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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 Necrobabes.com, 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.

Necrobabes.com 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 Necrobabes.com 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.

15 Comments:

  • Hello, I stumbled across your entry and wanted to comment.

    Patrick Anthony Russo was also a church leader - does this mean Christianity caused him to commit murder, and we should ban religion?

    "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? "

    This sounds sensible, but the problem here is that thousands of adults enjoy consensual S&M - this doesn't mean they support "abuse, torture, and murder", it's about fantasies (i.e., fiction), and acts between consenting adults.

    Also, this line of logic could be applied to anyone who enjoys any violent film - surely there is a distinction between fiction and actual abuse.

    You say you're not a "thought police" kind of guy - but is it okay to tell other people what fantasies they're allowed to have...?

    mark

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at June 27, 2007 4:06 PM  

  • Thanks for your comment, Mark.

    Your first comment calls on the common "correlation vs. causation" question. We have to be intellectually honest -- sophistry doesn't help. Does Christianity encourage thinking about, provide pictures and scenarios of, or glorify and tie sexual stimulation to, the strangulation of women? No.

    (Separately, one can argue that in the darkest periods of history, when Christianity did indeed glorify the abuse and murder of certain kinds of women (or men), that it was very much a social problem. We cannot be blind to the consequences of fanaticism, but I don't think that's the argument you're trying to make here.)

    Consensual S&M? Don't know anything about it personally. Let me comment and then speculate.

    Comment: Consensual S&M is NOT an Internet fantasy. It's not a set of pictures portraying an erotic story. And it's not based on a zero-interaction scenario. It's a relationship with another human. So the ability to spin out of control inside your own head is limited -- the natural governor on extreme behavior is another human with whom you are in relationship.

    Speculation: Many cases of violent sexual activity are rooted in violent or abusive childhood experiences. Again, do we think that's a good thing? Something to be reinforced, served, and fed? Or do we have a social responsibility to look at this kind of behavior from a more thoughtful and holistic perspective?

    I don't know that we can solve all the problems of the world (and I'm not trying to), but I do believe we have an obligation to do the best we can where and when we can.

    Are violent films in the same category? Yes and no. It's been shown that excessive consumption of violent content lowers the threshold and desensitizes the viewer. Just because we don't have good laws that preserve our freedoms while curbing this social problem doesn't mean it's not a social problem.

    And finally, we really have to look at the addictive nature of pornographic content, which is the clincher in my opinion. When you compare the biochemical responses of sexual excitation and climax to any other human stimulus-response experience, one can reasonably conclude that it's the most powerful wiring we have. And when you can trigger it over and over again, out of context of real human interaction and relationship, you have a recipe for addiction. And when you couple that with violent or anti-social behavior, you have a recipe for social disaster.

    In my opinion.

    I do value the challenge to my piece, and encourage you and others to put forth your best commentary and dissent. It keeps us all sharp.

    By Blogger John Carosella, at June 27, 2007 7:15 PM  

  • I'm new to the K9 community and want to thank you for this interesting look at how pornography can fuel downright evil behavior. I've allowed my 8 year old to use the internet for educational and fun games - and recently realized that 'sex game' searches were taking place. I think it's important to deal with the fact that pornography can attract even the youngest of viewers...seriously damaging their ability to relate to sex as an act of love, and more importantly as an act of human reproduction.

    While we can only 'police' ourselves and those who we are directly responsible for, we can definitely start spreading the word, and opening the eyes of parents and young minds.

    Thank you for sharing.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at August 01, 2007 7:29 PM  

  • John,
    While I agree with the need for tools like K9 (which I use and tell everyone about) to facilitate child/parent communications, you've pulled a bit of sophistry yourself. Probably your intention is to get the point across that the Internet (like the offline world) has bad neighborhoods; however your method encourages a belief that everything other than purely "vanilla" sexual interests is somehow worthy of censorship (externally forced or internally pretended).


