ISSN: 1705-6411
Volume 8, Number 1 (January 2011)

To Catch a Predator: American Bestiary as Fatal Burlesque

Diederik Janssen (M.D.)
(Nijmegen, The Netherlands)


I. Introduction

You’re headed for disaster ‘cos you never read the signs
Too much love will kill you – Every time (May, 1992)

There is no aphrodisiac like innocence (Baudrillard [1987] 1990:185).

According to one of Baudrillard’s parenthetical inversions, American “prisons are there to conceal the fact that it is the social in its entirety, in its banal omnipresence, which is carceral” (1983:25). The docu-cinematic intrigue of the inmate resonates with a vital displacement by projecting the walls of confinement around a criminal eventuality, bailing out a detainment that is ultrastructural. By tentative extension, the Americanism of the bust – adrenergic prelude to incarceration – would aestheticize the necessity of a projective forensics of sociality, and to this end would assume, as indeed it has, the contours of an entertainment event. These contours, this Derridean parergon of framing the crime with the criminal, accordingly, answer to a vital panic that it is we who are the prisoners of a studied artefactuality: a willed setting up or framing of the criminal, then, to conceal the deconstructive tendency haunting all tactics of quarantine and concealment.

Whether or not we may agree he himself, in the final reading, gets “away with murder” (Rojek and Turner, 1993:xi), Baudrillard’s historical criminology of the real is helpful in extrapolating the sketched predicament of decompensation beyond its scripted finale. What lies beyond the bust? Below I consider the psycho-trope of the bust in MNBC Dateline ratings success To Catch a Predator (2004-2008)1 as decompensated entertainment event, specifically as inviting a Baudrillardian decursus of reversibility: the spectacle of imprisonment has become its own fatal parody, and is no longer an operant alibi for sociality’s banalities or incarcerations; it persists, however, as a supplement to the suicidal will to saturation that chains sociality to its arresting spectacles, its ratings successes.

II. TCaP and the Precession of Simulacra
While the American televisual forensics of the sexual has long been characterized by a “profound imbrication of justice and culture industries” (Epstein and Steinberg, 2007:457) – as James Kincaid warned in his book-length study, “[t]he trials themselves are so spectacularly obtrusive they get in the way of the talk about them” (1998:214) – Dateline MNBC To Catch a Predator (henceforward TCaP) forges its own “intersection of fact and fiction, news and entertainment, punishment and carnival” (Kohm, 2009:195) by soliciting an offense which then never takes place: at once a hyperreal instantiation and prevention of a dire actuality. Briefly, in TCaP a vigilante posing as a minor lures an “internet groomer” into a sexually explicit conversation, then sets up a live meeting in a rented residence wired with cameras operated from an upstairs control room (a wishful panopticon), where he is initially greeted by a petite decoy but subsequently “punked” and lectured by a TV anchor-ex-machina, from whom he eventually flees only to be booked by a posse of cops. The bust would enact a preemptive circumscription of intrusive desire by entrapping it in its own confessional analytics. A “self-portrait of power in the epoch of its totalitarian management of the conditions of existence” (Debord, 1977:24): “predators” are shamed into a ventriloquism of an implied viewer outrage, an on-the-spot admittance to apologetic hubris (“cognitive distortions,” as clinical parlance has it, or “crimes of opinion” as Guy Hocquenghem once anticipated) or managerial lapse (compulsive-addictive surrender to the jailbait sign and/or to the criminal efficiency of the digital infrastructure). They are submitted to a forensic administration pushed to its limits: a teletopology (Virilio’s expression) of total coverage and transcription enacting a general emancipation from epidemiology (an early estimation of the “real” incidence of the offense was dropped in later episodes when voices arose claiming it was “made up”). The reality event precedes and prevents the real, succeeding best where failing: one predator was caught for a second time, after he had, no doubt, seen himself being caught on TV. “Oops,” he said, in a tangled state of mind.

