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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Criminal Minds: Let's Base Our Freedom of Speech Policies on the Ideas of Serial Killers


Part of the stash of bondage porn amassed by the serial killer. He's supposed to be straight but the one mag looks like gay bondage porn. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Except it makes no sense. But there's a lot of that not making sense going on in "Limelight."


This is one of three essays that have been inspired by the "Limelight" episode of Criminal Minds. None of the thoughts I've had about the episode are all that related to one another, so I thought I'd make up three short blog posts rather than a single long article.

In an early scene in the "Limelight" episode, the Criminal Minds team (FBI profiling experts) discover a storage room full of gear used by a serial killer. They find some porno, both regular porn (magazines called "Boudoir") and bondage porn (though it seems to be gay bondage porn, and the killer is identified as straight). One of the profilers holds a bondage magazine up and asks "Who buys this stuff?"


Straight porn, the gateway porn for bondage porn. Actually, this doesn't look much like modern straight porn ... apparently this guy was born in the 1920s and got his porn in the 1930s and then was cryogenically frozen for a couple of decades. Or maybe he lived where you could only get antique porn. I mean, I read all of Shaw's plays when I was a kid because I had no access to modern humor. It happens, people.


Well, the correct answer to that question is "No one, at present" because all the bondage magazines folded back in the early 90s because of the advent of all that free bondage porn on the Internet (which consisted mostly of scanned-in photos from bondage magazines, at first).

This was actually a minor gaffe and not really worth complaining about. The REAL lollapalooza comes when the head of the the profiler unit, played by Joe Mantegna, looks at a porn mag and quoted Ted Bundy saying, "If we want to get rid of serial killers, we should censor Hustler, not Catcher in the Rye."

This is lame on SOOO many levels.


At last, something that actually looks like bondage porn, even if it IS a drawing.


First of all, I don't think we should be taking our cues on free speech issues from Ted Bundy, or anyone like him. (More to come on this.)

Second of all, I had no IDEA it was that easy. Because of course, it isn't. Serial killers existed a long time before porn did.

Now let's go back to that first part. America has a long and stupid habit of listening to imprisoned criminals on free speech issues. The most powerful instance was the institution of the Comics Code. That came about largely because of the publication and subsequent politicization of a book called "Seduction of the Innocent" by a an idiot named Dr. Frederick Wertham.

Wertham got onto the horrors of comics as a result of his job: he was the resident psychologist at a big New York prison for delinquent kids. Being a psychologist and all, Wertham was very interested in finding out what had made the kids get all delinquent, so he interviewed a lot of them.

What he discovered was indeed startling. Practically all of the kids in his reform school had read comics at one time or another! And many of them reported that the comics led them to Evil Thoughts and Bad Ways!

It's a well-known fact that residents of our fine reform schools and prisons will say anything they think an authority figure wants to hear, so long as they think it will get them out or improve their living conditions in some way. So I can imagine how Wertham got his data.

Let's imagine Wertham interviewing a fine young gentleman temporary housed in a New York juvenile detention center, named Alex.

Wertham: So, what kind of things do you like to do for fun, Alex?

Alex: Oh, mostly I like what's horrorshow. Me and me chums like to cruise about and play hog of the road, and have conflicts with others like ourselves over lovely young ninotchkas, and of course there's doing the lovely young ninotchkas, too.

Wertham: I didn't mean that so much as what entertains you: music, TV, that sort of thing.

Alex: Oh, I love the classical music, yes I do! Especially the great Ludwig von. Especially his fifth! It's the greatest!

Wertham: Classical music? Really? That's MOST unusual. What about other media? Books, magazines, comics, sort of thing.

Alex (noting Wertham's lack of response to his interest in classical music and shelving it for that reason): Oh, I have me a few of those lying about in my flat, yes I do.

Wertham: What sort of comics?

Alex (noting Wertham's interest in comics in particular. Alex does not own any comics but has riffed through a few of them while visiting with his droogs and found them peurile and uninteresting, though he wouldn't have put it like that): Well, mostly I likes me the horrorshow kind of comics.

(Wertham's eyes gleam a bit and his grip on his pen gets a little tighter as he continues taking notes. Alex notes this and thinks, "Well, I know what this chap's on about. Now I'll just bag him up.")