    This discussion of the Necrobabes site fails "correlation vs causation" in a very significant way. Assuming this pay-for-pictures site is not a charity, then it must more than cover it's expenses (web-hosting, employee pay, actor/actress pay, etc). Thus it will have not one, not ten, but probably hundreds or thousands of paying customers. A quick check of news reports will show that our country/world doesn't suffer these numbers of such brutal acts in an entire decade. So either the customers of Necrobabes are very good at not getting caught or (more likely) only a very small subset of individuals are damaged enough to not separate fantasy from reality. I would submit that what we are seeing here is a case of "self selected sampling", making the website selection no more than a warning sign, not a cause.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at August 21, 2007 10:12 PM  

  • Of course, as many have stumbled across your site. Be it through a search engine or directly from the company site (my dropping in came from a googling excursion).

    I can agree with your point of view, very much so especially when you take into account the quotations of a serial killer.

    To quote anonymous commenter one but not applying it to consensual S&M "...surely there is a distinction between fiction and actual abuse...". People sometimes are unable to differentiate fantasy from reality. The line, in my opinion becomes blurred when stimulated and desensitized with sexually violent imagery constantly. Especially if the person has become addicted to said images (by becoming a paying client) and/or has addictive personality traits. So many personality disorders amongst other things in come into play with this issue as well. I also agree with the anonymous commenter two. As for anonymous commenter three... Indeed we really haven't seen a numerous amount of people committing disastrous acts. But they have been committed.

    Many people will take this and interpret it in many different ways. For the most part this can be taken as a cautionary tale of such social-issues that at some point in time need to be addressed appropiately. The internet has proven itself effectively powerful and a debacle all at once, a dichotomy. I truly enjoyed this perspective on the subject-matter and the commenters opinions as well.

    By Anonymous NYorker Chic, at August 25, 2007 11:28 PM  

  • Hello Anonymous and NYorker chic --

    Thanks for your comments. Anonymous, I'd like to joust a bit more with you on this topic, but I'm not sure I get exactly where you're coming from.

    If what you're saying is that because Necrobabes (and others) are "subscription sites", they have a large following and therefore the behavior they illustrate is neither significantly aberrant nor dangerous to consume, I will argue that you have oversimplified. Let’s just look at cigarettes (a favorite analogy of mine). Clearly dangerous to your health. Yet on the first puff, not very significantly so. Also, initially not very appealing either. But somehow, they have become popular. Very popular.

    If you are saying that the connection of violence to eroticism is "OK" because lots of people consume it, and that such consumption does not appear to be having negative effects in proportion to its consumption, I concede the point at one level, although we're arguing without knowledge of the facts.

    Nonetheless, it doesn't mean that we don't have a problem. The eroticization of violence is creeping into the clinical dialog as a significant issue, just as surely as sexual addition is emerging as a pathology. To quote NYorker Chic, "So many personality disorders...come into play with this issue."

    Just look at online predators (related in that criminal behavior arises from "legal" online stimulation). Seeing all those hapless people destroy their lives on MSNBC's "To Catch a Predator" indicates that something very strong is overpowering their self-restraint. And as nyorker chic said, “People sometimes are unable to differentiate fantasy from reality…Especially if the person has…addictive personality traits.”

    Correlation is not causation, and from the outside we can never be certain. But those who are caught up in addictive behavior can tell us (and, in many cases, DO tell us), unequivocally, the cause is something beyond their control.

    Is killing and mutilating somebody as part of sexual pleasure the same as seducing a 12- or 13-year old? Perhaps not. But the underlying desire to dominate, control, and exploit another, and the pleasure circuit that is activated in the process, is there in both cases. It happens to be easier to cross the line in one case vs. the other, but that doesn't mean we don't have a social problem in both.

    And, for what it's worth, don’t draw the conclusion that I believe we should censor anything but "vanilla" sexual interests. You can conclude, however, that I believe we're not being thoughtful enough about the consequences of unrestricted exploitation of sexual content.

    Write back. I think this line of discussion is worth exploring further. (And sorry for my long reply…there’s a lot to cover here!)

    By Blogger John Carosella, at August 27, 2007 12:05 PM  

  • How can you be sure that sites such as Necrobabes don't prevent real life sexual violence by satisfying the curiosity of people who have these interests with or without the help of pornographic websites?

