“Fuck,” I muttered as I opened my eyes, furious that I had woken at all. I didn’t want to wake up. I was over it. An aggressive, unforgiving, bright morning light was the last thing I felt like. There’s that moment just before your mind kicks into gear that you’re still oblivious to everything that plagued your mind before you went to sleep the night before. There’s that moment of peace. It’s very fleeting -- a couple of seconds before the reality of what being awake represents collides into your consciousness, and you are properly awake. There’s no point in trying to go back to sleep once this happens because the mind has already kicked into gear and all you can do is try to mitigate the panic, dread, and racing.Nothing in Moderation is Clinton Fein's first book scheduled for release in 2023.
Back in 1995, I was running a digital content management company ApolloMedia, which had become embroiled in a dispute with the United States Navy over an old 1976 recruiting poster depicting a black Naval Officer for the first time; the office was later discharged for being gay. Journalist Randy Shilts had written a comprehensive history of gays in the military to which we had acquired the electronic rights, and the Navy unsuccessfully attempted to prevent us publishing the poster, claiming the Navy seal was copyrighted.
Many media and technology companies, including Wired Magazine, independent journalists, and organizations like EFF and ACLU, joined forces to fight the constitutionality of the CDA. ApolloMedia, did too, filing an amicus brief in the Supreme Court in Reno v. ACLU. The case galvanized the first huge political moment in the Internet’s nascent history reflecting that there was so much at stake. Massive media coverage ensued.
But amidst the intense focus on Reno v. ACLU, a less noticed provision of the CDA criminalized any “indecent” computer communication intended to “annoy” another person. It wasn’t surprising that it attracted little attention. The clause was hidden among a string of words—“lewd, lascivious, filthy, indecent and obscene” communications intended to “threaten, abuse, annoy or harass” another person.
Before there was Facebook, the notion of prohibiting speech was abhorrent to most Internet users. And while no one wanted to legalize—let alone encourage—the ability to threaten, harass or abuse anyone, the idea that annoying someone with an indecent communication would result in a felony—punishable by two years in prison and a hundred thousand dollar fine—was as frightening as it was unconstitutionally vague.
At the time, ApolloMedia had been developing a politically focused content destination to counter the pretensions of politicians and the media. The “annoy” provision of the CDA represented a significant threat. Seasoned First Amendment professionals, Michael Traynor at Cooley Godward and William Bennett Turner of Rogers, Joseph, O’Donnell & Quinn counseled me, and helped me arrive at the only decision that made sense to me: Fight it.
The coalescence of circumstance resulted in the birth of a legal challenge that would take years and ultimately be determined by the United States Supreme Court. On January 31, 1997, with the depiction of a harmless but unmistakable gesture, Annoy.com launched and ApolloMedia filed ApolloMedia v. Reno, a lawsuit challenging the “annoy” provision of the CDA.
Almost everything on Annoy.com was designed to challenge preconceived notions of decency and annoyance–not for the sake of being obnoxious, but to demonstrate the insanity of the law itself. From the ability to send anonymous communications through postcards and mad-libs, to the unmediated and unfiltered message board/discussion system, the technology itself provided identity management mechanisms that allowed for expression to take place without any fear of repercussions for opinions, or fear of having one’s true identity revealed.
Annoy.com was at the forefront of exploring issues pertaining to privacy, libel and defamation, and the extent to which they could be addressed to shape legislation in a manner that was meaningful and useful. At the same time, every communication facilitated on Annoy.com was potentially felonious with the huge risks associated with them.
Although the government’s position opposing the lawsuit evolved over time, it ultimately settled on the argument that the legislation was intended to apply to obscene communications only. In essence, that the words “lewd,” “lascivious,” “filthy,” “indecent,” and “obscene” all only meant “obscene.”
Our case was heard by a special three-judge panel which, on September 25, 1998, after deliberating for almost a year, issued a tortured and divided ruling that upheld that government position.
The panel’s ruling prohibiting “obscene” communications—but not simply “indecent” ones—was a relief to a certain extent. “Obscene” here means only prurient and patently offensive communications that lack any literary, political, or other social value. Given that Annoy.com was itself (to a degree) a political act, almost none of the unmediated and unfiltered threaded discussions ranging from gun control to abortion and the military could be construed as obscene.
But at the same time, it was a divided ruling, and applied to the Ninth Circuit. Once again, attempts to use old interpretations to govern a global medium were revealing their inadequacies.
Moreover, enforcement of the statute could have required widespread eavesdropping or other participation by government agents and vigilante groups in the online conversations of ordinary citizens. That is, unlike complaint-activated monitoring of public broadcasts by the FCC, enforcement of the CDA necessarily would involve reading, snooping on and recording the electronic communications of unsuspecting and wholly innocent citizens.
So, I worried, what would happen when a vigilante group tips law enforcement that a certain web site or newsgroup involved the “patently offensive” discussion of abortion, safe sex, or erotic literature?
Big Brother government would log on and listen to the conversation, recording at will. When a prosecutor thinks he or she can get a conviction in a particular community intolerant of such discussion, the conversation can be downloaded—with a mouse click—to that venue. Hundreds of persons’ thoughts and ideas will become “evidence” in a criminal prosecution.
I sought review of that decision in the Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court summarily affirmed the district court without ever hearing argument or full briefing in the case.All this was before September 11, and the insidious Patriot Act that followed. This was before Edward Snowden would reveal that all of the spying I feared was happening anyway. Back then it was normal to think of such things as inconceivable.
Also lost in the legal argument was the intent of a ban on annoying pre-Internet communications. Restrictions on annoying, harassing, and abusive telecommunications were intended to prevent things like making phone calls that could intrude on a person’s space, such as the incessant ringing of a phone in the middle of the night. They were never intended to govern the content of those communications.
As the Internet became more and more mainstream, Americans become far less active in fighting to protect its freewheeling nature. Shopping and commerce became more important than free expression and convenience, national security illusions and narcissistic selfies became far more important than privacy.
Public squares have become electronic walled gardens where pseudo-morality governs the dialog and things like images of breasts—whether for sex education or supporting mothers feeding children—are deleted and publishing privileges suspended by VC-appointed arbiters who have no idea about what free expression is or looks like.
Annoying communications, meanwhile, flourish on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube comments and beyond (to the extent I sometimes regret having fought to make them constitutional) thwarting communications and feeding trolls. Election years exacerbate the problem even further.
