never go away. The internet never forgets. Once you’ve been labeled with an embarrassing smear, it doesn’t go away. Even if you’re innocent, the label sticks.

Someone of Michael Jackson’s fame and eccentricities wouldn’t last long in the current social climate. It’s remarkable how some celebrities manage to sustain themselves for extended periods of time, but those individuals are few and far between. In addition, none of them have ever come close to achieving Jackson’s level of fame.

Perhaps, it’s for the best that no one will ever reach the level of celebrity that that Michael Jackson achieved. The human psyche, no matter how talented or resilient, just isn’t equipped to handle that kind of stardom. What it means to be a celebrity is rapidly changing, thanks to the internet and even to Jackson’s influence on the culture, at large. Chances are the pace of that change will only accelerate.

For better or for worse, Michael Jackson’s legacy is a testament to how damaging fame can be when taken to ridiculous extremes. In an era where fame is both fleeting and increasingly irrational, it’s harder than ever to escape that damage. Even if it’s no longer possible for someone to achieve that level of fame, the lessons of that legacy are worth learning from.

 

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Religious Dogma, Sexual Repression, And How They Foster (Horrendous) Abuse

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By now, most people have heard the news surrounding the latest round of scandals involving the Catholic Church. Once again, it involves the systematic abuse of children, the elaborate efforts to cover it up, and the religious dogma that is used to protect such behavior. It’s certainly not the first time the Catholic Church has been embroiled in such a scandal, but that doesn’t make it any less distressing.

There’s a lot I can say about the Catholic Church and how badly they’ve handled this issue. There’s even more I can say about how this famous institution’s policies have caused genuine harm in societies that remain devoted to Catholic traditions. However, I would only be repeating what others have already pointed out and I’d rather not do that.

Some have already done it better than I ever will.

For me, personally, these scandals cut deep because I have family who identify as devout Catholics. They see these same scandals too and I can confirm that it hurts them on a personal level. Whenever someone brings it up, they don’t make excuses. They despise those priests for what they did and those who covered it up. It doesn’t shake their faith, though. To some extent, I admire that.

At the same time, however, I often wonder whether they see the same flaws in that dogmatic theology that I see. I try not to bring it up with family members, out of respect for their faith. I still believe that even they are bothered by those flaws. When children are being sexually abused, how could it not?

There are a lot of factors in play with this latest scandal, from the nature of religious dogma to the corruption of powerful institutions. The one that few want to confront, though, involves the cumulative impact of sexual repression with rigid theology.

There’s no way around it. Religious dogma and sexual repression often go together. The Catholic Church is hardly the only institution that encourages strict repression of sexual behavior. Anyone living in Saudi Arabia or Iran can attest to that. With a billion adherents and nearly 2,000 years of history, though, the Catholic Church is one of the largest and most vocal proponents of this dogma.

The reasons for that are many and I don’t want to get into all the issues surrounding its effects. Instead, I want to focus solely on the celibacy of the priests. That practice represents a true extreme of sexual repression. It’s one thing to champion monogamy to the point of murdering adulterers. It’s quite another to have an entire class of people who have to completely repress their basic urges.

It’s not like trying to quit smoking, which is hard enough. This involves denying a basic, fundamental drive that is hardwired into people at birth. Trying to turn that off is like trying make sugar taste bad. It goes against fundamental biological wiring. The idea that someone can repress those force without incurring psychological damage is flawed, at best.

To get an idea of why, think about a time when you were really hungry. Maybe you were sick for a while, trapped on a long road trip, or went on a crash diet. That feeling of intense hunger is not something you can turn off. It’s uncomfortable for a reason. Your body isn’t getting something it’s been hardwired to seek. It’s going to make you feel uncomfortable until you do something about it.

The human sex drive is not like hunger, but it’s similar in that it’s a biological drive. For every living thing, be it a human or an insect, sustenance and reproduction are the two most basic drives. It is possible to survive without reproducing, but the fundamental forces of nature are going to push you to try.

When you push back too hard, it’s like trying to patch a faulty dam with scotch tape and chewing gum. From a psychological standpoint, your brain and your body are deprived. As a result, it’s going to do whatever it can to alleviate this deprivation.

It doesn’t matter if that act is extreme. It doesn’t matter if it’s illogical, illegal, or outright immoral. Your brain and your body will find a way to justify it if it ends the deprivation. For most, it’s just a never-ending battle that requires an individual to fill that missing need with something, which in this case is religious fervor.

It’s debatable as to how much this fills that fundamental need, but a lot of that assumes that celibate priests don’t do something in their private time to relieve the tension. Historically speaking, many in the Catholic Church and other powerful institutions were pretty blatant about how they circumvented the issues of celibacy.

Some priests had lovers on the side. Some employed prostitutes and concubines, but still claimed to be “celibate” because they weren’t married. More often than not, priests were only celibate in the most technical sense and the church often tolerated this. Even St. Thomas Aquinas, a man not known for liberal attitudes, even acknowledged the futility of suppressing the human sex drive when he said this about prostitution.