III. The Cold Obscenity of Prevention Culture
We can see the sting operation, this technology of preemptive deployment of the real against its own realization – this sneak-previewing of disaster – as an increasingly ironic emulation of dystopian tales like The Running Man (1987), in which good cop Arnold Schwarzenegger is framed and delivered to a primetime gauntlet show which would do him in for good. Reality events rendering the real uneventful raise the question, and not only in the case of our predatory recidivist, whether reality can still be said to be available for the double-crossing, the interpolation by its double. What still grounds the techno-juridical will to entrap where the “good-touch/bad-touch” production of “awareness” has studiously eradicated the scenario of an innocence taken unawares by its nemesis? Both the sexual and the forensics of the sexual spoil a radical otherness, and sort a complementary violence of over-informed sameness: complete “consent,” “total promiscuity” of exchange (Baudrillard ([1990] 1993:65-66).

Baudrillard alludes to an element of pervasive disappearance – at once that of childhood, its robbery, its protection, and its resolution – that can certainly be seen as an effect of this fighting off fire with (cold) fire. Prevention culture, since the earliest mediation of its message, prevents even the death of the predator it hunts, who, as Kincaid observed, must be kept alive (live: on the air) at all costs. The Execution of Gary Glitter (written by Rob Coldstream), a Channel 4 alternate history in which a faded British glam-rock icon is delivered to a medieval hangman, illustrates this general situation of impossibility. Where the whole affair would boil down to the civil recognition of age difference, an earlier British event (Britain’s Most Wanted Paedophiles, BBC1, 2007) detailed a media hunt involving web photos of the hunted “digitally aged to help members of the public recognise them.”

While contemporary discourse identifies derealization (“dissociative disorder”) as epitomizing the late modern symptomatology of the abuse of the senses, TCaP’s claim to primary prevention/precession of the real had already been profusely anticipated in its therapy-, documentary-, celebrity-, memory- and reality-turns as these turned on each other since the late 1970s. TCaP startles a species of rabbit-in-headlight which cannot be dissected without a genealogy of the “sexual abuse” campaign and its figurehead function in a pseudo-secular evangelism of “the family.” Epic scandals involving anything from clowns to philosophers, “satanic” murder and animal mutilation, plagued America as well as Europe during the 1980s, their eventuality sliding from outright scams—l’affaire du Coral (1982-3) in France—to scrupulous hysteria: the McMartin preschool trial (1983) among many others in America, the Bolderkar affaire in Holland (1989). [The McMartin debacle reportedly evoked an excess of 1,200 accusations of day care abuse between 1983 and 1985; in 6% there were prosecutions (cited in Rossen and Schuijer, 1992:29)]. We find in “child sexual abuse” postmodernity’s superconductivity, its conduit of choice for a “hysteria of causality […] an obsessional search for origins, the delirium of trying to explain everything and to reference everything […] a fantastic encumbrance, a growing mass of interpretations which has little relation to any objective” (Gane, 1991:177): a Larsen effect that carries the slightest murmur beyond the threshold of pain and a frantic prostitution of the child to the fact-sheeting journalisms of outrage. “Non-disclosure”, in feminist aetiology, became the causal nucleus of suffering. Today this maxim is followed to its furthest extent: we are currently in the middle of a documenting, re-playing, re-opening, retrialing, revenging and reclaiming of decades of neglected talk and mismanaged memories. “An endless lugubrious litany… Everybody tried to outdo each other, revealing secrets, spilling tales of past suffering, naming perpetrators to be castigated or removed from society. Bravo” (Guillebaud, 1999:12). The return is typically to mid-previous century, from Britten’s children (see Bridcut, 2006) to suicidal ex-commune kids “brainwashed” into the vilest incestuous scenarios. No doubt grave abuses took and will take place. But the crime scene is revisited not by the “scenic sensibility” of a posttraumatic flashback but by a culture of involuntary replay, “a state of fascination and vertigo linked to this obscene delirium of communication” – “The hot, sexual obscenity of former times is succeeded by the cold and communicational, contactual and motivational obscenity of today” (Baudrillard, 1983:132,131, and 24).

IV. Ritualistic Sacrifice of a Scapegoat
In the clinics, Sylvère Lotringer’s 1988 book Everexposed chronicled, the sex deviants have been bored into normality by the tactic of satiation; in TCaP they are blue-balled by having them rehearse and regret a dry-run of their deviation. The question, increasingly central from stimulus-satiation and phalloplethysmography to anti-porn activism and the entire scope of cyberhygiene, is whether desire insinuates itself as a property of the object, or rather as an effect of the conditions for its realization. TCaP’s host Hansen readily grants his catch the preferred excuse of mismanaged “internet addiction” and it is certainly a neurosis, not a paraphilia, that is at play. The psycho-lingo of managerialism pushes pathology beyond derivation, beyond regression or fixation, and onto the infrastructural condition, the inter-netting and cc-TVing, of the social.