And far from being struck down, important principles, such as publications being protected against liability for third party content on their platforms, are very much governed by portions of the CDA that are alive and well.
All said, it was a fight worth fighting for an exceptionally important First Amendment right—no matter how annoying it may seem now.
I have been using Medium for years as a venue for writing, because unlike Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, I can express myself freely without worrying about overzealous content moderators who don’t understand what freedom of expression looks and sounds like.. Click below to see my Medium profile without having to leave this site.
They shoot fast from the hip and are produced at a prodigious rate, promulgated through Fein’s website, Annoy.com, in a one-man parallel of the mass media news cycle. On the website, they are amplified by charged “editorial” commentary, whether in prose, verse, or parodies of popular lyrics. This continual program of publication can be read as constituting a type of performance art that simultaneously performs politics through activism. — Gary van Wyk
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
– The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats – 1921
There were signs. The simmering anger in the aftermath of the failed Conference on Racism in South Africa was unsettling. Watered down resolutions that nobody intended to follow anyway, raised the stakes higher than they have been raised in ages. America’s arrogant display — turning its back on a conference designed to address racism — was just another step toward the isolationist hegemony America had come to represent on the geopolitical stage. The rise of anti-Semitism was obvious and Israel’s departure did little to stem it. Recent and increasingly violent concerns over globalization from Seattle to Genoa amplified a sinister global uneasiness.
America was tuned out. Big time. Back home in Libertyland, only a few were yearning for some answers. Who was really doing the puppeteering?
Dick Cheney’s plastic heart was focused on sidelining a General Accounting Office probe into who had paid how much to whom to formulate an energy policy to desecrate Alaska. The White House was reeling from his disastrous request to have the Navy pay for Lynne Cheney’s candescently lit donor dinner parties whilst touting conservation. Presidential henchmen Karl Rove and Andrew Card were closing rank and distancing the Baby in Chief from the once-cherished bionic VP.
The Brat was taking a well-earned, quick, month-long vacation – Home in the Heartland – to feel the nagging signs of the recession and to connect with the recently laid off dot com millionaires. Repudiating multilateral treaties from the Kyoto accord on global warming to those governing anti-ballistic missiles and biological weapons is, after all, exhausting.
A recently emerged and bearded, Kyoto-be-damned Al Gore, was boringly teasing the uninspired with a possible return to the presidential ring.
Florida, The Sequel starring Janet and Jeb began to pepper the Gary Condit saturated coverage. The dismal failure of the Durban conference was not a hot enough story to focus on and the mainstream media unapologetically ignored the nagging and uneasy questions it had raised.
Did Colin Powell really choose to walk away from the conference in solidarity over Israel on his own accord, or was Defense Secretary Rumsfeld worried that Reparations might threaten America’s worldwide-anger-provoking Missile Defense Shield strategies? Where did Condi Rice’s loyalties lie? The tensions among Rumsfeld, Rice and Powell were sizzling enough to knock Kidman and Cruise off the front pages of the tabloids had the media been watching or America been interested.
The morning of Tuesday September 11, 2001, began typically enough. Yawningly irreverent New York radio host Don Imus, (whose show is simulcast on MSNBC), was angrily denouncing MSNBC for allowing nauseatingly saccharine hosts Chris Jansing and Gregg Jarrett to knock him off the air anytime there was breaking news, rather than let him break it. Seemingly unaware of the high premium MSNBC places on youth. Clearly oblivious to the fact that a vast majority of Americans don’t want some bitter, wrinkled, dried-up, ex-cokehead, surrounded by spineless yes men, wheezing breaking news between hits on his oxygen mask.
And then terror struck. Big time. In the worst terrorist attack in history, suicidal fanatics attacked the United States by smashing hijacked commercial planes into the World Trade Center towers, Pentagon (and potentially other targets, were they not foiled by passengers). America and indeed most of the world were numbed to the core by the horror and magnitude of such destruction.
Throughout the day — and ever since — repeated images of the horror looped and looped on every TV channel in every language interspersed with hundreds of heartstring tugging stories that reduce the most hardened of men to tears.
As the dust settles, literally and figuratively, we may well emerge from this a changed nation. Although not with the overnight hyperbole reflected by trite headlines stating as much before we had even had a chance to absorb what we were hit with.
Some things remain horribly the same.
While most American’s were reeling, stunned into a shocked and disbelieving silence, the impenetrable roaches of humanity’s refuse at its worst and ugliest came crawling out fast and furious, vomiting their hate and their anger like festering pus on gaping wounds.
Reverends Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson shattered their own decaying credibility by fanatically blaming the attack on abortionists, liberals, online pornographers and civil liberties groups, declaring that Americans got what they deserved. This, of course, while their fellow Americans – and a host of other nationalities — lay dead, suffering and smoldering under heaps of shattered concrete and melting mangled metal.
Intellectually barren columnist, Ann Coulter, in a tribute to talk show partisan Barbara Olson that was about as sensitively timed and welcome as an untreated yeast infection on Prom night, suggested that America bomb the fuck out of whatever country was responsible. Children and innocent civilians be damned! And convert them all to Christianity. No doubt her perverted brand of Christianity that deems bombing babies nobler than oral sex.
‘War is Stupid and People are Stupid,’ Boy George once sang frivolously.
The governments waging them may be damn stupid too, but they are not that stupid, and not as stupid as we are, it seems. War allows governments to get away with things that are not possible in peacetime, where cooler heads and reason prevail. Using the word ‘war’ to describe something that is not a war, (like America’s “War on Drugs” which has been about as successful as the Vietnam War was, if one is to compare it to a real war) diminishes the notion of what a war is and trivializes and mocks genuine patriotism. It threatens the very tenets of freedom. It allows for States of Emergency with unparalleled government powers from eavesdropping, surveillance and ex-parte motions to detention without trial.
‘This is War!” screamed the headlines, TV networks and cable channels, and while we — vulnerable in our pain, grief, fear and shattered sense of security — wept over round-the-clock heart-wrenching vignettes of the fallen and their families played to the tune of the national anthem everywhere we turned.
While we mourned and watched and read and listened and cried, an anti-terrorism bill was drafted that rivals South Africa’s most draconian at the height of Apartheid. Within just one week of the attacks. Not to mention an almost unanimous vote by both chambers of Congress (save one brave voice of Congresswoman Barbara Lee) to give Bush full authority to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against terrorists linked to the attacks and against those that sponsor them as well as a unanimous $40 billion anti-terrorism package.