“If prostitution were to be suppressed, careless lusts would overthrow society.”

For a select few, though, that effort to maintain celibacy manifests in a truly horrific way. I think it’s safe to conclude that the priests who abused these children were not mentally well. Many might have been unwell before they entered the priesthood, but celibacy certainly didn’t help. Repression, especially the kind that’s taboo to even talk about, tends to make things worse.

That’s how people end up with mentalities that are poorly equipped to handle basic urges. Instead of a healthy expression of sexual desire, someone may react with anger or self-hate. When people are angry and hateful, they tend to take it out on someone. It’s not always sexual, but when someone has all their sexual desires pent up over the years, sometimes it seeps in.

That’s how simple desire becomes disturbing fetishes, including those that harm children. That’s how unthinkable behaviors are rationalized. When religious dogma tells someone they face divine retribution for feeling these intrinsic desires, that’s causes serious distress and efforts to mitigate it can make for some pretty unholy behaviors

While it’s hard to study the sex lives of celibate priests, the occurrence of these scandals along with the historical documentation of other lurid scandals reveal plenty about the effects of celibacy. When there’s no outlet for sexual expression, other emotions get caught up in the efforts to cope with that fundamental drive. Add religiously-motivated guilt to the mix and the impact only compounds over time.

None of this is an excuse for what those priests did to these children. They still committed an atrocity and no amount of divine excuses can mitigate the suffering of the victims. The Vatican will do what it has to do in order to maintain its power and influence. However, the reconsideration of extreme practices celibacy is unlikely.

Some media figures will mention it, but never to the point of encouraging serious reforms. That’s a dirty word in both the Catholic Church and any other religious institution. Historically speaking, the rate at which major religion institutions undergo sweeping reforms is nothing short of glacial.

I sincerely hope this latest scandal gives those in the Vatican serious pause, but I have a feeling that even this won’t do it. Religious dogma is notoriously uncompromising. People, especially within powerful institutions, make any excuse to avoid changing it. While the Vatican has made some strides, the fundamental issue remains. As long as basic human nature is suppressed, more will suffer and not in a holy sort of way.

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Terry Crews, Corey Feldman, And Why The Anti-Harassment Movement Is Ignoring Them

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Recently, late-night talk host, Samantha Bee, took some time from her comedy news show to talk about sexual assault. That, in and of itself, isn’t too remarkable. Many women have been doing that since the anti-harassment movement began. However, Ms. Bee did something noteworthy with her message.

She talked about the impact that harassment and sexual assault had on men. She even invited actor and former NFL player, Terry Crews, to participate. That gives her message more weight because Mr. Crews has been trying to raise awareness of that issue ever since the movement began. He even testified in front of a Senate committee on the issue, sharing his own stories of assault and abuse.

It’s a surprisingly balanced message from someone not known for having a good filter. If you haven’t checked it out, I highly recommend it. She doesn’t present it in an overly dire way, but the message it conveys is still serious.

It also sheds light on a major blind spot in the anti-harassment movement. It showed in how the scandals involving Kevin Spacey and Bryan Singer were handled by the media. Whereas the victims of Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby were given plenty of support to tell their story, the male victims were largely ignored.

In fact, the primary reason why the Kevin Spacey scandal made headlines had less to do with the victim he assaulted and more to do with him using that to come out as gay. Him using that incident to address his sexuality wasn’t seen as contributing to the anti-harassment movement. It was seen as him derailing the movement for LGBT acceptance by associating his sexuality with assault of a minor.

The victims for both Kevin Spacey and Bryan Singer never got a chance to have their voices heard. Unfortunately, that’s fairly common for male victims of sexual abuse. Mr. Crews has even addressed this on multiple occasions. Shortly after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, he provided a fairly lengthy explanation on Twitter that explain why few speak up and even few are heard.

His comments are gender-neutral, but Mr. Crews also mentions how men face unique challenges in confronting this issue. Make no mistake. Sexual assault against men does happen and there’s plenty of raw data to back it up. The way it’s talked about and thought about, though, gives the impression that it’s not as big a deal.

That’s a big reason why men like Mr. Crews don’t come forward with their experiences. In his own words, “The silence is deafening when it comes to men talking about this issue.” Even though he’s been fairly vocal on this issue, few outside Ms. Bee have given him a chance to tie those experiences into the ongoing movement.

In addition to Mr. Crews, there are a few other notable voices trying to raise attention on the harassment and abuse of minors. Corey Feldman, a former child star, has been vocal in his efforts to expose the physical and sexual abuse he endured in his youth. He has even been trying to make a documentary exposing rampant child abuse in Hollywood, which has yet to be made.

This issue is personal for someone like Mr. Feldman because his friend and fellow child actor, Corey Haim, was also sexually abused as a young teenager. In his book, Coreyography, he talked about how they both struggled to deal with it. Drug abuse, which played a major part in Mr. Haim’s death in 2010, was a means of escaping the issue rather than dealing with it.