TCaP’s simulations of desire and resentment, and its wider thematic environs of coercive mediation and counter-insurgent infiltration (for a pre-internet note on governments as child porn traffickers, see Stanley in Rossen and Schuijer, 1992:121-136), invite a tandem reference to two French theorists of the mediation of “the social”: René Girard, on its primitive birth, and Baudrillard, on its announced death. For Girard (1996), sociality arises in reference to a desired object which attains its desirability through an emulation of a mediator validating that object as desirable. If we consider the (oedipal) child as the object of (modern) objects, this desire is not a presymbolic instinct but a mimetic mood filtered through the conjunctive and disjunctive insinuations of the symbol, code, and sign. If sexuality was to codify sexual difference as a binary logistics of difference, it found itself preoccupied, rather, with the domestic securing of a generational alterity, the corollary of which, wrote Foucault, was a surcharging of the site of pedagogy with the possibility of decadence and corruption. As object, “child” assumed the status of what Lacanians call objet a: a central, structuring void, an aseptic absence of will and of consensus either redeemingly sublime or entirely “turned to shit” by the “grooming” processes at the borders and terminals of the social interior (see further Jagodzinski, 2004).

Adapting Girard, this child can be seen as a function of the mediating realms of signification and symbolization, and where mediating forces prove disembodied, arrogant, and unaccountable allies, resentment is likely to arise over disjunctions (value-based, knowledge-based, and all the multi-mediated appropriations) of that function – between, more precisely, proprietary and dispossessing encodings of blood, lineage, and development. Because such “mimetic crises” are beyond violent resolution but still require a settlement between passions, Girard argues, we are to expect a scapegoating ritual in which an extra-triangular other takes the heat. In this case, an “incurable sexual orientation” and concomitant “sexual encounter” are marked as sites of disruptive idolatry, temporarily depressurizing a pervasive mimetic antagonism of fetishisms. TCaP’s structure might be said to enact this ritualistic sacrifice of the scapegoat: it symptomatizes a social order in search of a periodic feast in which the selfish and always potentially predatory edifice of cool mediation is appeased by a consensual turning against a sick Other culpable of the whole affair.

V. Postmodern Childhood
Baudrillard’s take on modern psychoforensics is comparable where he typifies psychiatry as treating the individual: a functional survivor, as an object to be retained: we surround him with care and solicitude, so many traits of his anomaly, and we invest in him. The tolerance he enjoys is of the same order as that we have seen being exercised over the beasts: it is an operation by means of which the social order exorcises and controls its own hauntings. Does the system make us all irresponsible? We can only accept this if we delimit a category of notorious irresponsibility, that we will care for as such. By the effect of this contrast, it will return the illusion of responsibility to us. Delinquents, criminals, children and madmen will suffer the effects of this clinical operation ([1976] 1993:171).

Baudrillard’s later anthropology of code and hate (for a discussion see Pawlett, 2008) addresses comparable themes, and reassesses the tactic of anger management in the above Girardian reading of child-love. Baudrillard allows a tentative line of analysis that takes incest beyond the Foucaultian inscription of a symbolics of blood and that of a complicit, superimposed analytics of sexuality, namely onto a semiosis of difference against the background of a “fundamental duplicity that demands that any order exists only to be disobeyed, attacked, exceeded, and dismantled” (1983:77).

While Girard identified violence as articulated through sacrificial ritual, Baudrillard’s ritual is lost to the world, and with it, the women and children rebirthed and exchanged through initiation. What is left is a quasi-sacrifice, with decoy-children, and a pseudo-paternal concern for their quasi, sexual initiation: the end of growing up coinciding with a paranoid dictatorship of the sexual. As the evangelical lament goes, the media’s consumer temporalities work in the direction of (de)stratifications and atemporal idioms (cute/cool) beyond control of any parentage, an ecology of evil referring to a generalized in-difference. Vital alterities, then, are to be untiringly manufactured through a token patrolling of entropy, diagnostic vigilance for one hundred symptoms, campaigning and re-claiming of innocence, incessant re-minding and re-view of danger; vital adversaries need to be spotted, ip-logged, keystroke-logged, recorded, replayed, registered, paroled, monitored, searched by zip code. With TCaP’s instant-messaging, full transcription, and closed-circuiting of the Beast, “we enter into a phobic relationship with an artificial other, idealized by hatred,” consequential to a “[desperate] seeking of the other in the form of an evil to be combated” (Baudrillard [1995] 1996:132).

