My fellow blogger Orac has on occasion had some pointed comments about The Huffington Post, primarily for their one sided coverage of the links between use of Thimerosal in children's vaccines and autism which seem long on innuendo and accusations and short on actual facts. To this I should like to add my own complaints about something in The Huffington Post, an article by Ellen Ladowsky called Pedophillia and Star Trek, reaction to which has been echoing around the Blogosphere.
Ladowsky bases her piece on an article which appeared in the L.A. Times - she says recently but in fact the times article is dated April 27, 2005 and is so old that it isn't available online except by paying $3.95 U.S. for it. The article contains what she describes as the "mind-boggling statistic: of the more than 100 offenders the unit has arrested over the last four years, 'all but one' has been 'a hard-core Trekkie.'" There's just one minor problem - this statement has pretty much been debunked. Ernest Miller, who publishes the weblog Corante and whose credentials I respect more than Ladowsky (because he states them in his blog) and yet is dismissed as "Blogger Ernest Miller" actually bothered to follow up the story with the Toronto Police detective quoted in the original L.A. Times story. Miller writes of his conversation with Detective Constable Ian Lamond of the Toronto Police Sex Crimes Unit "He claims they were misquoted, or if that figure was given it was done so jokingly. Of course, even if the figure was given jokingly, shouldn't the Times' reporter have clarified something that seems rather odd? Shouldn't her editors have questioned her sources?" According to Lamond a majority show "at least a passing interest in Star Trek, if not a strong interest" and while "there was sometimes other science fiction and fantasy paraphenalia, Star Trek was the most consistent and when he [Lamond] referred to a majority of the arrestees being Star Trek fans, it was Star Trek specific." Canada's Maclean's Magazine picked up on the story in a piece called The Star Trek Connection although the phrase "Star Trek" appears in the article four times. There are two interesting statements in the article, one at the beginning and one at the end. In the introduction to the piece author Jonathon Gatehouse writes "A surprising number of child sex abusers appear to be Trekkies. Trying to figure out what that means, however, shows how little we really know about pedophiles." The other statement is at the end and refers to an ongoing study by psychologists Michael Seto and Angela Eke which will be looking through the arrest files of 400 child porn offenders in Ontario: "One of the things they will be looking for is reports of suspects with sci-fi collections, especially Star Trek. Seto hypothesizes that the pedophiles might be using their toys and memorabilia to groom victims - a view that Blanchard [Ray Blanchard, head of clinical sexology at Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health] shares. "They have to adapt their strategies," he says. "Just like a regular heterosexual guy sets up situations to get women in sexual proximity."
So those are the facts that Ellen Ladowsky so blithely ignores in her article, which then goes on to examine why Star Trek screws people up so. First of all though she takes a detour to the Heaven's Gate mass suicide at Rancho Mirage California in March 1997 and links it to Star Trek: "Those involved in the Heaven's Gate mass suicides in Rancho Sante Fe in March 1997 also purported themselves to be avid Star Trek fans. One may recall that the cult forced its members to wear unisex clothing, had a strict policy of celibacy, a ban on all sexual thoughts, and eight of the members had surgically castrated themselves." The only link to Star Trek that I can actually recall being made public was that Nichelle Nicholls younger brother Thomas was one of those who committed suicide. The cult actually believed that on shedding their earthly bodies they would be transported aboard a UFO hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet.