That’s understandable, considering the business they were in. Drug use in Hollywood isn’t just a long-standing part of the culture. It’s sometimes necessary, albeit for tragic reasons. It provides an escape for people like Mr. Feldman and Mr. Haim, one that’s much easier than coming forward and naming their abusers.

It’s the same issue women face when they’re victims of sexual assault. They’ll make a claim, but hesitate to name the abuser out of fear, shame, guilt, or willful disbelief. In Hollywood, especially, the people they deal with are rich and powerful. They have the resources to make anyone’s life, especially public figures like Mr. Feldman and Mr. Crews, extremely unpleasant.

On top of that, people who accuse a celebrity or public figure of such crimes are usually subject to major harassment as well. In that sense, staying silent is just easier. The anti-harassment movement has been trying to change that, at least for women, by providing them a platform with which to come forward. As a result, egregious crimes have been exposed and are actively being prosecuted.

However, those same efforts aren’t making much room for men like Mr. Feldman and Mr. Crews. They’re still in the same situation as they were before the anti-harassment movement began, trying to speak openly about a difficult issue and struggling to find support.

Why is that, though? Why are these men not allowed to stand on the front lines with the women who brought down Harvey Weinstein? There’s no easy answer to that. Chances are if you ask 100 people, you’ll get 100 different answers and at least 90 of them will sound like conspiracy theories.

I don’t claim to have a definitive answer, but I have reasonable suspicions and it has do with crafting a narrative. As an aspiring writer, I know a thing or two about narratives and why it’s so important to keep them concise. To some extent, the anti-harassment movement is an ongoing narrative that has to stay concise in order to pursue its goals.

Unfortunately, staying concise means ignoring or avoiding anything that might disrupt that narrative. In that context, Mr. Feldman and Mr. Crews are significant disruptions, albeit through no fault of their own or even those who champion the anti-harassment movement.

That’s because, for better or for worse, there’s this standard notion of how a case of sexual assault plays out. When most people close their eyes to imagine it, they probably don’t imagine someone like Terry Crews getting cornered in a crowded room. They probably imagine a scared young woman in a dark alley, crying out for help as some big, ugly, sadistic man abuses her.

Like any strong narrative, that notion conjures all sorts of powerful emotions. We feel anger, disgust, and sorrow for any woman who has to endure such an experience. We also feel seething anger towards any man who would do that to such a woman. The decent human being in us wants to help that woman and beat the snot out of that man.

If you reverse the genders in that narrative, though, it just doesn’t work. Those same decent people just can’t imagine a scenario where Terry Crews or Corey Feldman are cornered in a dark alley, assaulted by a man or woman, and suffer the same way. Even when they do, it doesn’t evoke the same feelings.

If anything, it complicates the narrative. These are supposed to be men. They’re supposed to be tough. Mr. Crews is a former football player. Mr. Feldman is a Hollywood star. We expect them to fight back. We expect them to not need our support the same way a woman would. To some extent, that assumptions demeans both men and women.

That doesn’t matter, though, because the narrative only works if it has that emotional resonance. People are more inclined to rally around a movement where they get to comfort an emotionally distraught young woman rather than a rich, imposing man. Like a movie where the sweet virgin schoolgirl escapes the masked serial killer, it’s more satisfying.

Moreover, it has to be satisfying to get people to rally behind it. This often come with a cost, which can really escalate if it goes too far. Some are already voicing concerns about the anti-harassment movement losing control of the narrative. Ignoring the abuse of men like Mr. Crews and Mr. Feldman only compounds those concerns.

Until the narrative changes, these men will still struggle to be part of the conversation. The piece with Samantha Bee is a good start, but it’s still an uphill battle. The idea of men being sexually abused is subject to a unique brand of stigma. That doesn’t make the suffering of the victims any less real, nor does it make crimes of the abusers any less egregious.

I don’t expect the anti-harassment movement to fully embrace Mr. Crews or Mr. Haim anytime soon, but so long as they keep making their voices heard, they’ll remind people that the narrative is still incomplete. Abuse, harassment, and victimization affects everybody, regardless of gender. When you prioritize justice for some over others, then that only creates more injustice for everyone.

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Remembering (And Learning From) The Satanic Panic

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Lock your doors, hide your children, and pray with the force of a million pious nuns because it’s happening. It’s out there and it’s probably going on as you’re reading this. There’s a vast network of Satanic cults who have infiltrated schools, child day care centers, and major media outlets. They’re coming for you, they’re coming for your kids, and they’re determined to corrupt every soul they can.

I hope everyone who just read that laugh paragraph is either laughing or confused. It was not meant to be serious. The fact that I actually have to clarify that for a certain segment of people who may take it seriously says a lot about the human condition. It also reveals even more, albeit in a way that’s hardly flattering to our species.

When one person has crazy, irrational fears, we can easily shrug them off and move on with our lives. When a large group of people have those fears, though, it’s a bit harder to ignore, especially when it becomes a full-fledged panic that spurs outrage, ruins lives, and wastes resources.