The work of Foucault and Kincaid to some length identified the circum-Atlantic conditions for this duplicitous movement; for Foucault it were the flattering insinuations of medical sexology and pop psychoanalysis, for Kincaid it was also a literary and media culture that installed and celebrated the erotic child at the centre of proprietary society. Sexuality as differential grammar of domestic desire became fundamentally pressurized when alter-sexualities consolidated into visible centers of emancipatory indignation, as claims to sociality, a complicity later to be counterpointed by the queer “anti-social thesis” but more radically counterpointed by Baudrillard’s obituary of both emancipation and the social. After “liberation” (both women’s and gay lib play crucially complicit roles, as French theorists witnessed in the late 1970s), it became clear that the centre would not hold: the pornographic – more than sexual –child can no longer be prevented, it can only be pushed to its end, its fatal ubiquity as an eroded emblem, as emblematic of erosion at large.

This, of course, has been the backbone posture of mercy and alarm (the Wolfenden Report tolerated “consenting adults”; Anita Bryant wanted to Save our Children). The resonant edifice of critical theory, however, fails to confront the “perfect crime” and fatality that has crept into “tolerance” as total conditioning of eventuality, and thus finds itself reenacting the very obscene gaze and the very use value fetishism (Baudrillard [1972] 1981:29) it would criticize. There is no concrete or intrinsic orientation of needs that grounds the formulaic abstraction of “ab”use; alienation occurs, in a more impressive pace, with the surrender to moral calculus, to the empiricisms of “integrity” that surround us, the developmentalisms, managerialisms, utilitarianisms and insinuations of survival to which the child is submitted.

While promising a “deconstruction” of events as mere condensations of total conspiracies (the masculine, the institute, “sexuality”), the advertisements and talk shows worked powerfully against implementation of the gesture; somebody, in the end, has “To Catch a Predator”.

In fighting smut and bastards, we embattle a now dispossessed grammar that speaks us, that spiralled out of the symbolic orbit of kinship, away from any reliably tendentious, “scientific” grip on the norm or its resonance with the symbol, increasingly referring to itself, as identitarian trope or informational claim. The postmodern child-sex hyphen escalated the modern obscenity of Child as overdetermined stake of competing economies (symbol/sign, according to Baudrillard; symbolics/analytics, according to Foucault), and announced the impotence of any critical politics trying to rescue or liberate children from any particular economy. The centre of sexual economy is declared extra-economic, but any economizing sexology will put its stakes ruthlessly on the spot: as obscenely visible evil-doers, “Pedophiles betray the fact that children too are ‘on the market’” (Lotringer, 1988:22), their sexuality “potentially big business” (Schirato and Webb, 2004:423). If the latter fall victim, they fall victim primarily to forms of calculus moderated only by an administrative vortex of symptom-listing, fact-sheeting, and time-slotting that “takes no prisoners” because everybody is already in custody. The predator idiom, similarly, prefigures an arrest, a hunt, a bust, a pinpointing of lies in a pointless world: where things are so much the point, they are obliterated by the pointing.

We witness, then, a late modern diffusion of taboo from kinship (my child) to consumer strata (any child) to, finally (1990s), the intricacies of the sign (any computer-generated image of what appears to be a minor). Mediation solicits “an ethics of the image that is not predicated on the actual evidential status of that image but on more virtual forms of observation” (Oswell, 2006:244): if “iconoclasm restores the authority of the real” it can do so only “by fusing representation and reality into a single, policeable category” (Mansfield, 2005:24). The symbolic recuperation of the victim (the recuperation of victim as symbol), then, fails precisely where its success assumes the shape of an ultrahygiene of signs. Baudrillard observes only the last stage of “a new victim order” in which neither the naturalistic blood politics of kinship nor the universal regularities proposed by sexology can demark the libidinal topography of the family unit, which thus imagines itself delivered to the incursions by the Other, 24/7 assault on all its screens. The counter-iconoclasm, nowhere more painstakingly self-parodying than in America, prevents the image from aspiring to the merest possibility of offense: an industry of screening, rating, bleeping, blotting, cutting, cartooning, that folds onto any content and pre-moderates its effects – the “live” during family hours is granted eventuality after a 7-second “profanity-delay.”

