Fifty years in sex research, 1961 -
Using data collected over a decade, this volume documents popular ideas of adult-
During the 1980s, conceptions of the child molester and the child victim were based on simplistic or incorrect assumptions, incomplete or skewed data, and distorted by personal and institutional biases. The result has been an irrational panic extracting high costs financially, personally, and socially.
It has been known for quite some time that there is a considerable variety of sexual
relationships and events that occur between adults and non-
Beginning roughly in the mid-
The apparent explosion of condemnation actually had firm historical precursors coming from three cultural domains. One was the professional culture, a historically specific interrelated system of values, meanings, and socioeconomic relations that formed career paths for journalists, mental health and social workers, researchers, and legal and medical personnel. Drawing upon templates already in place, construction and punishment of “The Pedophile” followed all the same steps that had been used on other deliberately stigmatized sexual interests and behaviors in the past. The tools, methods, and assumptions of investigation, the styles of representation, the intentions of rehabilitation and elimination—all contained elements that predetermined the characterization of pedophiles and children. Theory and method were linear, causal, and object obsessed. The drive theory of sexuality, after a brief replacement by more complex and realistic explanations, reemerged to dominate with a new vehemence.
Another source was the political culture. The long present tension in America between
reaction and liberalism became intensified by a fervid resurgence of religious and
political fundamentalism in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Some old antagonisms
(such as feminism and patriarchal interests) found effective commonalities with an
ease and rapidity surprising to those unaware of historical precedents. Classic liberalism
continued its collapse begun several decades before the 1980s, leftist radicalism
continued to splinter, and military wings of the right continued to gain members
and armaments. Major segments of gay and lesbian movements were co-
The third domain helping construct the phenomenon was the popular culture, the subject
of this study. It was here that traditional images and genre were drawn upon to characterize
The emphasis of 1980s mainstream popular culture was on the highly emotional and aggressive presentation of villainy, victimage, and heroism. Assisted by professional and political cultures, the popular culture machine mass produced and marketed the three character types for universal consumption via familiar theatrical genre. Each was paraded before the society as an actor in a drama of cosmic proportions. Apocalyptic imagery was routed by moral hierarchies into sensational expositions from nearly all of the culture's information institutions. This made for good, often excellent and exciting entertainment, so much so that the high human and social costs were nicely hidden.
The approach used here to study this period is what has been called “culture history.”
Its primary obligation is documentation. This data-
Central to the language of the period are the labels “pedophile” and “pedophilia.”
Like the words “homosexual,” “heterosexual,” or “pornography,” these are not empirical
terms that describe stable, eternal, inherent, and universal forms or contents. They
are the names of culturally grounded Western 19th century anxieties and aspirations
for power, disturbances that still distort thinking and behavior well past the point
of buffoonery. Rather than continually place these terms within quotation marks as
they ought to be, it should be remembered that their use here refers to the limited
and varied meanings of the time. Despite all of the near-
Because they are symbolic rather than empirical, the use of such terms and ideas
is also due to an uncritical acceptance of cultural inertia. The terms make references
beyond themselves across cultural horizons and link themselves to historical traditions.
Moreover, their importance is added to by their use, that is, their performance.
To add more depth to the documentation, when possible I try to trace certain images
back as far as they may be recognizable to the contemporary reader, showing what
meanings were intended or were found to be useful. Where I have enough data, I have
tried to specify time spans and contexts a little more exactly. For some time I used
to rail against facile expressions like “The Sixties,” but I now enjoy the simple-
I have avoided disciplinary theoretical discussions because the emphasis is upon
description, and for other reasons. Although I make reference to such concerns when
it seems appropriate, there is little citation of the professional literature. Such
work should be done in the context of a separate study of the professional cultures
that helped generate the panic. Almost all of the research on adult-
The first four chapters of this volume are devoted to themes of adult-
In Part II, the focus for non-
In volume 2, the second part of this study moves to a more interpretive level first by providing historical data on the persistence of key images and themes and by noting events in the 1980s that supported the particular conception of the pedophile and the social behaviors that derived from that image. Secondly, the analysis comments upon the consequences of America's use of these images as it relates to what have been basic social and political meanings of a relatively young democracy.
From this descriptive overview, the data clearly show that the 1980s child sexual
abuse hysteria was media-
Beyond that, the data also reveal the inability or unwillingness of other institutions to correspond to their public myths, either because of corruption or incompetence. The criminal justice system is the most obvious example, but just as pervasively, professional cultures also exposed their prior, sometimes exclusive, allegiances to careerism, a necessary commitment in the absence of advertised critical intellectual abilities. Across the board, stupidity and viciousness, protected from challenge by the obliviousness and cowardice of any opposition, ruled. It was one of the best expressions of a culture based economically, politically, and morally, on consumption and waste.
But it was fun. It was entertaining, pleasurable to many, and to not just a few, erotic. Here was a chance to publicly and privately enjoy forbidden, and for not just a few, unacknowledged desires.
While satisfying on an elementary level, the analysis of cultural images can also tell us much about the personal and social relations upon which a culture operates. Part myth, part reality, the images must be matched against behavior to distill that which seems to matter, that is, what meanings, professed or unprofessed, become translated into concrete action and enforced law. For this period, the images assumed their own reality, moving their consumers, unconscious or uncaring of their source, to connect to their objects by electrified reeducation or, just as commonly, by spittle, a fist, or a bullet.
This has been so for a long, long time. Broader and older streams of perception and belief helped reduce what happened in the 1980s to a mere repetition, its histories readily accessible but conveniently forgotten, its negations deliberately ignored. Recurrences continue to accumulate, making Foucault’s “archaeology of knowledge” a wistful optimism. Autopsy becomes the necessary analytic approach, continued in Volume 2.