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This is exactly what happened in the 1980s during the so-called Satanic Panic. It may sound like the name of a bad heavy metal band or one of those funny church signs, but make no mistake. It was no laughing matter. There was a real, genuine fear among people that there was a conspiracy of Satanists looking to abuse, exploit, and corrupt children.

It got so serious that major news outlets, the FBI, and even Oprah Winfrey began reporting on it. They included disturbing recollections of adults taking children into dark rooms, dressing up in Satanic attire, and subjecting them to unspeakable abuse that often included sex acts. It got pretty horrifying, which is part of why it got so much attention. This is just a small sample of what some kids recalled.

In hours of footage, they talked about how the devil-worshipers preyed on the wealthy community, holding pedophilic orgies and murdering innocent people. They said the Satanists abused and tortured babies, slitting their throats, drinking their blood and dancing while wearing their skulls.

It all sounds too horrible to imagine. The descriptions are objectively horrifying. There’s just one key detail that undercuts that horror. There’s no verifiable evidence that any of it happened. There’s only evidence that the lives of innocent adults were irreparably ruined.

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It’s amazing to think that something so irrational had terrified and overwhelmed sane, rational people in a civilized society. Actually, that might have been amazing to contemplate five years ago. I think it’s distressingly easy to imagine something like that happening in an era where false accusations can become a viral media spectacle.

Most people may roll their eyes at the notion that history tends to repeat itself from those who don’t heed it’s lessons. Historically speaking, though, those lessons keep popping up in new forms in conjunction with new panics. One day, it’s a conspiracy of Satanists. The next, it’s a conspiracy of Bronies. In each case, a similar pattern emerges. History may not entirely repeat itself, but it sure follows a similar script.

The catalyst for Satanic Ritual Abuse panic was similar to what triggers most panics. One particular story, which may or may not be true, captures the public’s imagination and terrifies parents to no end. The story, in this case, was called “Michelle Remembers” by Lawrence Pazder. This was to Satanic Ritual Abuse what Harvey Weinstein and GamerGate was to the ongoing panic over sexual misconduct.

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The book itself is a disturbing story disguised as a real documentation about a psychiatrist uncovering repressed memories from a woman who had been abused by a Satanic cult. Almost immediately after publication, the legitimacy of the story came into question and Pazder got sued for libel. That didn’t matter, though. The story went onto become very popular and was actually taken seriously.

This culminated in the infamous McMartin Preschool Trial where, after seven years and millions of dollars in legal fees, those accused were found innocent. That didn’t matter in the end. The media coverage, combined with public fears, made them Satan-loving monsters by default. Needless to say, their lives were ruined.

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As I said before, and it’s worth belaboring, there was no hard evidence that any of these crazy Satanic rituals ever took place. The allegations were pretty elaborate, but the problem from a truth perspective was that they were based primarily on the testimony of young children. That’s a huge problem beyond the fact that most anecdotal evidence, even from competent adults, is unreliable and rarely admissible in a trial.

The testimony of those children was gained largely through something called recovered-memory therapy. It’s not as intensive as it sounds. Therapists just ask impressionable kids leading questions and get them to tell say whatever they want while claiming it’s a real memory.

That proved to be an effective/dangerous tool in provoking the emotions of the masses. It’s one thing when an adult makes a claim that sounds extreme, but when a child says it who may have been horribly abused, that nurturing instinct that most decent human beings have goes into overdrive. It doesn’t matter if there’s no evidence. The mere possibility that it could be true convinces us.

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Even after more thorough investigations revealed far more mundane truths, there was still plenty of panic. There was even an organization called Believe The Children that advocated accepting their testimony, even if it couldn’t be verified and meant ruining innocent lives.

This is where some of the distressing similarities to the ongoing crusade against sexual misconduct start to manifest. Now, right of the back, I want to make clear that I am not claiming that the movement to combat sexual harassment is as vacuous as the movement against Satanic Ritual Abuse. I really want to make that clear. However, the parallels are worth noting.

Yes, there have been cases of real, verified assault that have been proven in a court of law. There have also been cases where a false accusation put an innocent person in prison. Just like those urging that people believe the horrific stories told by the children, though, there are those who urge that we place a similar belief in anyone who accuses someone of a sex crime.

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There’s a reason why we have a justice system. There’s also a reason why the standard of proof for a serious crime is so high. There are some who don’t like applying that standard to sexual misconduct, but there’s a reason for that. In a civilized society, we understand that punishing innocent people can be much more damaging than letting a guilty person go.

I know that doesn’t sit well with certain people. One person getting away with a sex crime is one too much, especially for those who have been victimized. However, and I know this is going to strike the wrong chords, but that’s the price we all pay for having a functional justice system.

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It’s not perfect because humans aren’t perfect. Trying to make it perfect, though, at the cost of innocent lives is a price that undermines the very concept of justice. The Satanic Ritual Abuse craze in the 1980s ruined innocent lives. Their suffering is a crime in and of itself.