A paranoid “unit” jeopardized by bare breasts and schoolyard talk, the familial posits itself as the defenceless dupe of a crazed semio-informational Umwelt relentlessly advertising the libidinal velocities and versatilities of the Other. Pedophilia is crime and disorder, it could once be objected, only insofar as it antagonized the bourgeois family’s micro-fascist policing of its libidinal chronologies, territories and knowledges – its “epistemophilic incest” as Foucault diagnosed it. The post-1968 French schizoanalysts ventured that the child is the libidinal effect, not the dupe,of a mounting clash of rivalling economisms and (anti-)fetishisms. The Anglo-American preprocessing of its content proposes a much simpler algorithm. Either you are with us or against us: on our side the post-1970s matrimonial and adopting homosexual, on the other the abducting and murdering molester. This recalibration of alliance was a genuflection to the vista of “sexual rights and liberation” and was complete already in the mid-1980s: where the post-1968 “French Nietzscheans” had for a brief interval sponsored pederasty in a string of publications rooted variably in the genealogy of sexuality, anti-oedipal schizoanalytics, proto-queer provocation, and Fourier’s anti-familism,2 we see Baudrillard stumbling upon the subject in mid-1980s Amerique as provoking an obsessive economizing and “mortification of bodies and pleasures” ([1986] 1988:40) and then in the early 2000s where it impresses as an “anti-event, a non-event” ([2001] 2002]:42; [2001] 2004:50-1; [2000] 2002:194: a “highly symptomatic [event], but representative of nothing”) as well as, paradoxically, an ultimate one – “the final stage of the fetishistic promotion of the child – following directly from the child’s elevation into the firmament of human rights and the simultaneous relegation of childhood to the purgatory of useless functions” ([2001] 2002:59).

The Baudrillardian pedophile, contra the more familiar choreographies of outrage, can be considered to evidence a transsexuality: a transpolitical outcome of the intensification of indistinction (Michael Jackson was Baudrillard’s example in La Transparence du Mal [1990] 1993, (before the 1993 accusations), clinically an “overidentification with the child” or puer complex meaning that the object of preference exacts a gravitational force ending in a collapse of identity. The bankruptcy, also, of anti-oedipus: “simulated oedipus” ([1976] 1993:85n5). The logic of TCaP, for instance, is that, through a contraction of reality genres, informational agencies, and forensic theatrics, it mimes and simulates a desire for the same child it would rescue from the predicament of being desired; its scripting of encounters with stray minds is so tight that their simultaneous arrival on the set continually threatens to ruin the scheme. TCaP does not enact a Deleuzean/Guattarian reterritorialization of desire, but a closed-circuiting of it, a serializing of its simulacrum.

Unlike Guattari’s enthusiasm over becoming-child, Baudrillard’s mood has more often than not been that of a forensic pathologist who is both on duty and retired. Baudrillard sponsors a double critique of TCaP, and of the whole ambit of sexual misappropriations – in terms of the dramaturgy of its embattlement, to be understood in (Boorstinian) terms of the theatrics of outrage and consequent pseudo-eventuality in the infosphere, more precisely in terms of a double Pyrrhic victory or catch-22, namely, on the one hand, the escalation of an anti-fetishistic victimology into a totalizing, reifying forensics – all adults become potential predators, all pedagogies suspect, all gazes deviant, all kids “unsafe”. One thinks here of Baudrillard:

For it makes one suspect: any inoffensive individual can be a potential terrorist! If those terrorists could pass unnoticed, then anyone of us is an unnoticed criminal (each plane is suspect too), and ultimately, it might even be true. This might well correspond to an unconscious form of potential criminality, masked, carefully repressed, but always liable, if not to surge, at least to secretly vibrate with the spectacle of Evil. Thus, the event spreads out in its minutiae, the source of an even more subtle psychological (mental) terrorism (Baudrillard, 2001).