    Maybe Jack the Ripper would have stayed home, and maybe Vlad the Impaler wouldn't have impaled all those people if Necrobabes existed at the time, and had satisfied their interest.

    You showed some sloppy logic here: "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..."" as if to say that people who look at these sites are predisposed to 'make it real', and have no concern for human life. Necrobabe's point that only a small number of people are willing to kill or injure others for their own gain still stands, and this is true in all areas of life, and has been true all throughout history.

    Whether a person is willing to hurt others or not is determined long before they ever visit a violent website. You might want to deprive those people of ideas, but they somehow managed to figure it out long before the internet and dirty magazines. Necrobabes has little chance of making things worse, and it might even make things better.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at September 25, 2007 3:51 AM  

  • Hello Anonymous, and thanks for your comments.

    How can I be sure? I can't.

    The logic I showed is sloppy only if one disregards the evidence that pornography is addictive. Sure, if we're just talking about looking at pictures of landscapes or photographs of dogs, it's unlikely that looking could create a compulsion for doing.

    On the other hand, it's well-documented that in the presence of addictive stimuli, what was enough yesterday is not enough today, and the need to consume more, and more intense, stimuli is almost inexorable.

    The combination of desensitization (of the violence) and the addiction (to the sexual stimulus) makes for a dangerous combination. No sloppy logic required.

    You say,
    "Whether a person is willing to hurt others or not is determined long before they ever visit a violent website."

    I disagree entirely. Many people who are otherwise harmless to others cross the line into violent, disturbed behavior because some stimulus pushes them over the edge.

    "...Necrobabes has little chance of making things worse, and it might even make things better."

    I disagree profoundly. Of all the many aspects of ourselves, those that grow are the ones we choose to feed.

    By Blogger John Carosella, at September 25, 2007 10:44 AM  

  • You said "The logic I showed is sloppy only if one disregards the evidence that pornography is addictive."

    You're dodging the issue being raised: regardless of how much you feed a curiosity or how addictive it is you either do or do not see other members of society as your disposable play things. You can have a raging fixation on brutal fantasies, but can and should know that your interests are infinitely less important than the freedom and wellbeing of other human beings. That this line isn't so easy to cross is evidenced by the numerous Necrobabes customers who presumably don't commit crimes. People who have decided that the lives of others are secondary to their needs and wants will have manifested that attitude in many other ways long beforehand in committing numerous other crimes on the same premise.

    Even if you're right that Necrobabes pushes harmful people to do harm you have picked a small fish to fry. IMO Saw III was single handedly a thousand times worse than Necrobabes could ever hope to be. That website is very cartoonish in contrast to that movie. Typing a few words into Google Images will return images for free that make Necrobabes seem tame by comparison, and there's no way anybody could ever stop them all. You might as well fall back to plan B now because plan A will fail.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at September 25, 2007 11:41 AM  

  • Huh. Nicely on point, but I still disagree. Here's why I'm not dodging the issue, and my apologies if it's a bit of a reiteration:

    The fantasy is not the issue. The addictive nature of the fantasy is. Addicts eventually disregard any and all social limits to feed their addiction. That's why it's an addiction -- because they can't stop.

    For some kinds of behavior (the more socially destructive, for example), it might take longer for the barrier to be crossed.

    For some people, their addiction enters a "holding pattern" and they don't spiral downward. Ask somebody in this situation what that's like. They'll say either "living hell" or "what addiction?"

    Some people never become addicted -- like the person who can smoke once in a while but is never desperate for a cigarette. There may be some people who enjoy the kind of fantasy that Necrobabes represents that fall into this category. I'm not sure I'd want them to be a judge or juror in a rape case, but maybe that's just me being narrow.

    And certainly, for some people with addictions, they're able to rescue themselves before they hit bottom, where ever that bottom might be.

    As to whether Saw III is worse than Necrobabes...perhaps you're right. Maybe Necrobabes is a small fish to fry. If true, it's an appalling notion, and it fills me with despair.

    Any suggestions for Plan B?

