Filed under: crime ranting

My Limit, and a Plug.

I don’t know that I’ve ever expressed how flattering it is to have people request my take on a given high-profile crime. I’ve always appreciated it when someone e-mailed me to say, “hey, you haven’t written about this, curious as to what you think.”

Frequently, I go ahead and dive in.

Some things, however, show me my limits. The story of 6-year-old Christopher Michael Barrios, the little boy murdered by a family of pedophiles in Brunswick, Georgia, is my limit.

It is a story so hideous that I just can’t say much about it. Yes, in a way, the murders and molestations committed by Joseph Edward Duncan III against the Groene family and children in 2005 were worse… but not by much.

Read the linked MSNBC article to see what I’m talking about.

My commentary on the case is this: every now and then you hear about a crime for which the death penalty would be too good. The rape and murder of Christopher Barrios is one of those crimes. If found guilty, Peggy and David Edenfield and their adult son George should be roasted slowly on an open spit, as far as I’m concerned. They are animals. Let them suffer the fates of pigs.

Go to the following links to see what I’ve been spending time doing just lately, and recall that I decided to take HuffCrimeBlog.com in a historic true crime direction. There is something to be said for the remove of history:

Fame, Love, Murder and Frozen Music, Part 1.”
Fame, Love, Murder and Frozen Music, Part 2.”

Historic true crime is a more academic pursuit, and sometimes that is comforting, to me. There is more room for letting prose flow, for reflecting in a way that is closer to poetry, once the gritty now of a story is removed. I’m proud of the new entries there at History’s Miseries, and hope that if you’re a reader needing a break, just as I was a writer needing a kind of break, you will be somewhat entertained.

Dakota Fanning and That Damned Movie

Before I even start, I should point out that the rape scene in Dakota Fanning’s new movie, Hounddog, is not a new thing in “mainstream” cinema. In 1996, Anjelica Huston directed the relentlessly depressing Bastard Out of Carolina, and that movie featured a then-12-year-old Jena Malone’s character being raped by her stepfather, a character Ron Eldard played with real viciousness. There was controversy over that movie just as there is real controversy about Fanning’s new movie. I’m just surprised that people forget this sort of thing.

What’s difficult for me when it comes to writing about this issue is the fact that I detest censorship. I majored in a performing art in college and I’ve been involved in the performing arts since I was 9.

Freedom of expression in both entertainment and literature means a great, great deal to me.

I usually can’t advocate censorship of acceptable mainstream entertainment.

But that begs the question of what is acceptable mainstream entertainment.

By all accounts, Hounddog is an acceptable mainstream movie, overall. While the early reviews all state that the now-infamous scene where Fanning’s character is raped by a 20-year-old man is deeply disturbing, one article I read this morning pointed out that you really don’t actually see what happens.

Fine.

You’re reading a crime blog, though, so you have to know I’ve got a certain angle on this story.

Click the following:

Lindsay Ashford”+”Dakota Fanning

It’s a Google search. You only get one page of results at the moment, but that’s enough.

Lindsay Ashford is the free-speech poster perv for men all over the world who believe they should legally be allowed to have sex with girls Dakota Fanning’s age and younger.

At the bottom of the first page of results you find three results, two of them blogs or profiles run by the same guy. One hit is a weblog run by a self-proclaimed “girl-lover,” who says his site was inspired by Ashford. The blog entry in question mentions “positive” portrayals of “girl-love” in Hollywood. I will not link the blog or do anything past the Google search, but this quote from the blogger in question should be noted:

For example, in the early stages of the ‘gay revolution’ if you will, the mantra was “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.” It was found to be very confrontational and ill-recieved [sic], and so the movement changed their tactics. They dropped the mantra, and created gay and lesbian characters on tv and in movies who were kind, wise, and the first people you should approach if you have a relationship issue. Everyone remember “Carter” on Spin City? Nuff said. 😉

The question I have, though, is how can we use a similar strategy? The first idea I had is to convince celebrities to make child-love friendly comments, which is actually going on already. Everyone remember the Olsen Twins? (Like we could forget.) And of course Dakota Fanning. These and others are openly commented on by pundits and talk show hosts. Even Carlos Mencia on Comedy Central commented on older guys who are attracted to younger women (though, admittedly, the message presented was half-negative, half-positive, as is much of Mencia’s comedy)…

Since I’m staunchly straight-but-not-narrow, I could really go on about how deeply offensive this guy’s attempt to compare the struggle for gay rights to pedophile rights really is, but that isn’t the point of this particular blog entry. Suffice it to say, the gay friends I’ve talked to about this particular subject would like pedophiles to know: leave them out of it.

