Monday, September 28, 2009

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Go Ask Alice

In my previous post, I spoke about Roman Polanski and his infatuation with young girls. A bit more on what I like to call the Dodson Syndrome. (The Rev. Charles Dodson is better known under his nom de plume, Lewis Carroll, for the adventures of Alice and her trip through the looking glass. While this was his main claim to fame, he was also a photographer of some note, and a survey of his surviving photographs reveal that half of them were of young girls. Could have been more or fewer such -- many of the images or plates have been lost.)

Behold, above, Dodson's photograph of Alice Liddell, the model and namesake for the girl who fell down the rabbit hole.

There is no evidence that Dodgon was an active pedophile, though it was thought for a long time that he probably tended that way, since he never seemed to have any adult liasons, women or men. It is also likely that he probably never acted upon any such urges. Current thinking seems to have shifted somewhat, and allows is that the Victorian child-cult, which saw children as aspects of innocence, might have been the impetus that drove his photography and friendships with children. (I dunno. The gaze of the photographer who shot this image of Alice seems tinged with sensuality, and he apparently took a lot of nudes of children, some boys, mostly girls, but maybe that's just the cynic in me.)

These days, older men who befriend young children not their own, or at least related to them, are often considered in that more cynical light. Especially given the numbers of soccer and basketball and gymnastics coaches being arrested for inappropriate activity with their charges.

To continue: The title of this entry is the same as that of Oscar Wilde's only full-length novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. For those of you who missed it, this tale concerns a handsome young man with whom an artist is so enamored that the portrait he paints of dear Dorian takes on magical aspects -- no matter how dissolute young Gray becomes -- and he stoops pretty low into debauchery -- he never seems to show the effects. But the portrait ages, shows all the marks of a wicked life, and it's probably not a spoiler to tell you that deals with the devil, no matter how one gets into them, often end as greasy puddles on the floor ...

The story represents a number of things, mainly Faustian bargains, one of which is the desire to stay, like Peter Pan, young forever.

I think that among certain kinds of men, this might be part of the reason for connecting to younger women. If you are middle-aged and feeling creaky, a sweet young thing hanging on your every word and arm offers a soothing balm to your aged ego. Look, see here, I can still attract the young and beautiful! I'm not so old!

An adult man who enters into a sexual relationship with a child, would have to be dealing with issues of insecurity and power.

I knew a guy once, kept getting married and divorced. His first wife was fifteen when they met, he was eighteen. Not so bad, though a college freshman and a high school sophomore maybe aren't the best matches.

They split, and his second wife was seventeen when they wed, he was twenty-one. Still only four years difference.

This third wife was eighteen, and he was twenty-six.

His fourth wife was nineteen, and he was thirty-four.

After that divorce, he didn't get married again while I knew him, but his girlfriends were none of them out of their teens.

Such relationships allowed him to be an authority figure. The girls and young women were inexperienced and he was the wise, mayhaps even father figure, who had all the answers. At least at first. Once they were around him for a while and learned how much he really knew, they tended to be less impressed, and at least the three I knew left him. He was always able to find a new replacement for whom he could be, at least for a time, wise.

Far as I know, he never had any relationship with a woman near his own age that lasted more than two dates. How sad is that?

All of which it so say that why Polanski hankered after young and beautiful and innocent girls might be understandable. Aside from the purely aesthetic aspects, the balance of power was so much in his favor, and had to make him feel more in control.

Understanding it is not the same as condoning it.


Dan Moran said...

I have a little sympathy for Polanski -- I have a little sympathy for most people, no matter how horrific their crimes. I get Robert Blake, I get OJ -- I wouldn't have done it, but I understand why they did.

I suspect pedophilia is, like homosexuality and most sorts of sexual urges, wired up in people. I didn't pick the things that make me stand up and bark at the moon; I'm skeptical any of us did, including pedophiles. So, again, I have some sympathy -- that must be a brutal thing to walk around with, and I doubt many (or any) of them chose to be that way. (Apparently a lot of them got that way from being molested themselves -- now you really have to feel bad for them, at least the ones who've actually controlled themselves.)

But I have no sympathy when it comes to the action. When your weaknesses result, or are likely to result, in the victimization of the innocent, a decent person should start thinking about checking himself out. (No doubt some of them do -- it's a perfectly reasonable decision, and one I'd recommend to anyone who's unable to stop himself from harming the innocents around him....)