America’s worst enemies — hypocrisy and its unrelenting media machinery that cripples our intelligence and goads us into thinking and acting like dazed sheep before a slaughter — has done and will continue to do more harm to this country than Osama bin Laden or any other terrorists anywhere could ever wish to.
We cannot, as a response, simply bomb other countries with vengeance or blame people with different beliefs or ideologies. Nor should we grit out teeth through our tears and sense of helplessness and resolutely commit to revenge. A dogged pursuit for vengeance, whether framed as self-defense by ancient Defense Secretaries or resulting from a deep-rooted, visceral and all too understandable desire to punish by continuing along the very same path is explosively dangerous. All we can hope to achieve with such an approach is to add new recruits to the cause of terrorism and alienate public opinion domestically and especially internationally.
Before we embark on a war of retribution, like a frantic chicken with its head cut off running around in search of a definable enemy, we need to reflect. Big time.
What message we are sending when we impose sanctions on a country for nuclear testing one day, and then lift them so that the same country can help us attack or bomb an enemy we once befriended, trained and created ourselves the next? And to what extent might this just engender a distrust and hatred of America?
Some, more detached, have pointed out; the targets were symbols of American military might and economic prowess. The Pentagon and World Trade Center respectively represent the very essence of capitalism. Borrowing an American justification for the bombing of innocent civilians, and just as callously, some have referred to the victims as simply collateral damage. Indeed a shockingly insensitive euphemism. Why we should ask ourselves, was it so easy for us to stomach it in Baghdad or in Yugoslavia? Why then not in Oklahoma? Why not in New York?
We must question whether strategic national interests — that have us bombing other humans to deflect scrutiny and accountability at home — are either strategic or in our interests.
We must ask ourselves whether the multinational corporatization of culture that makes for stronger First World economies is worth the sweat and blood of children in sweatshops in the Third World.
We must reexamine the appropriateness of remaining silent while females are butchered at birth in China as Rupert Murdoch, Steve Case and their merry band of savages lay down the satellites and pipes for broadband to poison new minds with freshly sanitized, brain-anesthetizing content, and sell the population-controlled, surviving males laptops.
We need to stop for a second before bedtime channel surfing between NASCAR and Howard Stern while dripping genetically engineered McDonalds burger grease onto our GAP sweaters, only to wake up just early enough and strive just hard enough to earn just enough to replace it with one from Banana Republic instead.
We need to pause before we tap our Budweisers in tune to a lecherous Bob Dole sitting in a darkened room transparently pawning Viagra in Pepsi commercials while watching Britney Spears flaunt her underage crotch in his face. And then mindlessly tune in to a two-hour JonBenet Ramesy special and wonder who killed her. And why.
We need to find balance, where criticism of Rudy Giuliani for his horrific record on arts funding is not ignored or suddenly no longer relevant because of the incredible sense of comfort and security he has been able to inspire in the wake of the attack on New York.
We need to still be able to vigorously condemn the horrific ordeals faced by the likes of Abner Louima or Amadou Diallo at the hands of corrupt New York policemen without negating or trivializing the admirable and incredible heroism displayed by brave men and women from the same Department that continues to give credence to the phrase New York’s Finest in the wake of the attack on New York.
We need to parse information being fed to us by an amateur, stammering Press Secretary Ari Fleisher, (who remember, was fainting in anxiety and threatening the media during the tense furor surrounding Jenna Bush’s underage drinking escapades), with the appropriate grains of salt and respect for freedom of information.
We need to learn to not confuse extremist conduct with necessary and strong criticism of policy or appreciation of an alternative ideology. Nor refrain from critical self-analysis. We must stop oversimplifying wide ranging complexities by lumping everything into an Us v.Them paradigm that leaves too many people cornered, scapegoated or unfairly branded.
We need to realize that the declarations of war, the political rhetoric on all sides and the sweeping tide of emotion and patriotism right now are potentially the most dangerous and damaging to our civil liberties if left unchecked and unbalanced. And the threat posed by our willingness to blindly trade our freedom for a heightened perception of security cannot be underestimated.
We need to question with apprehension Attorney General John Ashcroft s draconian requests for unprecedented law enforcement powers for investigating ‘suspected terrorists’ (however vaguely defined) that are being fast tracked through Congress without nearly appropriate enough consideration. And how the curtailment of civil liberties during wartime translates into Rumsfeld’s ominous characterization of the ‘war’ that reads more like his biography. “It is a much more subtle, nuanced, difficult, shadowy set of problems.” With neither a beginning nor end.
Now, more than ever, we need to tune in to people around us and tune out the sappy, obsequious corporate-controlled media instilling over-produced, high-tech fear into us by simply regurgitating the government’s outdated war strategies as advocated by dying blowhards who peaked in the exact same posts in President Ford’s cabinet four administrations ago.
Let’s smell the Starbucks and realize that the stock prices of companies like Viacom, Microsoft, AOL Time Warner, News Corporation, General Electric, Disney, Vivendi, Alcoa and Halliburton are really the only thing anyone from the White House to the Treasury to the media touting this war cares about, not humanitarian values or the value of the information or programming that is designed to keep us ignorant and petrified while we cling to our flags in tears.
Such a violent and horrific attack not only showcases our vulnerability militarily, economically, politically and ideologically, but also robs of us of our families, friends and loved ones and very joy of living.
In spite of blunderbuss rhetoric and toxic media fallout, this tragedy has resulted in people coming together and reaching out to one another in ways no one ever could have imagined. A new, more informed dialogue has begun.
The greatest honor we can bestow on the people who died so tragically on September 11, 2001, is to simply wake up and pay attention.
They function as entities unto themselves. They have their own standards, their own morals, their own values and their own set of laws that govern their conduct. Deference is given to them by both courts and constitutions globally. Both have been beset by scandal, time and time again. Most often, it’s about sex.
For all their differences, they are disturbingly similar. The United States military and the Catholic Church are two among the most powerful institutions in the world. The law of guns and canons, namely the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), governs American men and women in uniform (and prisoners of war, visa violators, and men with slightly darker skin than Tonya Harding with last names like Paula Abdul). The 1917 and revised 1983 Codes of Canon law (COC), on the other hand, also govern men in uniform, albeit uniforms that would result in an immediate discharge if worn by men in the military. Women in either uniform are not particularly favored by either institution.