Some of her points are amazing in their attempts to link Star Trek - and here she apparently constantly refers to the original series not to the four follow-up series - to bizarre sexuality. Item: "At first blush, the crew might seem kind of sexy - big-breasted, scantily clad female crew members, men in skin-tight uniforms, and Captain Kirk ripping off his shirt at the slightest hint of heat - but the features of their sexuality are exaggerated in the manner of a comic book, creating a hygienic distance from anything to do with real sexuality." Item: "The male crew members demurely ignore the sexually enticing (if antiseptic) female crew members. There seems to be a tacit agreement that any sexual relationships would destroy the unity of the crew." Item: "Captain Kirk displays a truly astonishing emotional poverty. He goes from planet to planet, having trysts with an assortment of nubile women, but never forms any real attachments. By the next episode, the last female partner is forgotten. (Although we don't know all that much about pedophilic sexual offenders, one thing we do know is that they have trouble forming authentic adult romantic relationships.)" She even brings up the Kirk-Spock relationship that is so much a fixture of fan fiction: "The one longstanding attachment Kirk has is to Mr. Spock. In fact, their bond is so intense that there's an abundance of gay porn written about the two. (Oddly enough, it's frequently written by heterosexual women.)" (Oh and by the way she also has a take on Spock: "It's easy to imagine how the garden variety pedophile might identify with the half-human, half-Vulcan character who is bereft of human feeling, essentially neither male nor female, and living in a society where those around him seem to have a different set of rules. (It turns out that autistics also strongly identify with Spock, but that's another story).") She even links the Utopian nature of society in Star Trek with Pedophilia: "There is another aspect of Star Trek that likely makes it irresistible to perverts. It is utopian, in the sense that all the differences and distinctions which create tensions here on earth have been eradicated. Despite their exaggerated sexual characteristics, for example, the crew members are citizens of a utopian interracial and interplanetary world where the usual conflicts associated with gender do not apply. [New paragraph in the article] In perversion, there is an attempt to obliterate any distinctions that provoke unconscious anxiety. First and foremost, this entails a denial of the difference between the sexes and the difference between the generations. Pedophiles are, at the very least, attempting to deny the difference between the generations. The utopian fantasy here is to normalize sex between adults and children."
Okay, right. Virtually all of the things that Ladowsky points to can be explained in four words: It was the Sixties! Televisions shows didn't bother with continuity beyond what they absolutely had to. Richie on The Dick Van Dyke Show would have a dog one week and the very next week be begging his father to get a dog without reference to the pooch he had the week before, and men were seriously dating one week and worried about not having dates the next. Male Bonding was the rule rather than the exception - Friday and Gannon, Malloy and Reed, Lt. Gil Handley and Sgt. Chip Saunders, hell even Jim Phelps and Rollin Hand (isn't it suspicious that none of the men on the IM Force was trying to get into Cinnamon Carter's undoubtedly expensive panties?). On the other hand big busted women in scanty clothes was also the rule of the day when they could get away with it: the daughters on Petticoat Junction, the various secretaries - notably Miss Trego - on The Beverly Hillbillies, and even Judy Robinson on Lost in Space. As for sexual relationships, remember that the Enterprise was a military ship and even today relationships between superior officers and either enlisted personnel or junior officers even today are grounds for disciplinary action, discharge or even court martial. The real life military sees "that any sexual relationships would destroy the unity of the crew." Don't even get me started on implied sexual relations in an era when people who were married on TV slept on twin beds, with plenty of separation. It wasn't until Bewitched that a married couple shared a bed (well except for Ozzie and Harriet). Finally we come to the "utopian argument". Of course the United Federation of Planets was a utopian society. Most science fiction of that period that was set in the future envisioned that future as utopian. Certainly "space opera" did as an extension of the belief that in order for a planet to send voyagers not just to other worlds but to the stars that planet must have a unitary society, one where we are all united and "the differences and distinctions which create tensions here on earth have been eradicated." The rise to prevalence of dystopian societies in science fiction was a later trend, and even the human society in a show such as Babylon 5 at least has a veneer of a utopia even if underneath it is seething with dystopian elements such as the Psi-Corps, Free Mars, the Night Watch and the Shadow Conspiracy surrounding President Clark.
In the end I think that Ladowsky's article is a misguided piece of writing, putting forward as new a story which has been, if not fully discredited, at least put into proportion by writers who have actually bothered to dig a little deeper for the truth. Ladowsky's article doesn't even add much to the argument presented in the L.A. Times article (and I ask again, why was it written now, and why is the Huffington Post running it now). Rather she travels off in a direction that can only be described as tenuously linked to it. About the only thing Ellen Ladowsky's article is guaranteed to do is to raise the ire of fans of the show. But of course all I am is a Blogger.