Polanski had a rough life, in well-known ways I won't bother to describe here. But while it increases my sympathy, it excuses nothing. Prison is an appropriate response by society, and the fact that he avoided it for 30 years changes nothing in my mind.

He may not get prison, but like OJ, like Blake, he should.

Anonymous said...

The older man who wants a sweet young thing is not alone. Lots of older women enjoy bumping uglies with young guys. The difference is we applaud the first one when he lands a young 'un and look down at the cougar or god-help-us "sabertooth" who does the same thing.

Steve Perry said...

Morals and mores shift and change, but the theory of law as I understand it is to protect people from each other. And the statutory rape laws are to protect those for whom informed consent isn't a given.

Couple of sixteen- or seventeen-year-olds who have sex? They are well into puberty and close enough to being legal adults so that few people will get outraged. Should they wait? Sure. Will they? More often than not, no.

Forty-four-year-old man (Polanski) and a thirteen-year-old girl, even one who admitted to having sex with her teenaged boyfriend before? Especially when the man older than her mother liquors her up and gives her a 'lude, then forces himself on her?

That's just wrong.

This isn't the Middle East where we wed the nine-year-old girls to forty-year-old men.

Some guy said...

I tend to have a knee-jerk devil's advocate reaction to almost anything, so a few disjointed points...

It sounds like the "rape" figured more than the "statutory" in the qualudes/booze/Roman case. But if we're just considering statutory rape, well, we are traditionally a Puritan culture and a number of other cultures do consider earlier sexual activity (post-puberty) to be normal and expected. (Supposedly we're often considered slightly nuts on the subject by a lot of Europeans.)

I've read that positive physiological changes actually occur in older men who hook up with younger women. (Now I have no idea where I ran across this but I know it was some source a little more authoritative than the back of a cereal box or I would have ignored it.)If true, that would suggest some genetic advantage, or at least physiological advantage, to the practice.

A female friend's anecdote a long time ago shaded my view of the whole situation. (This is someone I respected a hell of a lot, who absolutely had a strong will and could make her own decisions.) She said that she deliberately and consciously, at the age of twelve, set out to experience sex. Her being the kind of person she is, I believed her, and that she wasn't just someone's victim.

Finally, for a long time I was of the just-hate-their-guts-and-off-with-their-heads! school when it came to child molestors. One time I realized that I'd never really thought through this fairly strong conditioning, and did a bit. What if the situation arose where everyone told me "Oh, by the way, your sex drive is wrong. Just stay away from women for the rest of your life"? To suppress one of the strongest human drives forever just because an arbitrary (to me) society says so? It gave me pause. Naturally this still didn't justify child molestation to me, but it made it a less black-and-white issue and I must admit to having some sympathy for someone in that position.

If the damn villains would just have the decency to remain purely evil...!

Steve Perry said...

Polanski had a hard life, the war, his wife being murdered, like that, but he was a predator, insofar as he always liked 'em young. It's a power thing.

You can read the trial transcript somewhere online, and it's pretty damning.

This isn't the Thirteenth Century MIddle East, nor even the frontier USA days where if they were big enough they were old enough. Lot of things that used to be okay have gone by the wayside as we theoretically become more civil -- slavery, wife-beating, burning witches, like that.

Sure, there areprecocious children but the laws here bespeak protection of the kids, and I'm good with that. Physiologically, if you want great sex, you pair a fifteen-year-old boy with a thirty-five year old woman, but laws are not put in place for such reasons.

I'm guessing you don't have any kids, and not daughters. The ins and outs of sex, and the -- for want of a better term -- karma that goes with it is easier for boys than girls. Girls who hit puberty at eleven or twelve generally don't have the wherewithal to understand what having a sexual relationship entails, starting with things like disease and pregnancy and going on to the complexities of what you talk about afterward.

Being the Devil's advocate here does kind of make you sound like you are working for Old Scratch. Not going to get a sympathetic ear here, I'm afraid.

Predatory pedophiles may indeed be sick, but so are rabid dogs, and much as l love canines, I'd shoot mine if they were rabid.

Why the forty-year-old man molests the nine-year-old is not as important as that he does it, and he needs to be stopped.

Some guy said...

