‘Save me from myself!’ or The Haunting Voice of Pederasty
/1/ – Inverted Scandals
Larry Flynt once said something about how odd it is that people seem surprised by scandals involving money when it comes to Democrats and ones involving sexual indiscretion when it comes to Republicans. Yet there is an odd kind of glee that is evident when one or the other is exposed. I found myself caught in ridiculous laughter at learning the details of the recent Mark Foley scandal.
Ahhhh, Save those Children!
At first it was revealed that Foley had sent emails to several underaged pages that seemed a little too friendly. These messages, largely devoid of content, left a lingering sense of fear and worry as there was perhaps too much left to the imagination. But upon discovering the explicit content such as that of the honorable representative and a 16 year old having the following conversation via text message I found myself laughing, then horrified again:
“Maf54: do you really do it face down
Teen: well i dont use my hand…i use the bed itself
Maf54: where do you unload it
Maf54: completely naked?
Teen: well ya
Maf54: very nice
Maf54: cute butt bouncing in the air”
The whole event is rife with hypocrisy as Foley staunchly attacked websites with suggestive images of pre-teens, sought to harshen sex offender laws and set up legislation allowing youth groups (such as the Boy and Girl Scouts) to perform FBI background checks in order to protect children.
A different but related phenomenon can be found in the example of Robert Bork. Bork wrote the much praised Slouching Toward Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline which despite its vast attack on various vices oddly left out gambling. Of course it was later revealed that Bork along with other would be moralists were suffering huge gambling debts because of their clandestine poker games with one another. The same thing could be said for family values defender Bob Barr, Cheney and a whole slew of others.
One way to explain this is to look at a passage from The Plague of Fantasies:
“the power edifice itself is split from within…Power is always-already its own transgression, if it is to function, it has to rely on a kind of obscene supplement” (p. 26-27). Žižek goes on to say that it is not simply that the possibility of breaking a law eroticizes that which is banned nor is it simply, in a Foucauldian measure, of power creating a counter force to itself. The fact is that the obscene banned content is that which is the very creative force of the power edifice.
/2/ – The Politics of Jouissance
Enjoyment, the human way…
As many writers and theorists have pointed out, politics has become increasingly, as Žižek puts it, a politics of jouissance, of enjoyment. The issues that continually grab attention are those of seemingly personal issues – abortion, gay marriage, etc. There is a kind of Habermasian naviete that still hangs about like a sad ghost claiming that our enlightened selves and technologies allow for a new advanced form of public communication. However this does nothing for the subject of the conversation. As Lauren Berlant has
pointed out there has been a kind of right wing adaptation of the old feminist motto of “the personal is political.” If there is any kind of ‘new public’ or ‘enlightened discourse’ it seems that it is one penetrated and drowned in jouissance, in a sickly excess of enjoyment. Others, such as Lisa Duggan, have suggested that a politics of enjoyment has emerged because of its implicit connection to capitalism.
[There is also much about the supposed theft of enjoyment, which, as mentioned in previous entries, the primary example is that of illegal immigration who are stealing everything from us but are yet, at the same time, utterly incapable of doing anything right.]
But there is an odd kind of thought process particularly when it comes to the exposure of a sick underside of someone like Mike Foley. It is not so much the thing itself that is most surprising but the lack of distance. This is because while the politics of jouissance focus on private issues at the same there is a kind of distancisation when it comes to the negative side of it – pedophile for instance must appear as far out there as possible, as fundamentally impossible.
Yay for Judy Blume!
Theorist James Kincaid points out several of the problems with the way folks tend to think about pedophillia. For instance there is a strong belief that children are completely desexualized persons yet at the same time they appear as sexualized objects for others as if their world is incapable of any sexual content prior to puberty and outside of the hands of some mythical devilish pervert. As Kincaid points out this leads to strange things such as the censorship of works like Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. There is some paranoid fear at work here that argues that Blume couldn’t be helping pre-teen girls deal with their sexuality but that she could only be poisoning their minds with ideas of sexuality. Kincaid writes:
“Certainly we surround ourselves with images and stories of tantalizing and erotic kids. What would we do without them? To blame “the media,” though, is one of the lamest and least imaginative bits of pass-the-buck scapegoating one can indulge in. The media, books, movies are not an unmoved “cause,” rather a part of an ecology of desire, a complex symbiotic system that circulates in and through us” (linked above).
/3/ – “The call is coming from inside the House!!!”(of Representatives)
To return to the above point regarding the troubling inversion, it is important to distinguish the horror of the inversion from the comedy/disbelief of its hypocrisy. A shift in perspective of a similar sort can be seen in the 1979 horror film When a Stranger Calls. The premise is well known – A babysitter is bothered by creepy phonecalls which the police discover are coming from inside the house. Žižek writes:
“The molester has been in the house the whole time, close to her; he has already brutally killed the children and was calling from their room. The unknown murderer is until this point figured as a shapeless threat, present only in the form of a bodiless voix acousmatique, an object with which no identification is possible. But the film then performs a clever switch by giving us the narrative perspective of the pathological murderer himself. The entire central part of the film depicts the miserable everyday life of this solitary forlorn individual” (Looking Awry, p. 127).
The disembodied speaks!
Needless to say that in the 2006 remake of the film not only are the children saved but there is no shift in perspective, the murderer remains an ominous evil person. The horror of the unsettling inversion, in the case of Mark Foley, is that it is not so much that he combated that which he is (that’s the hypocritical humor) but that he
embodies the shift from a voix acousmatique (an objectless voice), the voice of a ‘civil servant’ to a subjectified would-be molester in our midst. The total loss of safe proximity fills us with a kind of horror in that the threat is close, ‘among us’ but also because the threat is a (in this case well known and public) clear subject.
And of course this will only increase the kind of ‘among us’ paranoia regarding pedophiles. Instead of identifying with the symptom, with that which appears fundamentally outside our reality, and, as Kincaid mentions, taking a good long look at our own “ecology of desire” this episode will no doubt obscure the sources of pedophillia and demonize rather than evaluate. Unless of course the whole thing disappears in the bureaucratic abyss of the House Ethics Commitee.
One still has to wonder about the psyche of Mr. Foley. When he stood at the podium engaged in his enjoinders, did his suit cover the engorged and guilty organ of his shameful desire or did his hand, sweating at the breast pocket, cradle the pain of “the ever active tooth of remorse, gnawing from the inmost heart outwardly” (The Scarlet Letter, p. 163).
Filed under: politics, psychoanalysis, queer theory, Zizek | Leave a Comment