What I’m getting at is this — there is a certain segment of society out there who will perceive Hounddog as catnip.

It will not matter to them that the filmmakers and the young actress perceive the movie this way:

[Director Deborah] Kampmeier said it took her a decade to get the film made, largely because of the rape scene, but cutting it was a compromise she was unwilling to make.

“This issue is so silenced in our society. There are a lot of women who are alone with this story,” she said.

“When you’re shooting a film, it’s the images you line up next to each other that create a story,” Kampmeier said. “If you have a hand hitting the ground, Dakota screaming ‘stop’ and you see a zipper unzip _ that creates a rape.”

Dakota Fanning isn’t a woman. She’s a child. And pedophiles the world over are already well aware of her. I just quoted one before the passage above, after all.

It doesn’t matter to the “girl lovers,” Ms. Kampmeier, that your movie portrays rape as terrifying, or that nothing obvious is shown on-screen. It doesn’t matter to the pedophiles that this movie may meet the technical definition of a movie that is acceptable to show in your local cineplex. None of that matters to people like the blogger I quoted.

What matters to pedophiles focused on young girls is they may be able to go to a regular, everyday theater and watch a depiction of Dakota Fanning being violated.

The pedophiles, Ms. Kampmeier, will not suspend disbelief. The guy who has a Xanga and a MySpace showing up in that first Google search I embedded, the guy who lists Lindsay Ashford among his heroes and Dakota Fanning among his favorite actors — guys like that will take it where they can find it.

While the rest of us might watch such a movie and by the time the rape scene is onscreen be so involved in the story we are horrified, there are men out there who are not as bumbling and stupid as the crew of ball-cap-wearing Zima-bearing creeps plucked off the street during each Dateline “To Catch a Predator” episode. A class of sexual predator not stupid enough to download child porn, not dumb enough to troll chat rooms.

These guys are accustomed to seeking out their fantasy material in seemingly innocuous places. All you need to know is that “child model” sites exist to know this. These are websites with outwardly acceptable (legal) photos of children. Kids in regular clothes, kids in swimsuits. But most of the time such websites are created just for pedophiles.

Dennis Rader, the BTK Strangler, was not just a child predator when he murdered at least 10 people over the course of 30 years. Most of his victims were adults, save two of the first four he murdered in January, 1974 — Josie and Joey Otero were 11 and 9 when Rader murdered them.

However, one bizarre perversion of Rader’s discovered after his arrest was his habit of clipping images (he called them “slicks”) from catalogues, often images of young girls in swimsuits or other revealing clothing. Rader used these to masturbate.

That’s one example of what I’m talking about. Rader took what he could get. He took perfectly normal images and converted them to his use.

Those images used by Rader were innocent, no one would ever task the photographers who took the photos for the way Rader used them. In Hounddog, a filmmaker has intentionally portrayed an instance of sexual violence against a child. People less homicidal than Rader, but potentially as perverse will notice. If you think they won’t, you’re an idiot.

If you search the terms “Dakota Fanning” and “girl lover” you get over 600 hits. A good number of these hits are men who admire the likes of Lindsay Ashford discussing either just the actress herself, or lately, this particular movie. What does that tell you about why a movie like Hounddog deserves the criticism it has received? Free speech and unfettered artistic expressions are great. But there is a point where devotion to making a “statement” must be tempered by understanding the context in which that statement is being made.

That simply wasn’t done here.

I don’t think Deborah Kampmeier or Dakota Fanning’s parents were truly aware of what they were dealing with. I have a feeling — and I’m probably being charitable — that they weren’t thinking past the rarified audience potentially found in the seats at the Sundance Festival.

I have a feeling they never thought to just Google-search Ms. Fanning’s name and the term “girl lover.”

Deborah Kampmeier seems to have framed the making of this movie as some sort of heroic struggle on her part, the artist working hard to make her statement over the course of a decade. And that’s fine, if it makes her feel better. The truth is, though, there’s a reason some movies don’t get made with any speed, a reason movies stall in production, sometimes.

There are very good reasons for the outrage being expressed about this movie, and why a guy like me, who abhors censorship, would join the chorus.

See, I wouldn’t go see this movie for another reason, one I’ve already alluded to — if Hounddog makes it to the megaplex down the street, one chief reason to not go see it would simply be this: Who the hell is sitting beside you? Or behind you?

Or in the rear of the theater, where no one can see them?

UPDATE, 1/25/07

The Smoking Gun has an excerpt from the script for Hounddog. The script was also written by director Deborah Kampmeier.

I’ll withhold further comment for now… except to note that script directions appear to be written in dialect, Kampmeier dropping the ‘g’ in words that end with “ing.”

There is something deeply, profoundly irritating in that, to this southerner.