Yeah, devil's advocates on any subject are rarely popular. I've noticed that. (Note that I haven't ever replied to a Steven Barnes blog explaining why Fat is Natural and Good.):O) Still, I like to think about moral issues, especially where my conditioning is the strongest. You're right in that I don't have kids, but if I ever do that won't change. I'd try to protect them, but I also would try to protect them from what I perceive as a social trend towards training children to be alienated from pretty much anyone they don't know. It's not as blatant a danger as child molestation but I can't help wondering if it makes it just a little harder for kids to become fully human these days.

You may be right that our mores on the subject are the naturally developed ones of a mature society, unlike earlier or barbaric societies. But then other developed countries should have evolved the same mores and it's not clear to me that they have.(Gotta admit I haven't seriously researched this; just snatches of conversations with Europeans and unsubstantiated reports of European attitudes.)

Just for the record, I'm definitely not advocating not trying to prevent or stop child molestation. On the other hand, when I hear people I know scandalized because some 40-something is dating some 20-something I absolutely cannot take it seriously as any kind of ethical concern. (If the maturity gap is at issue, then probably half of the same-age relationships I see I know about should be forbidden. :0) )

Anyway, that's enough for my comments on this. I have a tendency to be long-winded and this is your blog, so I try to keep myself short or silent, obviously not entirely successfully.

Steve Perry said...

"You're right in that I don't have kids, but if I ever do that won't change."

That one was good for a smile.

The theory between how you are going to raise children and the practice are about as far apart as the Earth and Jupiter.

Come back and see me when your daughter is nine or ten and tell me all this with a straight face. I am here to tell you, that ain't gonna happen.

Forty and twenty is not the same as forty and thirteen, legally, morally, socially, not in the western world. At twenty, you can be in college, out on your own, working, and maybe not able to drink in some states but close to that. There will be gaps, but they can be bridged.

At thirteen, you are in junior high -- middle school, these days -- and unless you are one of those exceedingly rare people, you don't have a clue how the world works outside your peer group. The man hitting on you who is old enough to be your father might be a wonderful human being who just wants to help you achieve your potential, but that's not the way the smart money bets. What he is most likely to want is a sexual toy he can control. Getting into that as a child can seriously mess up your life because you don't have the ability to deal with all the things that go with it -- the guy telling you it's your little secret' the videos of you that might show up on the web and be out there forever ...

Sorry, if you want to go down this road, you need way more information than offhand theory for a reasoned discussion.

Anonymous said...

Sympathy for the devil? Or Polanski in this case? We're all wired the way we are and have little- if any control over it- true. Many (most? all?) pedophiles were screwed up by being molested as children- true. Maybe these guys don't chose to be the way they are anymore then you or I or scizophrenics or bipolar people or savants or child prodigies do.

Sympathy sure, maybe a bit. Know what though, I had a lot more sympathy for Old Yeller. You still shoot the dog when it's sick and dangerous.

Anonymous said...

I'm not convinced that anyone can prove that he understands what causes any given sex criminal to commit a particular crime.

So one observer will claim Polanski acted out of a desire for emotional power, another will blame genetics, a third will blame culture - causes aren't important, solutions are.

Punishing Polanski may well be necessary, but don't forget that there was more than one criminal involved. The girl's mother apparently was trying to sell the girl into prostitution, and the girl may have been as willing an accomplice to this as any minor can be. The lot of them were surrounded by a culture that enabled this kind of sex crime.

Punish Polanski, by all means, but don't think that punishing him is going far enough. If you want to end the phenomenon, you're going to have to alter a lot of criminals' behavior patterns, permanently.

Personally, I think capital punishment is warranted by a lot of people involved in this situation, not just Polanski.

Steve Perry said...

Old cartoon I remember seeing: A missionary is in the cannibal's pot and saying, "Bless you, my child, you are a product of your environment."

There are criminals who do things because they are sick -- and one might argue that anybody who does some things is sick -- and those who do it because they don't care, or for profit. The law will differentiate between, say, manslaughter, and premeditated murder, because of the intent -- one could be an accident. But in either case, when the smoke clears, somebody is dead, and if you want a working society, you have to address the notion that letting people kill each other without just cause is a bad idea.

Maybe someday the pedophile gene will be discovered and a pill invented to cure it; meanwhile, there are a lot of children getting their lives messed up, and you need to stop it. Predators don't change their spots in this area, according to what I've read, and are apt to re-offend.

Polankski did. How many times? Who knows? Why?

It doesn't matter to the child, does it?