Both patriarchal hierarchies are governed by excessive structures and strict codes of conduct that inevitably run against the grain of human nature and ultimately are impossible to maintain to serve the intended purpose. Both the institutions and the laws that govern them are shrouded in secrecy and lies and plagued by abuse and cover-ups, yet both are held up as bastions of social virtue and moral certitude. Both duck and dive in their conduct and twisted phraseology, their attempts to govern human relationships revealing more about their inadequacies than their strengths. And both shoulder more responsibility for the damage incurred on themselves and those they touch than any outside influences, which both seeks to blame.
“De sexton,” the Sixth commandment, (“Thou shall not commit adultery”) is used as a catch-all phrase for any kind of sexual problem or crime, and conduct “in re turpi” (which refers to particularly offensive transgressions, including ‘unnatural’ acts) are the most frequently used by the Church to describe the conduct of their escalating wayward priests. Similarly, the United States military insists on adultery-free conduct for married servicemembers (Commanders in Chief notwithstanding) and even prohibits ‘unnatural acts’ such as sodomy (the infamous Article 125) between married adults.
In order to appreciate their similarities, it makes sense to consider the extent to which, in many ways, they serve as polar opposites. It would serve those seeking to bring about change in the Church by relaxing the Papal doctrine on celibacy, homosexuals and women to study what the playing field will look like by exploring the nuances of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy of the United States.
The Unites States military represents a microcosm of America at large, and as such, has often been unwillingly forced to adjust its positions and policies in order to keep up with societal changes. President Harry S. Truman’s Executive Order, which brought an end to official segregation in the armed forces, was only signed in 1948. The Catholic Church responds to change at a far slower pace, euphemistically speaking. Modern science cannot even shake some of the firmly held tenets of Christian doctrine. Graciously the Church apologized to Galileo Galilei for his 1632 heresy conviction just slightly before Bill Clinton apologized to America for feeding Monica Lewinsky under the desk.
The Catholic Church has been under heavy attack by the media (who might finally succeed where modern science failed once the talk of increased “chatter” subsides, Evita W. Bush returns from the Rainbow tour to Europe and they can revert back to sex, lies and who murdered Chandra).
America’s smorgasbord of fast-food journalism is so excited by the sex abuse scandal they are grudgingly, if barely, covering the explosive situation in the Middle East and that other place where, yawn, Donald Rumsfeld is still planning Missile Defense Shield strategies and a war on Iraq in the name of, yawn, terrorism. The more cynical among us are hard pressed to avoid considering Cardinal Bernard Law reneged on the abuse settlement originally promised to victims to pay Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller to take heat for withholding receipt of a certain FBI memo from Phoenix as a distraction to move the scandal from the front pages.
More dangerous to the Church though, is the attack by decent Catholics who have finally decided enough is enough. Watching the Church leadership choke on its own moldy and stale diet of bigotry, deceit, blame and blackmail has become nothing short of a spectator sport in the United States, and with the God-answered cancellation of the XFL and the dismal failure to find the untouchable Osama bin Laden, Americans want blood.
In a series of what can only be politely termed public relations catastrophes, it appears that every time a Cardinal opens his mouth, another nail is hammered into the coffin of papal credibility, sending the media into a feeding frenzy and both Catholics and non-Catholics alike reeling in incredulous horror. For all his Doctor Strangelove evil logic and demented hand gestures, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is winning the PR battle — at least in America — where the Church is imploding. From statements expressing how much the Pope loves contact with children, to strategically disastrous accusations and Clintonesque parsing from the likes of Cardinals Edward Egan, Bernard Law, Roger Mahoney and George Francis. All that’s left is for them to adopt Michael Jackson’s “Keep the Faith” as their theme song to get them through the crisis.
A hastily arranged meeting with the Pope at the Vatican allowed the Cardinals to escape into five star luxury in Italy and avoid the rapidly boiling discontent in the forms of protests and calls for resignation – particularly, Boston’s Bernard Law. Law, in perfect tradition, relocated a pedophile who was publicly advocating sex between men and boys to minister children, and not just one either – both former priest John J. Geoghan and the Rev. Paul R. Shanley have been blessed with Law’s denial in the form of praise and relocation. The moral and intellectual equivalent of hiring Jeffrey Dahmer as a babysitter, or Mike Tyson as a rape counselor. And the public relations equivalent of positioning Aldridge Ames to explain how giving a student visa to Mohammed Atta was an isolated, unexpected mistake. Or hiring Oliver North as a military strategist and expect anyone to believe him. (Well, except Fox news).
In a display of the worst possible arrogance and contempt, Law has accused children that were raped and molested, and their parents, of negligence. Los Angeles’ Cardinal Roger Mahoney has been equally vitriolic as accusations of abuse by him and his priests mount by the minute. From Milwaukee to Florida, the list of abusive Bishops and priests keeps growing. The Boston archdiocese has identified more than 80 priests in the Boston area who have been accused of molesting minors over the past 40 years. In 1991, more than 80 women were sexually assaulted by drunken Navy and Marine aviators at a convention, infamously referred to as Tailhook. Silence, blaming the victim, denial cover-ups, and eventually payouts served as a huge wake up call at the time.
The keyword du jour for the Cardinal Cleansing Conference was “zero tolerance” – a typically shallow, overused American buzzword that has oversimplified complex issues resulting in teachers sending children home for daring to bring pencils to school, or publicly hoisting their skirts to ensure appropriate panties – if any at all.
Seeped in denial, and framing the summit, was papal biographer George Weigel’s observation that the “serious problem of homosexually oriented clergy who are not living chaste celibate lives” was to blame along with the “culture of dissent that has contributed immeasurably to the ecclesiastical atmosphere in which sexual misconduct festers.”
Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George sought to explain the Vatican’s reluctance to take on a “zero tolerance policy” by stating the Church needed “wiggle room” the exercise of which is responsible for the current crisis to begin with. Adding insult to injury, he continued to remarkably distinguish between a pedophile like Rev. Paul R. Shanley, preying on young, prepubescent boys, and a heterosexual priest succumbing to the advances of a young ‘fifteen-year-old lady’ after drinking one too many Scotches. Perhaps a distinction does exist. Just ask the parents of a traumatized fifteen year old tormented and plagued with nightmares of the alcoholic pig that violated her trust and innocence in the name of Jesus, wearing his collar.