In a sense, the unjust suffering of an innocent is twice the injustice of a guilty person getting acquitted because it inflicts unjust guilt on someone and forces them to carry that burden beyond the accusation. That is why presumption of innocence is so important in any justice system.

The ongoing efforts to combat sexual misconduct has noble goals. Even the panic around Satanic Ritual Abuse had noble goals in wanting to protect children. Most decent people are on the same page with those goals. However, when outrage, anecdotes, and hyperbole are the primary tactics, it leaves little room for actual substance.

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That substance matters because, in terms of the bigger picture, violence against women has gone down significantly over the past 20 years. Women today are far safer and less likely to be victimized than they’ve been in decades past. I know that’s not much comfort to those who have been victimized, but one burning tree doesn’t need to start a forest fire.

In the end, the Satanic Ritual Abuse panic created a pretty scary environment for parents and children, so much so that little things like facts, truth, and justice got lost within the horror. Those little things matter even more with real crimes like sexual assault. If there’s one lesson we should learn from the Satanic panic of the 1980s, it’s that terrible stories can lead to terrible injustices if the truth gets overlooked.

In the interest of ending this on a lighter note, check out this old video from the Satanic Panic and enjoy a good laugh. Yes, they really took it that seriously.

 

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Finding Greater Hope In Disturbing News

Every now and then, there’s a news story that comes along that’s so disturbing, so horrific, and so utterly offensive to every level of decency that it makes me question the faith I have in humanity. I know I’ve said before that I genuine believe that people are naturally good, at heart. I’ve even shared stories about how I came to believe this. However, there are times when that believe is tested.

Last week, I got an unexpected test in the form of one of the most disturbing news stories I’ve heard that didn’t involve a mass shooting. At least with mass shootings, it presents the opportunity for good people to show their strength in the face of those who are truly deranged. In this case, there were many of those opportunities to say the least.

While the story is still unfolding with each passing day, it has already made national headlines. It involves the now-infamous Turpin family and the unspeakable horrors they inflicted upon their own children. To those of you who haven’t heard this story, consider yourselves lucky. This is one of those stories that tests both your stomach and your soul.

The details are disturbing to recount. They involve abusive parents, abused kids, gross neglect, intentional malnourishment, and all the disturbing forces in between that drive such deviant behavior. The full story is still unfolding, but accord to a report from ABC News, these are the current facts:

An investigation is underway in California after 13 siblings – ages 2 to 29 – were allegedly held captive in a home, some “shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks,” the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said in a news release.

Parents David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49, were arrested in the alleged torture and child endangerment case in Perris, California, about 27 miles south of San Bernardino.

The investigation began early-Sunday morning when a 17-year-old girl apparently escaped from the home and called 911, saying her 12 brothers and sisters were still being held captive there, the sheriff’s office said.

Responding officers said the teen “appeared to be only 10 years old and slightly emaciated.”

Inside the home, several children were “shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings,” the sheriff’s office said. “The victims appeared to be malnourished and very dirty.”

Seven of the alleged victims were adults, ranging in ages from 18 to 29, the sheriff’s office said. The others were children as young as 2. The siblings – who authorities say claimed to be starving – were given food and drinks and interviewed, the sheriff’s office said. They were then hospitalized for treatment, the authorities said.

I’m not going to lie. I felt sick to my stomach reading this story. The idea that anyone, let alone parents, would do these sorts of things to children is pretty disturbing. While there are all sorts of crazy theories circulating about the psychology behind such sadistic behavior, the full truth will probably never be known. Besides, the damage has been done. These children will probably carry some deep scars for the rest of their lives.

News stories like these often remind us that as amazing a species we are, there are still parts of it that are undeniably devious. While I prefer to emphasize the good in people, as well as the progress we’ve made, it’s neither logical nor just to ignore the bad. Parents torturing, neglecting, and abusing their children is objectively bad by any sane measure.

As awful as it is, however, it’s still important to balance out the terrible with the hopeful. In most great atrocities, there are often glimmers of hope. That may seem impossible for a story like this, but it is there if you look. The horrors of the holocaust were undeniable, but even that darkest of periods can reveal moments of true heroism and inspiration.

Even with that in mind, how could anyone find such moments in a story like this? Something this atrocious makes that difficult. However, the moments are there. Even if the worst of this story has yet to come out, there are some powerful lessons to be learned. Here are just a few.


Bright Spot #1: Atrocities Rarely Stay Hidden (Especially These Days)

There was once a time when it was much easier to hide from the authorities and public scrutiny. A truly sadistic person could take their victims out into the vast wilderness, away from prying eyes, and commit their atrocities without much risk of getting caught. For most of human history, that was the norm and not the exception.

It’s different today. Thanks to modern infrastructure, the media, and mass communication, it’s much harder to hide these sorts of atrocities from the public. That’s especially true in a modern, industrialized country where we have internet, emergency services, and a semi-functional justice system.

