Erotic Innocence – James R. Kincaid

Synchronicity strikes again. Jung would be so proud. After just finishing James R. Kincaid’s book Erotic Innocence: The Culture of Child Molesting, what story happens to be dominating social media? The takedown of one of the most controversial and obnoxious conservative commentators, Milo Yiannopoulos, for comments made about pedophilia. Barely had the question formed in my mind about whether our society had got any better about this problem when I had my answer. If only the accusations about Trump and young girls had stuck, alas . . . 
Kincaid’s is a compelling argument, and one that it is impossible to fully agree with. Since the Romantic age, children have been seen as angels and innocent darlings who need to be protected from all the horrors of the world. If something terrible happens to them we are scandalized, we are outraged. But, on the other hand, they are monstrous little beings who we can be scared of. This is why they are abandoned and abused.  
We are horrified by the idea that there has been abuse – especially sexual abuse – of these poor innocent children and yet, Kincaid argues, we are fascinated by it. Movies purportedly for kids are filled with sexual innuendos (from Shirley Temple to Home Alone – Kincaid was writing in the late 1990s). In our media, he argues, parents are dismissive of the kids and it comes to an outsider from the family to rescue the kid, and then they develop a bond with that (often) older male who protects them from being abused again. For our job is to look but never touch. And, of course, childhood is sacrosanct. He quotes Stand by Me (king/Reiner) and the statement: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anybody?”
The answer to this question is a resounding no, and it does have to do with that thorny concept of innocence. When we are in our teens, or friendships can become bogged down in sex, sexuality, and more responsibility (work, school, family). I agree that we do see an attraction to the innocence of childhood, the lack of cynicism, the freedom of not having to worry about getting and keeping a job, budgeting enough for retirement, the mortgage, the car payment, that ever elusive work/life balance. I long for the days when summer vacation was two months long and I would take that trip to the local movie theatre with friends and cousins to go see the latest matinee – who the hell wouldn’t? But not everything is about sex.  
I disagree with his main argument, however, I do agree that when sex in relation to kids comes up it does have a tendency to be a hyper-maniacal spectacle. I am old enough to remember the tail end of Satanic Panic, and to have read Michelle Remembers, which freaked me out completely until I was in university and studying repressed memories. Now it seems like a load of bunk. But we as a society feed on this stuff. Television and print media (and I would suspect social media even more) thrive on ratings and clicks. Whatever it takes to get a story, the juicier the better, and what is more juicy than the lurid details of what happened to JonBenet Ramsey, or Amanda Berry (admittedly a little older). We are a society of voyeurs.  

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