Of Cardinal Bernard Law’s game of musical parishes for molester priests, Cardinal George added: “He said that if he had not made some terrible mistakes, we probably would not be here. He apologized for it. He said nothing about resignation and we did not ask him.” Indeed they didn’t, and therein perhaps resides the biggest problem. While the frequently violated “Don’t Ask,” provision of the military policy is designed to protect gay servicemembers from being forced to reveal their orientation in violation of the “Don’t Tell” provision, the Church’s “Don’t Ask” policy represents a systemic failure of Church leadership to seek answers to what really lies beneath the plague of abuse that is tarnishing the integrity of the Church to the core, as well as a failure to ask priests candidly whether or not the accusations are true.
The Church closet is being ripped off its hinges, as she seeks to upgrade her current policy of sheltering pedophiles with relocation strategies that endanger children, paying off victims for their silence and continuing the systemic hierarchy of failure. Seemingly floored that the Church would be revealed as a bastion of homosexuality as its leaders sashay about in satin and sashes like aging beauty-pageant contestants, trying to pick up the pieces — serving as a showcase to every aspiring drag queen by offering the only outlet where silky dresses and ornate jewelry can be worn legitimately and with impunity and still engender pride in Mom and Dad.
Celibacy has always been the perfect excuse to avoid repeating the embarrassing flaccidity on Prom night in a pre-Viagra age, where taking vows to refrain from carnal intimacy with women was nothing short of a blessed relief that finally put to rest the stereotypical, yet unavoidable, questions pertaining masculinity, sensitivity, sexual orientation and prolonged bachelorhood. Any man who looks you in the eyes and tells you they are “married to the Church” has sexual identity issues worth questioning.
Similarly, the military, which has always prided itself on turning boys into men, (using recruiting posters homoerotic enough to confuse the branding with Abercrombie & Fitch catalogs), continues to serve as the perfect setup for Cody Cocksucker to delay marrying that clingy girl-next-door or Phen-fen-popping cheerleader and hide among more than a few good men for a few good years.
Now, the Church’s version of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that spawned the current crisis is under the most microscopic of scrutiny since the secular world challenged the Church to admit that Aristotle was wrong. Particularly as many Catholics, including some leaders, suggest factors such as homosexuality, the strict refusal of the Church to ordain women and the strict celibacy requirements of Priests are at the very heart of the scandal.
It was not until recently that the United States military finally admitted (to the few left still in the dark) that there were gays serving in every branch and every special unit, receiving Purple Hearts and Bronze Stars. It was a reasonable assumption if one was to have merely looked at the costs incurred in first training them, then investigating them and rooting them out. That’s just called treason, however. The best thing Al Qaeda has going for it is “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.
In a similar vein, the Catholic Church has spent millions and millions of dollars covering up incidents of abuse and pedophilia by relocating the culprits and paying off victims and their families in return for silence that has enabled the most insidious denial. No gays in the military. No pedophiles in the Church.
Now, incredulously, importantly earnest writers with gentle manners – such as National Review’s William F. Buckley – are singing the praises of the rector for New York’s Archdiocese, Monsignor Eugene Clark, for being ‘brave’ enough to mention the ‘elephant in the room,’ — the fact that the scandal facing the Church is not a pedophile problem. It’s a homosexual problem. Comforting, of course, to the fifteen-year-old slut who took advantage of the poor Priest who couldn’t handle his booze. And to the family of that wicked, sick, disgusting faggot, Father Mychal Judge, who got what he deserved when the second tower fell on top of him, cocksucker, as he administered last rites to fallen firemen on September 11, 2001. Better dead, the bastard. Not quite the type we want marching in our Saint Patrick’s Day parades.
For many Catholics, such as the firemen who loved and respected Mychal Judge, his sexual orientation was unimportant – perhaps even more so, since he was, after all, a priest. Most servicemembers on active duty care more about a fellow servicemember’s ability to shoot straight when they fire a weapon rather than be straight when they ejaculate. Monsignor Clark believes, as do many other Church elders, that pedophilia is rampant in the Church because of the presence of active homosexuals since there are more male to male occurrences of pedophilia. So much so, they have begun referring to the problem as ephebophilia — homosexual attraction to adolescent boys. As if shifting letters and changing grammar — as they do priests, from parish to parish — will solve the problem. Given that women can’t be ordained, and the Church’s sanctuary for and protection of anyone harboring sexual dysfunction of any kind, the problem clearly points to the composition of the Church, rather than homosexuality.
‘Active’ is the operative word, however, and is the root distinction between the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policies of the Church and the military respectively. The first of many disastrous moves by President Clinton, the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was an unworkable compromise passed to appease bigots and avoid the real issue. (And stroke the shattered ego of the uglier, less election-worthy Southern Democrat, Sam Nunn). The military had no other choice than to admit that there were just too many gays in its ranks to argue that gays couldn’t serve admirably without admitting that the military was fundamentally unprepared and ineffective as a cohesive unit.
So a flawed policy, that continues to this day, allows an absurd charade to exist, which communicates that although the military knows that gays are rife among their ranks, they don’t want to know who. The biggest difference between the two policies boils down to conduct. The military policy makes no distinction between speech and conduct. A celibate servicemember professing to be gay will be discharged for homosexual conduct. There exists a rebuttable presumption that the statement alone will invariably lead to prohibited conduct, and therefore is conduct already.
In early March, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told The New York Times that “people with (homosexual) inclinations just cannot be ordained…that does not imply a final judgment on people with homosexuality, but you cannot be in this field.”
The Church, in its “love the sinner, hate the sin” paradigm of hypocrisy, clearly does distinguish between conduct and speech. Celibacy, however, is celibacy. Homosexual conduct is a sin only if acted upon, even if by a heterosexual; celibacy by a homosexual is not. In other words, it makes no difference if a priest is gay or straight really, because it makes no difference who the hell they aren’t allowed to fuck.
The military’s “Don’t Tell” provision, in theory, is designed to prevent straight servicemembers – not from the anguish of knowing that some in their unit are gay, mind you – but rather from discovering who. For the Church, however, the “Don’t Tell” concept is designed to prevent public knowledge of the abuse, avoid criminal prosecution and to suppress potential claims. Secrecy, lies and denial remain the key ingredients to the effective implementation of both policies.
The Church insidiously strong-arms its aggrieved into adopting a “Don’t Tell” position by paying victims to refrain from taking civil action or otherwise making an issue in order to avoid scandal “for the good of the Church.” The military, “for the good of the military,” believes the presence of closeted soldiers in foxholes – or the immediate discharge of mission-critical gays that reveal their orientation truthfully – will somehow engender unit cohesion and bolster military preparedness. A servicemember is to stay in the closet and engender trust by lying to commanders “for the good of the military,” while an abuse victim, “for the good of the Church,” must become complicit in protecting evil within the power structure, facilitate a complete avoidance of cleric accountability, deceive the laity and remain a silent in the knowledge that abusive priests from Fort Lauderdale to Poughkeepsie are plowing prepubescent ass with impunity.