If the Turpin family had lived in a less developed country, chances are their crimes would’ve gone unpunished. Even if one of their children had escaped, they probably wouldn’t have been able to get proper help or convince the authorities to aid them. In some parts of the world, those authorities don’t even exist.

Say what you will about the state of the industrialized world. It certainly has its flaws. However, when it comes to committing atrocities on children, those crimes are hard to hide and are rightly condemned. That counts as both progress and justice.


Bright Spot #2: All That Abuse Did NOT Prevent The Children From Escaping

Even though the Turpin family couldn’t hide their atrocities forever, they still managed to hide them for much longer than most people will ever be comfortable admitting. One of the ways they hid it was to condition and control their children to an extent not seen outside of a North Korean prison camp.

Stories of the sheer breadth of the neglect these children suffered are still coming in, but one thing is clear. The parents of these children worked tirelessly to control every aspect of their lives. They were sheltered, starved, restrained, and completely cut off from the outside world. By all accounts, there was no outside world, except the world their parents wanted them to see.

Despite all this, though, one of these kids still found the strength and the will to escape. The only reason these crimes were even exposed was because the 17-year-old daughter climbed out a window and managed to call 911. The fact that this girl, despite all the abuse and deprivation, still found the will to escape says a lot about her and the human desire for freedom.

As repressive as these parents were, it still wasn’t enough. They still sought to escape. The strength of the girl who managed to escape cannot be overstated and it highlights, what I believe, is the biggest takeaway from this otherwise horrific story.


Bright Spot #3: It’s REALLY Hard To Control/Break Someone

 

hope

No matter how disturbing this story gets or what kind of horrific details emerge in the coming weeks, there’s one important lesson we should all take from such a disturbing crime. No matter how much a person is abused or how much someone tries to control them, it’s extremely difficult to completely break them.

These children, including the girl who escaped, were conditioned from birth to live under their parents’ authority. They grew up literally not knowing any other way to live. As far as they knew, the idea of not being controlled by their parents was an alien concept. In terms of controlling and/or breaking someone’s will to resist, the parents had every circumstance working in their favor.

Despite all that, they still failed. They still could not completely control their children because they still tried to escape. It only took one of them to succeed to make the point. No matter how strict the control or hard the abuse, they can’t subvert the natural desire to be free. If nothing else about this terrible story inspires you, let that be it.


I don’t wish to dwell too much on this story, if only because much of it is still playing out. While we shouldn’t discount the horrors involved, there are some small bits of hope that we can glean from such a story. It may not completely overshadow the breadth of the atrocities, but it should remind us that as flawed as the human race may be, we will fight such atrocities when we confront them.

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Purging Bad Memories And The (Hidden) Price That Comes With It

Think about the most traumatic experience you’ve ever had. No, this isn’t another thought experiment, nor is it something I’ll put a sexy spin on. It’s an honest, but difficult question to contemplate. Some people don’t even need to contemplate it. Some trauma is so severe that simply asking the question is redundant.

Even if you accept, as I have argued, that the world is getting better and people are generally good, there is still a lot of suffering in this world. There are horrific wars throughout the world, extreme poverty, and gruesome crimes unfolding every day. The crimes themselves are awful, but it’s often the scars they leave on people, mentally and emotionally, that further amplifies the suffering.

Those scars can be pretty debilitating, even after the physical wounds heal. It often manifests in post-traumatic stress disorder, a terrible mental state that effectively locks someone into their scars. Wars, violence, abuse, and criminal victimization can create varying degrees of trauma and coping with that trauma can be a never-ending struggle.

Now, here’s the part where I try to make this discussion less depressing. This is a blog that talks about sexy thoughts, sexy novels, and personal stories involving awkward boners. In general, I want my posts to inspire and, if possible, arouse in the sexiest way possible.

I don’t think it’s possible to make something like dealing with terrible trauma sexy, but it does present an opportunity to discuss something that might not just be a thought experiment within our lifetime. It boils down to one simple question.

“If you could purge traumatic memories from your mind, would you do it?”

If that question sounds familiar, then congratulations. You’ve probably seen one of Jim Carrey’s most underrated movies, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Granted, it wasn’t exactly as funny or memorable as “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” but it dealt with this question in ways nobody had dared by making the concept of purging memories a simple service to facilitate the process of getting over a loss.

All three “Men In Black” movies streamlined that process even more with their trademark neuralizer, a device that erases peoples’ memories of an incident in a simple flash. When you’re a super-secret government agency trying to hide aliens from the public, it’s kind of a necessity. However, its implications are much greater than simply making life easier for government agents.

Think back to that traumatic experience I mentioned earlier. In addition, think of the many traumatic experiences behind those who suffer from PTSD. All that suffering is built around the memories of those horrible moments. Whether it’s an atrocity in a war, severe child abuse, or a sexual assault, it’s the memory that locks that moment into the mind.

Now, imagine being able to purge that memory from your brain. In an instant, be it a flash by a neuralizer or the service offered in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” that experience is gone. You didn’t just forget it. As far as your brain is concerned, it never happened.