Wertham (carefully keeping his voice calm, unaware that he has given his game away already): So what is it about these "horrorshow" comics that you like? Can you name some of them?

Alex: Oh, sure. (Alex thinks back and remember the titles of some of the comics his droogs used to like.) "Oh, I liked the Eerie Comics, and the Fight Comics, and the Ranger Comics, and a lot of others I can't remember right now."

Wertham: Can you remember any specific images or stories that you particularly liked?

Alex: Sure. I remember one, there was a lovely ninotchka with her dress half ripped off, chained up in a dank, dark, cell looking all scaredy-waredy like, and there was a brutus there with a knife and giving her the glinty grin, and the red wine had already started to flow, and you can tell there's gonna be a lot more before old brutus is through.

(Alex actually does not recall any such specific image, he's just making up a generic horrorshow image on the grounds that it should be close enough to the sort of things found in his droog's comics to fool Wertham, which of course, it does. Alex himself is not at all affectd by comic book images, as he has personally been engaged in activities that approximate what he's decribing, and the vividness and power of his memories of the actual things he's done absolutely overwhelms whatever mild effects a comic book image might have on him.)

Wertham: I see. And how did that image make you feel?

Alex: Oh, it made me feel all warm in my gutty-wuts. Like the feeling you get when you're about to do a cute ninotchka, mixed in with the feeling you get when you just get started on a good and proper drubbing of some citizen, and the red stuff is just starting to flow, and you know there's going to be a whole lot more. Like that. Only kinda softer and less loud, you know?

Wertham (scribbling furiously): I see. And tell me, have you ever acted on these feelings, and if so, what did you do?

(Alex pauses, looking sorrowful, as if he were contemplating past sins. Actually, he is thinking. He has acted on such feelings many times, although never once because he'd been reading a comic book. That's not his concern -- easy enough to lie about that. He just doesn't want to go telling Mr. Wertham about any of his activities that the law doesn't know about, which might net him some extra time in stir.)

Alex: Well, the event for which I am currently incarcerated ... me and me droogs tied and gagged a woman and had some fun with her after giving her hubby a taste of the old ultra-violence so he'd be all quiet and peaceful like while he watched us, like. Well, while reading the comics I've seen so many piccies where some brutus has a ninotchka all tied up and gagged, maybe on an altar or in a dungeon, and her citizen boyfriend is all angry and helpless likes because the brutus' droogs have got him. Well, you can't see stuff like that a lot without wanting to try it out, y'know?

Wertham (trying to be calm, but barely able to suppress his excitement) Thank you, Alex, thank you very much for your honesty.

Alex (reading Wertham like a book): No problem at all, guv'nor. Hope you'll put in a good word about me to the warden.

Wertham: I shall inform him that you were most cooperative.

* * * * * * *

I'm sure things didn't go down exactly like that but I'm sure I'm pretty close. Most kids who wind up in reform school have a long history of lying to authority figures, so much so that it comes quite naturally to them. They would have lied to a guy like Wertham instinctively, without even thinking about it. And because Wertham bought their lies, hook line and sinker, and because comics had been indulging in some powerful imagery throughout the 40s and 50s, the Comics Code Authority went into effect and American comics were infantilized for two decades.

And let's not even get into the subsequent "studies" of porn's effects on criminals that were conducted back in 1970-1990 which were funded by political think tanks that wanted to demonstrate that porn caused crime, so the researchers had an agenda, and every motive to telegraph that agenda to their subjects, imprisoned criminals who had every motive to give the researchers exactly the results they were looking for.

Under circumstances like that, what could possibly hinder the flow of true and accurate information?

That's the historical context in which I view Mantegna's character's statement: an endorsement of a blunder of historic proportions. Way to go, dumbasses, endorsing the idea that the statements of jailed criminals looking to make brownie points with authority figures is a sound basis for making social policy. If you believe that, you're dumber than the imprisoned goons who gulled you.

And in FURTHER news, Britain appears ready to lead the way for American dumbassery with a bill of their own. They have recently passed a bill outlawing extreme pornography. They're pretty clear about what's extreme, but their definition of what's pornography is just as fuzzy as any the US Supreme Court has ever come up with. British mainstream bondage fans are understandably concerned that if the cops ever have occasion to search their computers or log their visits to various sites, they could find themselves prosecuted under the new law.