Childhood now terrorizes adults, as an opaque yet obscene informational cipher, opportunist of an hysterical victim science – and on the other, the cancellation of childhood per se by delivering it to the annihilating frenzy of rights, sex, and liberation, as tight-scripted and entirely plausible worst-case scenarios. Children survive this dual death blow only as “substitute beings, who are losing their natural otherness and entering a satellite existence on the artificial orbit of sameness,” the child “losing its distinctive spirit of its own and its singularity” (Baudrillard [2000] 2002:103). When Baudrillard mourns the child, he mourns the symbolic, “human” child unbewitched, unbothered and unbewildered by the administrations of age and consent, but rather “one of the last bastions of the poetic illusion of the world” now groomed either as mere “[object] of curiosity or sexual perversion, or compassion,” or altogether ex-economized as “a non-standard product, an item from another age” (Ibid.:105, 106). If, as “woman”, the child is cunning, marked by “a kind of objective ironic presentiment that the category into which they have been placed does not exist” (Baudrillard, 1993:112) and thus “haunts the adult universe as a subtle and deadly presence,” its violent otherness nevertheless risks being turned “socio-dramatic, semiodramatic, melodramatic” and “categorized, integrated and absorbed as [part] of a universal harmony” ([1990] 1993:169, 128, 125).

VI. A Will to Saturation?
With the exception of Kincaid, most proponents of the so-called “pedophilic gaze” thesis (crime turned spectacle imposes a criminal spectatorship; see Adler, 2001) blame media and law as perversely entrenching the desire signalled out for extirpation, but see audience complicity as a Freudian automatism. There is, however, a seeming will to saturation. As “public duty,” deputized journalism of the TCaP kind [Dateline’s watchdog co-conspirators (“Perverted Justice”) were on occasion temporarily deputized] fails entirely its projected mission of illuminating the perverse mind: the eye is drawn to Dateline’s Chris Hansen’s mannerisms of outrage, to the fat watchdog chief in front of his battery of monitors, to the charming decoy who, after all, only looks young. With TCaP’s bestiary, “the child” is doubled into jailbait, in on our game of hunting the curious raptor haunted by the lure of its item-ness. However the catch acts as a cold mirror: it underperforms as a suggestion that there is an unmediated, unused, unabused, unscreened, un-itemized child elsewhere safe, “at home.” Many youtubing kids experience no trouble in parodying TCaP, but is parody still possible?

Baudrillard’s primitivist longing for the Child as key part of a prelapsarian symbolic order both resonates with and counterpoints a myriad of contemporary mourners of the child, including such apparatuses as the World Congress against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents, the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, and the wider reparative politics of critical and therapeutic conviction. Baudrillard’s moral appeal at this (counter)point refers to our role in, our will to, infanticide as fait accompli, and, which amounts to the same, our philia as projected crime. But how should Baudrillard’s child be loved such that it doesn’t die on us? Observing the retroactive complicity of anthropology, which trace or residue of “childhood” is left to model a mourning, a resurrection? Can Baudrillard at all be trusted with our Child? Though the oedipal drama is not anymore “played out” ([2000] 2002:103) but simulated, clearly all (child) play is not gone, not all abandoned to instrumentality and productivity. If we compromise with Girard, who still defended a mimetic structure at work as oedipal triangulation, the devil’s advocate position could be that the very notion of the child, anchoring if anything a consensus-soliciting differential diagnosis of the real free from “cognitive distortions,” arises from a mimetic interplay that operates on a submerged basis of reverberation and reversibility, such that science (factuality), commerce (market), and faith (symbolics) ultimately, after all the hunting and jailing is done, accommodate and mime each other on however an opportune, libidinal basis. The Baudrillardian juxtaposition of primitive symbol (a gift productive of the social) and hyperreal sign (traded on a cemetery: over a child’s dead or barren body) may well be internal to modernity’s play of equation and disidentification, allowing that (“we must not be afraid of assimilations”) child=woman=animal=primitive= object= privilege =seduction=revenge.

Where the derivation of taboo, as its order, is dealt with by Baudrillard through the nostalgic para-doxa of the fatal, the question of effect assumes, against all odds, an ultimate species of informativity. One awaits, at this point, a thorough Baudrillardian interrogation of “queer theory,” or vice versa, to cross-evaluate an obituary of the symbol with the critique of a remnant tyranny of one symbol over the other (see Edelman for an account of the Child as complicit with an enduring “acculturating logic of the Symbolic” – 2004:17).