Deference is given to the military brass by congress and even the Supreme Court to override constitutional protections afforded to civilians and impose what they feel is in the best interest of the military. For the Catholic Church, the arrogance and denial reflected by the Church leadership highlights a reliance on “clericalism” — an ideology gleefully embraced by the leadership, and reinforced on the laity which suggests that somehow the silk clad clergy are entitled to special privileges and respect. The Church takes advantage of victims already abused by its own, by encouraging and maintaining an enduring attitude that it is sinful or wrong to make any kind of accusation against a priest or a bishop or that priests and bishops would never do anything evil or wrong. In addition to their internalized fear and blame, an abused child is further faced with challenging deeply held convictions among his or her parents, the Church and even civic leaders, that making accusations — let alone bringing charges — against a priest or bishop is nothing short of an attack against the Church and religion itself.
According to the Code of Canon Law, the sexual abuse of or contact with a minor under the age of 16 is a violation of a priest’s obligation of celibacy. In other words, it’s about the priest, not the victim. Clerics guilty of sex abuse of minors are to be punished with appropriate penalties not excluding dismissal from the clerical state according to these canons. Clearly dismissal is not an automatic punishment for unequivocal guilt. The Code does not mention homosexuality or homosexual acts specifically, because fortunately someone was smart enough to realize back then that fucking kids is wrong for heterosexual priests as well.
Despite mention of punishments inflicted on clerics for homosexual crimes in the Christian Penitential Books of the 6th to 11th centuries, Catholic Church authorities, such as Cardinal Bernard Law, suggest that the problem of sexual abuse of young boys and girls by horny, drunk and pedophilic priests is a recently surfaced problem, which only now, is serious enough to be discussed at Vatican meetings and Bishop Conferences. We and, more importantly, victims are supposed to take comfort in the fact that despite the references to sexual abuse of minors as a specific crime in the 1917 Code of Canon Law, and again in the revised Code of Canon Law of 1983, the hierarchy is finally willing to admit — half-assed — that there might be a pedophile problem – by blaming homosexuals.
Since, as the codifications suggest, the problem is hardly a new one, and if the problem was important and severe enough to be included in the canons and Penitential Books, how on earth can the Church claim ignorance of its horrific effects on children, reassign priests accused of raping and molesting children, and worse, why would they pay millions of dollars to keep the abuse a secret? Granted, no organization relishes the attention and public relations damage that results from such disclosures, but none are quite as vocal in their judgments and condemnations either. Endangering and hanging out violated children to dry is hardly a noble fucking alternative for which one can claim moral authority.
Even if one is to assume the best, and accept that the Church leadership genuinely, if ignorantly, thought that silencing victims and relocating and transferring priests from parish to parish was going to remedy the situation, how could they have possibly ignored the growing evidence of rampant recidivism of priests “cured” and what explanation can be given for their failure to conclude that shuffling priests does not solve the problem of pedophilia any more than electro-shock therapy does homosexuality. Especially if armed with more than enough medical evidence making clear the extensive harm to victims, their families and to society resulting from child sexual abuse. If fucking causes unwanted pregnancy, you don’t keep fucking. You either use birth control, or stop fucking. Or become Andrea Yates.
While the “Don’t Ask” component of the military policy resulted in the removal of questions pertaining to sexual orientation from recruiting questionnaires and forbade officers from asking about a servicemembers orientation, the Church has implemented a rigorous screening program designed to ensure a heterosexual priesthood. “Asking” is part of the process, although, as pointed out earlier, the Church is asking the wrong questions of the wrong people. Clearly neither the military nor Church’s screening programs — asking or avoiding – works in keeping out homosexuals.
The argument for and against the ordaining of women is inextricably linked to the issue of homosexuals in the Church, and once again, the military policy offers a telling comparison. (No pun intended).While the President and his men derided the Taliban for their appalling treatment of women as a justification for their continued destruction of Afghanistan, close advisor, Karen Hughes, mysteriously resigned from her White House post, First Lady, Laura Bush, collected sewing kits to send to Afghani women, and good old American female servicemembers (those who weren’t sitting submissively in the back of cars wearing full body covering and Burkas in Saudi Arabia) were discharged at a rate nearly twice their presence in the service. Women comprise approximately 14% of the total force strength, yet 30% of gay discharges for 2001 were women.
The military spares no expense in both the implementation and violation of its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Notorious for witch hunts and campaigns to weed out men and women they have spent millions of dollars preparing and training, a mere suggestion, or incorrectly interpreted glance, is enough to trigger an investigation. Successfully too, according to figures released March 14, 2002 by Washington D.C. based watchdog group, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN). Citing Department of Defense figures, the Pentagon fired a record 1,250 men and women – or 3-4 service members every day – for being lesbian, gay or bisexual. The figure is the highest number of gay discharges since 1987, seven years prior to the implementation of the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
The opposite attitude prevails with the Church, however, which all but denies accusations or complaints about pedophilia and child abuse, and ignores rumors and red flags that would sooner have triggered a sexual harassment investigation at Enron than a pedophile investigation by the Church.
Rather than confront the widening crisis, the Catholic Church is surrounded by enablers and other two-bit commentators who will do anything to scapegoat others instead. Crisis Magazine, an aptly named Catholic answer to the National Enquirer, has already begun pointing to statistics on women abusers in order to justify the Church’s dismal record in protecting children: “In 1994, the National Opinion Research Center showed that the second most common form of child sexual abuse involved women abusing boys. For every three male abusers, there’s one female abuser. Statistics on female sex offenders are more difficult to obtain because the crime is more hidden.”
Whether the Church is spitting out this data — coupled with comments like those of Joaquin Navarro-Valls — to support their inaction, or hint at why the ordination of women might not be such a good idea, it’s worth taking note. Particularly by those lobbying the tone deaf Catholic church. Straight women who refuse to succumb to the advances of lecherous commanders and other leering male servicemembers are accused of being lesbians or sluts, of course, if they comply. This Whore/Dyke syndrome provides a depressing glimpse of what one can expect if the Church ever deigns to ordain women. As sure as priests diddle kids, this is the methodology that will be used to weed women out. What better than to rid the Church of women by accusing them of being lesbians? Or child molesters?
