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Friday, June 22, 2007

Necrobabes Fantasy vs. Public Sanity

Patrick Anthony Russo Conviction Upheld

How did we get here? Is this where we really want to be?

Patrick Anthony Russo, a Texas church leader, was convicted in 2001 of the strangulation murder of Diane Holik. He appealed the conviction (and lost) just this month, as reported by Declan McCullagh in CNet's Police Blotter.

A major factor in his conviction was his paid subscription to, a site that depicts murder in a pornographic context -- sick fantasies of killers sexually abusing their victims and then killing them, or worse, having a partner (oh yes, it's always an alluring, attractive woman) willingly participate in the act that leads to her own mutilation and death. and other "necro-erotic" sites are a clear example of something gone horribly wrong with the way we think about sex, one another, and, honestly, the limits of free speech.
This is what says on their home-page:
These sites deal with very politically incorrect fantasies. If you do not have these sorts of fantasies, you will likely find them shocking, if not offensive -- our sites are not for you, please go away.

My question is, who DOES have these fantasies? And isn't this a very fundamental mental health problem? As a society, do we have a compelling interest in feeding their clearly anti-social fantasies? Shouldn't we be more interested in getting them psychological help?
Among those who are offended, there are those who would wish us censored. Their assertion is that these web sites inflame the lusts of the viewers, 'normalize' the idea of violence, and thereby drive the viewer to commit acts of violence mimicking what they view on these sites. It is the same sort of theory that drives the forces of censorship everywhere, for all manner of things that people would censor. Yet there is no evidence for such a link between those who commit acts of rape and violence and their consumption of pornography other than the fact that many people who commit acts of violence also consume pornography.

Clearly they are misinformed. Studies show a very clear connection between consumption of highly-stimulating material and desensitization. And if the content on the site doesn't "inflame the lusts of the viewers", then why would anyone visit the site? Furthermore, we do know, directly from the mouths of serial killers, that ever more graphic and ultimately violent pornography pushed these otherwise "innocent fantasy indulgers" into their horrifying acts. Here's an excerpt from serial killer Ted Bundy's final interview:

As a young boy of 12 or 13, I encountered, outside the home, in the local grocery and drug stores, softcore pornography... From time to time, we would come across books of a harder nature - more graphic... I want to emphasize this. The most damaging kind of pornography - and I’m talking from hard, real, personal experience - is that that involves violence and sexual violence. The wedding of those two forces - as I know only too well - brings about behavior that is too terrible to describe....In the beginning, it fuels this kind of thought process. Then, at a certain time, it is instrumental in crystallizing it... Like an addiction, you keep craving something which is harder and gives you a greater sense of excitement, until you reach the point where the pornography only goes so far...I knew it was wrong to think about it, and certainly, to do it was wrong. I was on the edge, and the last vestiges of restraint were being tested constantly, and assailed through the kind of fantasy life that was fueled, largely, by pornography.

It's not all that surprising to hear these words, if we're intellectually honest. Necrobabes, unfortunately and unsurprisingly, is not. Again from their home-page:
The material we produce is fanciful, even cartoonish in many regards; there is nothing realistic about it. Our viewers know this. Far from normalizing violence, it relegates it squarely into the realm of fantasy.

Actually, it's not cartoonish. It's pictures of real human beings engaging in (simulated) acts of violence, torture, and murder in conjunction with sex, accompanied by text that tells the story. And could we postulate that somebody who enjoys this kind of material might just say, "Well, this is fun to look at, but it's not quite real enough..."
Time and time again we harp to our members that as long as you don't harm anyone, as long as you keep things safely in the realm of fantasy, that you use the fiction and imagery found on these sites as a mere virutal realization of a fantasy, you are fine. Harm no one, keep it in fantasy, and you are okay, you are a decent human being...

OK - here's where I really take issue: If you take pleasure from images that depict the sexual abuse, torture, and murder of another human being, and deliberately choose to connect your erotic interests to this kind of behavior and imagery, are you REALLY OK? Are you REALLY a decent human being?

I'm not a "thought police" kind of guy. But we need to recognize this kind of behavior as sociopathic-pathological, not discretionary. People die when we pretend "you're really OK" when you're really not. See, for example, drunk driving.

Necrobabes ends by wrapping themselves in the first amendment, rejecting censorship as "harm to all of us". Broadly, I agree. Censorship is a dangerous power to wield. Censorship can indeed harm us all. But there are some behaviors that are profoundly anti-social, and certain stimuli that are addicting. When we couple the two together, we run a grave risk. To not honestly assess the consequences is irresponsible. And that is the real point -- we won't get anywhere fighting about free speech, because it's not the heart of the problem. The real issue is this:

We as a society continue to deliberately ignore the incendiary danger of the eroticization of violence, and in particular, violence against women.

We have an emerging body of law that limits hate speech. We have a well-established body of law that protects individuals from harmful speech or writing (albeit mostly to protect a reputation). We have laws that limit discrimination and abuse of certain protected classes within our population (Race, color, creed, sexual orientation).

But what about protecting women from forms of "speech" that deliberately confuse eroticism with torture and murder, and graphically (mis)represent this kind of activity for "fantasy fulfillment"?

However we've gotten here, we seem stuck. And I'm sick to my heart.