Right now, it seems farfetched, but prosecutors are very fond of using badly written laws to imprison folk who they think are guilty, when they can't imprison them under well-written laws. I live in a state where a man was prosecuted for consensual oral sex with his wife (i.e., she gave him a blow job) under a badly written outdated law that was designed to outlaw homosexual activities. I live in a state where the state Supreme Court had to strike down an incredibly badly written law designed to stop strip clubs from doing business, because it would also have outlawed showering in the nude and changing a baby's diaper.

I'm hoping for the best for my friends across the pond. But I'd advise them to keep an eye on the cops.

And I'd also advise everyone to take anything that the Criminal Mind crew says with a grain of salt. Or three. The Boston Strangler is just not anyone we need to be listening to when it comes time to develop social policy about free speech. And apparently, the writers of Criminal Mind fall into the same category.

5 comments:

kdnpr said...

"Part of the stash of bondage porn amassed by the serial killer. He's supposed to be straight but the one mag looks like gay bondage porn."

He was gay. You missed the scene where he's wearing womens' clothes. They also said he fantasises about being the woman. Gay bondage porn does fit for him

Bang on about the "money saving" Bundy excuse. Read like you were inspired by Clockwork

Pat Powers said...

He was gay. You missed the scene where he's wearing womens' clothes. They also said he fantasises about being the woman. Gay bondage porn does fit for him

I got the part where he altered the dresses so he could wear them. But that doesn't mean he's gay. Lots of transvestites are straight. So I still don't buy the gay bondage mag.

Bang on about the "money saving" Bundy excuse. Read like you were inspired by Clockwork

Oh, yeah. I just imagined Wertham interviewing Alex from Clockwork Orange while he was in stir.

kdnpr said...

"I got the part where he altered the dresses so he could wear them. But that doesn't mean he's gay."

Well that sounds homo erotic to me. He also fantasised about being those women in the rape fantasy predicament. Why felt the gay mags fit the story.

"Wertham"

Not specific him, as I never heard of him till I read your blog.

Criminal Minds writers have to suck up to the Network bigwigs. I doubt they personally agree it's cheaper to ban porn, than go through the whole court case and appeals to execute a Bundy.
But if they don't, does the show get on the air? Where this "Wertham" sounds like a lap-dog for some cost-cutting Media type. I'd have to read more on him to be sure.

Pat Powers said...

"Wertham"

Not specific him, as I never heard of him till I read your blog.

Criminal Minds writers have to suck up to the Network bigwigs. I doubt they personally agree it's cheaper to ban porn, than go through the whole court case and appeals to execute a Bundy.
But if they don't, does the show get on the air? Where this "Wertham" sounds like a lap-dog for some cost-cutting Media type. I'd have to read more on him to be sure.


You can visit his Wiki page here.

In a nutshell, in 1954 he wrote "Seduction of the Innocent" a book about how violent imagery in comics affected children, based on his exprience as a criminal psychologist and resident as a large correctional facility for juvenile delinquents. The book led to appearances before Senator Estes Kefauver's Committee on Juvenile Delinquency and subsequent adoption of the Comics Code by comic book publishers who didn't want the government censoring them, so they censored themselves. The Comics Code infantilized comics for decades. Wertham is widely held to have been the prime mover in the whole contretemps.

Wertham wasn't a lap-dog, his opinions were his own, but they sure did help Kefauver and other censorious types.

kdnpr said...

"Wertham wasn't a lap-dog"

Disagree here.
(From your link)
"Wertham was an expert witness in the trial of Albert Fish. Fish was a psychopath, masochist, child molester, and cannibal.
Despite Wertham's testimony, Fish was judged legally sane and executed."


I personally never read comics, so I can't comment on if they were that bad, or not?

But I did suspect when you were describing Wertham that he would be involved in the defence of a child molesting cannibal type up for the more expensive capital punishment trial and appeals.

"his opinions were his own"

I disagree.
If Wertham's child ran into Fish, would Wertham blame the comics?

Sounds more typical elitist behaviour, with the typical big media lauds and book deal rewards normally given to a good lapdog