Despite shrill protestations by Church leaders suggesting there is no conflict between the regulations and norms contained in the Code and other Church law provisions, and the secular or civil law on matters related to the impropriety of sexually abusing, molesting or otherwise harassing children, the proof is in the ever-expanding mountain of evidence that tells a very different story. In spite of all of this, the Catholic Church continues to assume the right to speak out on various public issues, which it claims are grounded in religious teaching and impact on the civic culture.
How dare the Pope, his clergy and religious leaders assume moral authority with their hypocritical frowning on harmless acts such as masturbation, pre-marital sex, birth control, anal and oral sex — all roads culminating in sinful (albeit consensual) pleasure in the absence of procreation, yet in the protection of the procreated, remain dangerously and irresponsibly silent and allow the unconscionable sexual abuse of children to fester along all roads leading to, and emanating from, Rome?
In April, the head of a Vatican council, Archbishop Julián Herranz, stated bishops should not be required to turn over records on abusive priests to prosecutors. Reverend Gianfranco Ghirlanda, an influential Vatican canon lawyer, published an article in the magazine Civilta Cattolica suggesting bishops not cooperate with law-enforcement officials in sexual molestation cases involving priests, nor tell a parish that receives a pedophile priest about his history because that would ruin the priest’s “good reputation.”
The Church is facing a crisis of unprecedented proportions in modern times. And while the comparison to the military’s policy is instructive, the major difference is that the military’s policy, for all its unfairness, hypocrisy and traitorous conduct that weakens the country’s effective argument and defense against terrorism, the voluntary actions of adults are central to the issue. The Church’s conduct makes them, at least, accessories in the rape and abuse of children physically and emotionally, which, coupled with their implausible denial, is nothing short of criminal, for which they should be tried and punished, Canon law be damned.
Parents can no longer turn a blind eye either. Short of arming our children before sending them to confess their sins or Sunday school, and teaching them to aim and fire when a priest makes an unwelcome sexual advance, the reality is that trusting a Catholic priest, or even a Bishop, alone with a child today should be considered nothing less than gross negligence and child endangerment. We now have more than enough evidence to discount pleadings of ignorance, and in addition to shaking the walls of denial surrounding the Church, parents should be held accountable the same way as they should for allowing their young children to navigate the Internet unaccompanied or leaving a small child alone in a car on a sweltering day with the windows closed.
Last week, Matthew Shepard died. Finally succumbing after suffering a brutal attack by two men who had been taught that the very appearance of being gay was worth a human life. Not being gay necessarily – simply perceived as being so. And for that, today, he was buried.
Almost immediately following his death, a national fever-pitched outcry about hate crime legislation, hate speech, Christian dogma, gay agendas, crime and punishment, words and deeds colored America’s national dialog and political landscape. Memorials, candlelight vigils, marches, protests, and demonstrations swelled on campuses, streets, and city halls across the country. Angry and tearful speeches, passionate condemnations, and dire warnings from Presidents to preachers dominated the airwaves and newspapers in an outpouring of sentiment not seen since Princess Diana was killed in a car crash last year.
Topping the agenda, understandably, is hate crime legislation and hate speech. Words have meaning, meaning has interpretation, interpretation inspires action, and action has consequences. In a state of confusion resulting from a brutal and senseless tragedy, everyone, from politicians to judges to the public at large, is grappling with how to weigh up speech and crime, First Amendment protections and politics, rhetoric and reaction. Politicians and pundits are being forced to react with no clear indication of the political fallout from inaction or the fallout from hastily enacted legislation.
Words alone do not create environments and are not solely responsible for attitudes. The rush to outlaw epithets and speech will have no impact and more likely cause more damage. Words do not lead to killing; it’s context, attitudes, and systematically integrated discrimination.
A hate crime can be committed silently or even mischaracterized as a hate crime. A prime example is David Cash, the student who watched and said nothing as his friend slaughtered little Sherrice Iverson in a casino bathroom. Is his silence or failure to report the crime a crime in itself? Does the fact that the little girl was black and her killer, Jeremy Strohmeyer, white make it a hate crime? And if indeed we point fingers at those uttering the words we deem hateful enough to make them co-conspirators, what blame do we place at the hands of those who remain silent? – The closeted actors, talk show hosts, politicians, and public figures whose careers and bank accounts are more important than some kid from Wyoming’s well-being?
As gay groups nationwide blacken their Web sites and turn up their rhetoric, we must look beyond the politicization of a young man’s brutal death. If Matthew Shepard was alive today, one can only wonder how he would feel about the rush to canonize him and the stretch to associate his name with every well-meaning but all-too-often dangerously misguided organization. Could Matthew Shepard have afforded a tuxedo and a $250.00 ticket to the Human Rights Campaign dinner? Did any of the expensive GLAAD awards given to celebrities save Matthew Shepard that fateful night? Or would the money used have been better spent on educational materials or self-defense classes for gay kids?
In our rush to canonize Mathew Shepard, let’s not lose sight of the language we use and the messages we send. Yes, Matthew Shepard’s death has successfully highlighted the senselessness of gay bashing with global proportions a million times more impactful and far-reaching than advertisements taken out by so-called Christian groups in national newspapers. The embracing of Matthew Shepard to push an agenda, however, is distasteful and unfair, whether it’s to advocate gay marriage or strong-arm legislation unrelated to his killing.
The impact of speeches by the likes of Trent Lott, Gary Bauer, Pat Robertson, Newt Gingrich, and others that have likened homosexuality to kleptomania and alcoholism is clearly evident and speaks volumes for itself. Absurd in its connotations – how many people are killed for being alcoholics or kleptomaniacs? – their right to express their opinions is imperative and should be protected, no matter how evil, sinister, or ugly. Harboring hateful sentiments or acting upon them will not help the targets of that hatred if they are masked in niceties, cloaked in hypocrisy, or forbidden outright. If nothing else, the simmering anger and hatred beneath the surface denied any form of expression, will eventually explode in ways even uglier and deadly than what we see now.
Victimization is a double-edged sword. As long as gays define themselves as victims, they will continue to be victimized. Women discovered this phenomenon in the workplace when the very legislation and thought paradigms inextricably associated with feminism that they had fought so hard for, or at least embraced, were suddenly being used against them. To victimize by applying the label ‘victim’ to their predicament, ironically creating a misogynist and patronizing role for the biggest offenders as protectors. Gay efforts to define themselves as victims are in danger of yielding the same unfortunate result.