    By Blogger John Carosella, at September 25, 2007 2:19 PM  

  • It doesn't sound to me like you've seen Saw III. I'm sure many more people have seen Saw III than have purchased memberships to Necrobabes. You should make yourself familiar with what mainstream society is looking at to put the issue into perspective. Saw III isn't even the worst of them, it's the only one I've happened to come across. I guarantee you won't be particularly concerned with Necrobabes after you've seen it.

    I don't believe Saw III should be illegal. If anything it's important because it exposes human nature. If you hide it you only delay the problem for a future generation, it has to be observed and understood in order to ever be rendered harmless.

    Plan B might involve greatly increasing incarceration times and denying early parole to sex offenders. I don't know how prison terms are determined for various types of crimes but crime drops in proportion to the threat of greater punishment. If someone decides that they are willing to physically abuse others for pleasure I could frankly care less if they're ever released from prison or how comfortable it may or may not be for them.

    The crime here should be hurting other people, not thinking dirty thoughts.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at September 25, 2007 5:39 PM  

  • >>

    Your first comment calls on the common "correlation vs. causation" question. We have to be intellectually honest -- sophistry doesn't help. Does Christianity encourage thinking about, provide pictures and scenarios of, or glorify and tie sexual stimulation to, the strangulation of women? No.

    >>

    Unfortunately, I think one CAN make the argument, quite convincingly, that the "othering" and dehumanization of women as promoted by Christian thought and culture IS a factor in crimes of sexual violence. And I say this not to single out Christianity, but to emphasize that the factors contributing to the causes of violent crimes aren't simple or well understood. To emphasize the role of pornography in this instance is, I think, reductionist and naive.

    Do you think members of the janjaweed militia in Darfur are committing atrocities due to internet pornography? Obviously not, although there are stories that children who survived the mutilations in Rawanda have grown up and are acting them out on a new generation of victims ...

    but in those instances, we are talking about large, measurable, groups of people carrying out awful actions ... it is much harder to make meaningful generalizations about the behaviour of individual criminals.

    Which should bring us around to trying to have some perspective. We are lucky to live in a society where these sorts of violent crimes are fairly rare. The consumption of porn is extremely common, but the strangulation of women to act out a fantasy, not so much.

    Maybe we should calm down and live and let live, and hope the cops catch the occasional bad guy.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at November 30, 2007 2:00 PM  

  • I agree with the autor of the blog and i'm a compulsary consumer of this kind of internet content.

    By Blogger Luis, at December 11, 2007 8:54 AM  

  • John, like others, I stumbled upon this blog entry, and all I can say is...

    The slippery slope argument you draw here wouldn't withstand even slightest semblance of pressure.

    Do you have any idea how many videogames allow one to kill people in graphic ways, including women ? Do you know how many movies feature detailed depictions of murder ? How many violent songs there are ? Violent Books ? Dating back CENTURIES ?

    Does everyone who saw "Saw" or "Silence of the Lambs" take perverse pleasure of putting people through solving elaborate puzzles and then killing them ? Did my enjoyment of "The Cell" mean that I will start drowning women and engage in necrophilia ?

    You're not an entirely stupid man, John. You can trace the two directions this conversation can take here... let me sum it up for you real quick.

    At this point, any person with a rudimentary _ability to reason_ can back you completely into a corner to get you to either admit that you're a complete hypocrite, or to have you claim that you abide by a self-imposed isolated, Amish lifestyle, which excludes ALL stimula that you see as dangerous to the human psyche.

    Or, you can admit that you're a complete hypocrite.

    You have no business telling others what fantasies they play out in their bedrooms, just as I would not tell you that your Amish lifestyle is a product of serious antisocial psychological disorders which may lead you to become a serial killer.

    Now go forth, child, and stop with the Internet sensationalism. Don't be another Jack Thompson. Let the fact that he is getting disbarred for his antics serve one positive purpose - be a warning to people like you.

    By Blogger Aleksey, at July 24, 2008 12:42 AM  

  • You've missed a very important point. The woman who started the site claims to have played "pretend" stranglation scenes with her boyfriend. She claims he would choke her until she passed out. These are dangerous games, this is the heart of the problem. There have been many accidental deaths attributed this sort of behavior.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at April 13, 2009 8:13 AM  

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