It’s a concept that “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” avoids and is never expanded upon in “Men In Black.” The ability to purge our memories of traumatic experiences has huge implications, even if they’re not as entertaining as watching Will Smith fight aliens. It’s one thing to improve our memories. Actually manipulating them opens up a new world of complications, some of which we might not be ready to confront.

At the moment, we don’t have to because the technology isn’t there yet. While we have a fairly comprehensive understanding of how our brain forms memories, we currently lack the necessary tools to manipulate them. However, those tools are in development.

Once again, I’ll mention Neuralink and the advanced brain implants its hoping to use to augment human cognition. Given how often our brains frustrate us with our inability to keep up with the world or program a goddamn coffee maker, it’s a given that there will be a market for that. Part of that enhancement, though, will likely extent to memories.

It may even be among the early uses for the implants developed by companies like Neuralink. As I write this, PTSD plagues millions of people, many of them military veterans who experienced unspeakable horrors in a war zone. Given the inherent difficulties in treating PTSD, who wouldn’t opt for a better way?

Sure, it involves manipulating our brains, but talk to anyone who can’t sleep, work, or form functional relationships because of their trauma. Some of them would do brain surgery on themselves and accept all the risks that came with it. Some experiences are just that traumatic and I’m not just talking about the ones that involve wars and clowns.

It’s a tragic situation, but one that makes the idea of actually purging those memories from our minds more pressing. Before brain implants like Neuralink start enhancing our minds for the hell of it, they’ll focus on treating those who are sick. It happened with artificial limbs. It will likely happen with brain manipulation.

Due to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, we’re already dealing with a significant population suffering from PTDS. Since those wars show no signs of ending, that population will likely grow. Medical science has gotten better at helping soldiers recover from major injuries, but treatments for the brain are still lagging, so much so that governments are considering using MDMA, also known as Ecstasy, to treat PTSD.

Unlike a bullet wound or a broken bone, though, traumatic experiences don’t always heal. Our brain is wired to tie powerful emotions to powerful memories. That’s great for giving us fond memories of the food we eat, the sex we have, and the social bonds we create, but terrible when it comes to dealing with trauma.

In a sense, removing the memories completely may be the only way to actually cure PTSD and allow people to live fully functional lives. Given the incentives, the prevalence, and mankind’s innate ability to make awesome tools, this ability will likely emerge at some point, possibly in my lifetime.

That may be great for those who endure traumatic experiences, but it may come at a price, as all great advancements do. If we live in a world where trauma is so easy to treat and so easy to get rid of, then does that undermine the power of those experiences? Would we, as a species, become numb to those who experience trauma and those who inflict it?

Picture a scenario where someone commits a brutal rape, one that leaves another person so traumatized and scarred that it may haunt them until their dying daze. Right now, we would all want that rapist punished to the fullest extent of the law. However, what if a simple brain implant removes that experience completely while simple medicine treats the wounds?

If the victims has no memory of the experience, no lingering pain, and suffers no ill-effects for the rest of their lives, then do we still treat the rapist with the same disdain? Right now, that’s an unconscionable question to answer. I’m sure there are those who want to strangle me through their computer screens, just by asking it.

First, I apologize if that question causes someone significant distress, but it’s a question worth asking. Once we have the ability to undo all suffering caused by a crime, then will that affect our ability and desire to punish such crimes? No amount of Will Smith fighting aliens can detract from those implications.

At the moment, the technology doesn’t exist, but the trauma doesn’t stop. As decent, empathic human beings, we want to do everything in our power to stop such trauma and heal those wounds. Our efforts may get to a point where we can literally attack the source of that trauma. The questions still remain. What will the hidden cost be and can we stomach that cost?

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What Lawrence Phillips Taught Me About “Evil”

Every now and then, I come across a story, sometimes fictional and sometimes non-fictional, that resonates with me in an unexpected way. Sometimes it’s a movie. Sometimes it’s a comic book. Sometimes it’s even a video game with a powerful story that actually gets me choked up at the end.

I don’t deny it. I’m human. I may be a heterosexual man, but I do get emotional at times. Sure, I’m not one to cry when Bambi’s mother dies in a Disney movie. Everybody responds differently to certain things. It’s part of what makes us such a diverse species and it’s part of what frustrates every single marketing department that ever lived.

With that in mind, try not to bust my balls too much when I say a recent sports documentary really struck a nerve with me. That alone might not surprise too many people. Sports fans can be an emotional bunch. Just ask any Eagles fan since 1960.

However, this particular documentary involved a guy by the name of Lawrence Phillips. Okay, now try even harder not to bust my balls.

Who is Lawrence Phillips and why should we give a damn? Well, anyone who has followed the NFL or college football over the past 25 years has probably heard his name at least once. He’s not so much an athlete or a football player anymore. He’s become the ultimate cautionary tale. Get football fan talking about him and they’ll usually talk about him with the kind of disdain they usually reserve for bullshit pass interference calls.