The day after Matthew Shepard died, a divided U.S. Supreme Court let stand a voter initiative that barred Cincinnati from protecting gays against discrimination. In terms of the “special rights v. equal rights” debate, this law is, in fact, a special right, but one that deems it okay to discriminate against a group of people because of who they are. Like white heterosexual men. The enactment of federal hate crime legislation will not alter this. This is a dangerous and slippery slope. If the Supreme Court deems this type of discrimination okay, they may, down the road, uphold initiatives or laws stating that gays are not entitled to Second Amendment protections either.
Perhaps it’s time for gays to stand up and take control of their destiny. To stop relying on self-appointed national leaders to go begging to sit at a hypocritical political table where they are neither welcome nor accepted. To stop characterizing themselves as victims and bestowing awards on celebrities and media outlets because they represent gays “favorably” while gay kids are being pistol whipped and beaten to death and anti-gay violence is on the rise.
Perhaps every gay and lesbian individual should stop supporting gun-control advocates, arm themselves with guns and ammunition, and embrace the gun ownership philosophies of rabid homophobe and National Rifle Association chairman Charlton Heston. After all, neither a Human Rights Campaign membership nor a federal law could have saved Matthew Shepard that night. But a loaded gun might have.
Ironic since it was an unfired gun that killed him.
With the regurgitated hollow of greedy promises and sycophantic evil, the lickspittle hounds of perversity package our collective grief and, with depraved, whore-like lust, sell it back to us for nothing less than our battered souls, politics and thirty pieces of tarnished silver.
On a chilly night on Christmas Eve, in a small town in Colorado, a six-year-old girl was brutally raped and murdered. Not much was happening in the O.J. civil trial…Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich were being nauseatingly sweet to one another, feeling, perhaps, that their shut-down gift the Christmas before was more fun giving than the ethics scrutiny they were receiving this year in return. Stuffed and lazy, the shark-like media circled the tank of American obdurance and prejudice, slowly in sinful abundance. And further South in Petaluma, California, Polly Klaas lay in her grave, silent, still and forgotten.
The abduction and murder of Polly Klaas was easier for America to deal with because of the evil embodied by her captured murderer, Richard Allen Davis. The terror that a stranger could come into our homes in the middle of the night and take away and destroy our most treasured possessions – our children – struck at the chord of our increasingly volatile sense of safety in our homes. With his notorious flipping-off gesture to the cameras, Davis provided the perfect conduit to absorb our collective outrage and anguish. Locked away eventually, the media’s regurgitation of OJ’s (now-complete) civil trial, averted our attention. With Davis locked up, our children were safe again. Only Petaluma still remembered.
JonBenet’s grisly rape and murder were not enough for America’s noble media machine, however. A frantic need for a hook – something that would enable them to pique interest in a frighteningly commonplace phenomenon and help stomach its awful reality – was needed, found and appropriated with laser beam intensity. JonBenet was a former beauty queen.
Before long, there was nary a media outlet in the country that did not associate JonBenet, in some way, as a beauty queen. That she was white and born to wealthy parents was additional ammunition for the media onslaught to follow. Like an uncontrollable virus, the hoards cut and pasted every detail they could find. JonBenet specials, inside scoops, latest updates, interviews with friends, neighbors, maids, aunts, cousins….exclusive interviews, exclusive photos, exclusive obituary. The almost comical but depressing accusations by tabloids of tabloids. Web sites, parasitic, sprung up like warts, feeding on one another and perpetuating each other’s relevance… beauty queen JonBenet, not really child, not really real, not really everyday… and we, the gullible and the beguiled bought it hook, line, and sinker, while our six-year-old daughters still wonder why it’s okay to murder and rape those less fortunate…perhaps black, perhaps poor, perhaps ugly.
That American media would turn this cruel murder into a bizarre freak show is not even remotely surprising. It’s the commercialization of it that is so sickening to the stomach. The “Coming Up This Hour” teasers on CNN intersperse JonBenet walking down the T-bar in slow-motion to a Hitchcock-like jingle with their Play of the Day, or the Reuters updates in their Entertainment Summary. This is entertainment? How can we but question, with fervor, the extent to which those media outlets can even qualify as news organizations and reap the privileges afforded them?
The issue of child abuse is perhaps the darkest of human conscience. The inherent intelligence of humans enables the intellectualization of behavior within the inevitable paradigms of morality and guilt. In this context, it is far easier for our collective psyche to create a diversion – the beauty queen angle – that facilitates avoidance of the bigger question underlying what is really happening.
The commercialization of JonBenet leaves us numb enough to avoid examining the possibility that the taut and unyielding strictures of our Judeo-Christian nucleus are erupting in pus-like rage, causing us to kill and fuck our petrified and abused children. But we don’t want to go there. We’d rather hear that JonBenet was a Beauty Queen. A bizarre world to exploit and explore. Should little girls wear lipstick and make-up? How do we avoid the desperately necessary exploration of the remaining vestiges of patriarchic misogyny at its most blatant and disturbing – assigning value to the empty objectification of sexuality – paraded around like cattle before the slaughter? The subconscious provocation of child sexuality. The stuff that Jesse Helms and Dan Coats soil their pristine sheets over in their Internet wet dreams. Oh, the wonderful lessons our children are learning.
This is not going away. The abuse that JonBenet experienced in her short life was only the beginning. The story of JonBenet, and the coverage we have seen and can expect, are as American as apple pie and baseball. JonBenet’s death is still fresh, so we may be a little premature in wondering which network will air the first JonBenet: Portrait of a Child Beauty Queen movie of the week, which book will stay longest on the New York Times best seller’s list, who will turn on whom, who will spawn careers from punditry, who will launch TV talk shows, who will sell whom down the river first, and who will market the first toy. Welcome to 1998.
Clinton Fein asked some of those he interviewed to please write a note to Randy in his copy of the book if he had it with him. Some were written while Shilts was alive, and some were written posthumously. Fein decided to photograph and transcribe these notes for posterity. And more importantly, to depict the immense gratitude to Randy Shilts by those whose lives were so impacted by the cruelty of America’s policies towards gays in the military. And Fein’s gratitude to them.
These notes to Randy remind me of why we did what we did, the bravery of all those who fought back to eventually win, and the extent to which we are capable and must be willing to fight again. Our history is all too often whitewashed, or sanitized, or oversimplified for commercial consumption on streaming platforms.