TCaP’s simulation of prelapsarian innocence trades a mythic Puer for a drag act – a vertiginous irony of signs seen more directly, indeed mass-marketed, in the eroto-semiotics of Japan’s kawai’i (cute) culture (for a note on kawai’i, see Botz-Bornstein, 2010). Complicit tropes of salariiman Lolita Complex and lesbian refuge in the beautiful boy (bishōnen) would provide a perverse counterimage of America’s neurotic culture of abstinence and visual hygiene. (As I write, it is being reported that a Virginia school director stopped assigning The Diary of Anne Frank to its 8-graders because of a complaint concerning a passage in which Anne discusses her “little folds of skin.” A nation not able to admit to its corporeality censors this admittance in a child holocaust victim 64 years after she had been brutally exterminated in the name of a world-shattering paranoid eugenics (Ashenfelter, 2010). The theme invites, as suggests Barry Smart (in Rojek and Turner, 1993:65), comparison between Japan and America in their strikingly countertendentious hyphenations of maturity and the erotic. Suffice it to assume that America’s sexual hygienics cannot definitively model for a “late modern” fatalism: perverse saturation seems inevitable, but our dealing with it allows some play.

VIII. Conclusion
“It is not absurd to suppose that the extermination of man begins with the extermination of man’s germs” (Baudrillard [1990] 1993:61). Baudrillard’s entomology enters a scenario of extermination that goes back at least to Graham Greene’s infamous review of the 1937 Shirley Temple movie Wee Willie Winkie (see Vickers, 2008:63-4). We still, or finally, cannot blame “the media” for “a certain adroit coquetry [appealing] to middle-aged men” where such coquetry is the blueprint of all our pageantries, cheer-leading, and hunting sprees. I have argued that a fatal reading seems more productive than the complicit manoeuvres of critical theory, which fruitlessly tries to save the gyrations of ethical calculus from their inevitable self-compromise. Perhaps the American spectator demands exactly the exorcism of the libidinal incantations of psycho-politics (elsewhere dubbed Laius complex) by pushing the play of signs to a studied state of comical artifice: a reality event.

Is it all reversible? Libidinal economies may well, as a principle, answer to a model of swidden cultivation: we abandon and let Nature reclaim the ground we used up, and thus wedded to an eco-logics of exhaustion, we might very well find ourselves, unwittingly, on the same spot every time, all the time. Over-use may be a calculated tactic not against abuse but against the utilitarian order that solicits ethical calculus: a fatal strategy where some fertile ground or some vital, perverse energy dies in our place, temporarily and periodically, such that we can move on to other pastures.

Diederik Janssen  is an independent researcher residing in the Netherlands. He is founding editor of Culture, Society and Masculinities (CS&M) and co-founding interim editor of Thymos: Journal of Boyhood Studies. Publications include: "Crimen Sollicitationis: Tabooing Incest After The Orgy" Thymos Journal of Boyhood Studies 4 (2), Fall 2010. In May 2010 he presented a paper: “Child-Sex Hyphen as Media Event: From Critical to Fatal Theory” at the Age of Sex conferenceat Monash University Prato, Prato, Italy.



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1. I viewed digital recordings of all episodes of To Catch a Predator and its spinoff Predator Raw: The Unseen Tapes (2007-8). Local instalments of the program were done by NBC affiliates WTMJ (Milwaukee), KPRC Local 2 (Houston), KSHB (Kansas City), and WBRE (Scranton/Wilkes-Barre). NBC’s Chris Hansen previously hosted two hidden camera instalments of NBC Dateline on child sex tourism in Cambodia (Children for Sale, 2003).

2. The more well known texts are those of Foucault (Les Anormaux; Histoire de la Sexualité I) and Semiotext(e)’s special issues (Loving Boys in 1980 and Polysexuality in 1981), but more comprehensive discussions are found in work by Guy Hocquenghem and René Schérer’s Co-ire (a 1976 issue of Felix Guattari’s outlet Recherches), Schérer’s earlier Émile Perverti (1974), and the multi-authored Trois Milliards de Pervers (a 1973 issue of Recherches), as well as by Tony Duvert.

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