To be fair, Phillips earned that disdain in multiple ways. He was an insanely gifted athlete who helped the University of Nebraska go undefeated for two consecutive seasons and win two BCS National Championships in the process. After that, he was drafted 6th overall by the St. Louis Rams in 1996. This is the ultimate dream for a football player and Phillips, despite all his talents, proceeded to piss it all away.

It didn’t happen all at once, but in many ways, that just made it worst. This was a guy who seemed to get arrested every other week and kept finding excuses to beat up women. By the end, he was less respected by the NFL than Scott Norwood is by Buffalo Bills fans. He is now regularly cited as one of the greatest NFL Draft Busts of all time.

Now as a noted NFL fan, I fully admit that I saw Lawrence Phillips in this light. When I follow the NFL and I see someone get into serious legal trouble, a part of me rolls my eyes and things, “At the rate he’s going, he’ll be another Lawrence Phillips.”

That’s what happens when someone becomes a cautionary tale. They become a symbol for the flaws we see in others. As a result, that person ceases to be a person. We don’t even see the person anymore. We just see what he or she represents. It’s harsh, but it’s how we process certain concepts about ourselves.

Then, when we get a chance to actually learn about that person, we find out that just calling them a “cautionary tale” is kind of a dick move because it ignores a much bigger, much more complex picture.

That’s where this documentary comes in. It’s called “Running for His Life: The Lawrence Phillips Story.” Even if you’re not a football fan, I highly recommend this movie. It accomplishes something truly remarkable. It peels back the layers of the cautionary tale that is Lawrence Phillips and reveals the man.

This isn’t a documentary that tries to make excuses. It does not try to glorify Phillips or gloss over his egregious flaws. It just explores the whole of a complicated, volatile, yet gifted man.

It spends a lot of time exploring where he came form and this is important because where we come from has a huge impact on who we are. He was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, but his mother moved him out to California. He was estranged from his father and did not have the best relationship with his biological mother. His home life, to put it mildly, was anything but stable.

The documentary tells stories about the abuse he suffered as a child. It even recounts a story where one of his mother’s boyfriends held him down an urinated on him. Sadly, it gets even more disturbing than that.

After running away from home, Phillips became a ward of the state and bounced around foster homes. Along the way, he lived in a few group homes with other kids. The way the documentary describes this place sounds like something that would make Charles Dickens himself cringe. These are places where things like love and innocence go to die.

Eventually, Phillips did end up in a foster home with a loving mother who tried to help him. However, the damage had been done. The boy had been scarred in ways that never truly healed. The documentary described these scars as demons that he struggled to deal with. A lot of people claim to have demons, but let’s not lie to ourselves. Some are more powerful than others.

Despite these demons, Phillips still had insane God-given talent. The documentary make sit a point to highlight just how talented this man was. By every measure, he had all the physical tools of a gifted athlete. He did try to use those tools as well. Football helped him escape the rough, abusive world he came from. He could’ve been a success story like John Randall or Randy Moss. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

The documentary eventually starts to reveal just how dark a turn this man’s life took after college. It described a man who was cold, unloved, and did not know how to show love to others. The women interviewed described a man who just could not control his emotions and when there was upheaval, violence was his first, second, and third reaction.

This fits perfectly with the mold of someone who has an abusive personality. When women’s centers list warning signs, Lawrence Phillips checks most every box. He came from a world of abuse. Naturally, that’s the kind of world he forges around him.

However, the women also took the time to emphasize how good he could be at times. That good cannot and should not be completely ignored. It’s still not an excuse, but it does make clear that this man had other aspects to his personality. He wasn’t just the scary ex-football player who abused women.

This, in my opinion, is the most important message of this documentary. It’s also the most important lesson we can glean from the story of Lawrence Phillips. I’ve talked a lot about evil on this blog. There are plenty of people who would rightly call Phillips evil for the crimes he committed, one of which may have been the murder of his cell mate in prison. However, he was still a human being.

No matter what anyone thinks about Lawrence Phillips, whether he’s a cautionary tale or a violent abuser, it doesn’t change the fact that he was a person. He was a child once. He had a life and he tried to live it. We like to think about evil people as nothing more than monsters. It’s easy to just think of them as wannabe Biff Tannen’s from “Back to the Future.” That still ignores the person and the full story of their lives.

At the end of the documentary, there’s a haunting message about Lawrence Phillips that I think many of us can relate to. It talks of a man who was so physically gifted that he could outrun anybody, but he could not outrun his demons. At one point, an old friend of his said he was always running from his demons, but in the end, the demons caught him.

Whether you’re an aspiring erotica/romance writer, a football fan, or just a decent human being trying to make sense of this crazy world, it’s a message that’s worth hearing. It’s a message we shouldn’t forget. There may very well be another Lawrence Phillips-type story in the future, but let’s not make light of that story. In the end, they’re still people. As soon as we forget that, we cease heeding the lessons of that story.

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